Friday, September 16, 2016
Gov. Tom Wolf announces grants during visit to Reading Regional Airport
BERN TOWNSHIP, PA -- For more than a decade, Berks County officials and legislators have had high hopes for the vacant chunk of land nestled between Reading Regional Airport and the Schuylkill River.
The Berks County Industrial Development Authority bought the 155-acre plot from the Bern Township airport in 2008, as the airport faced financial troubles.
Then the economy tanked and cash for development was scarce. The project fell to the back burner.
But now, the plan is primed to start moving ahead at full steam thanks in part to a $2.5 million state grant to help convert the land into a manufacturing complex. Gov. Tom Wolf visited the airport Friday to announce the state aid and tout the project.
“This is a great place to do business,” he said. “We need to get that message out.”
When filled, the complex is expected to generate 500-600 jobs. The plan for the site, which officials are tentatively referring to as Berks Park 183, calls for seven buildings totalling 817,000 square feet.
Thomas McKeon, the development authority's executive director, said the group's moving quickly to get through the approvals and red tape needed to get the site ready for construction. He said he expects to be ready to start negotiating with potential tenants in about a year.
He said the site will be marketed for light manufacturing, assembly and research and development operations.
“We're going to be focused on manufacturing, that's the strength of Berks County,” McKeon said.
The Bern site has long been on the radar as one that would be well-suited for development, state Sen. Judy Schwank said. It would enable manufacturers to locate close to the population center that would provide much of the work force.
Schwank, a Ruscombmanor Township Democrat, said a major key to attracting jobs to the area is showing businesses that there are “shovel-ready” sites in the county. She said it's exciting the Bern site will fit that mold.
“I've wanted to say that for a long time about a site in Berks County,” Schwank said.
And adding more jobs to the area will have a ripple effect, said state Rep. Barry Jozwiak, a Bern Republican. He said the availability of local jobs could encourage young people to stay in the area and boost spending to help other businesses.
“It's about our neighbors who will be benefiting from the good-paying jobs that will be created,” Jozwiak said.
Speaking with the Reading Eagle after the press conference, Wolf, a Democrat, said the goal of the state grant is to encourage local government agencies and private businesses to also invest in the site.
He said having a site already prepared for businesses to move in is a strong selling point for areas looking to attract jobs.
“We want to make sure that when people are looking at sites that they're ready to go,” Wolf said.
The development authority has already put about $6.3 million into the site and will need to spend another $7 million (including the money received from the state) to get it prepared for businesses, McKeon said.
But he said the authority should break even when it brings in tenants. He said several businesses have already expressed interest in coming to the area.
“We're going to try to land some of them that are already interested in Berks County,” McKeon said.
The complex will take some preparation. Aviation Road will need to be overhauled to accommodate the extra traffic and a traffic light and turning lanes will need to be installed at its intersection with Route 183.
McKeon said crews will need to clean up lead left over from when the site was used as a Reading police shooting range and a military firearms testing area. The lot also needs to be cleared and utilities need to be expanded.
McKeon said the goal is to bring in small or mid-sized manufacturers. But he also has other plans.
The authority's studying whether systems could be set up to capture and store energy generated from the heat produced by the manufacturing operations. That would give the site its own electrical supply and possibly even generate extra electricity to sell back into the grid.
Posted by Kathryn on 7:06:00 PM