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Pennsylvania I-81 Statement by Martin Weiss

A statement by Martin Weiss, Team Leader, National Systems and Economic Development Team, Office of Interstate and Border Planning, FHWA.

In mid September 2005 [i], I visited the central portion of the I-81 corridor in Pennsylvania, in company with Mark J. Scarbinsky, Director of the Schuylkill County Economic Development Office (Schuylkill means 'hidden stream' in Dutch). The visit served three purposes. The first was to personally thank people who provided much of the information used in an earlier consultant study on the I-81 corridor (both Mr. Scarbinsky and Mr. Charles Ross, Director of the Schuylkill County Planning Office were among those who provided information directly or indirectly). The second was to get a first hand look at the corridor and especially to view any changes that had ensued since that consultant study was completed (Mr. Ross provided a detailed overview of the county from a planning perspective prior to this first hand look). This was especially important since when that study was being completed there was some doubt as to whether two new interchanges on I-81 (exits 119 and 141 both completed in 2000-2001) in the county would help bring employers to the county (No other significant changes to major highways had taken place in the county since that time). Because of this doubt, the county had not updated its 1995 zoning plan as of 2005.

Map of Schuylkill County, PA showing the SW to NE orientation of I-81 with higher I-81 exit numbers to the NE.

Improvement of the economic situation in the county is particularly important because of the decline of heavy industry over the past half century. One indication of the problems in this county is that over 50% of the housing stock predates 1940. Fortunately, there have been some promising developments.

There are a number of centers of employment along I-81 in the county. One is in the north part of the county and is part of a bi-county business park (Luzerne County shares this business park with Schuylkill County). This is known as the Humboldt Industrial Park West and is about 2 miles from I-81 via exit 143 and State Route 924.

Kane Warehousing and Logistics is located off exit 141 in Northern Schuylkill County. The building above was completed in 2005. About 60% of Kane's employees live in Schuylkill County.

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A new distribution warehouse facility is to be developed at this site near exit 143 off I-81. This size facility (400,000 sq. ft.) typically employs 100 to 300.

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There are about 7 operating businesses in the Schuylkill County section of this business park. Total employment in these seven businesses was about 2000 as of September 2005. Access to both I-81 and I-80 are crucial to the establishment and expansion of this business park as were tax incentives.

Another center of employment is the Highridge Business Park which can be reached from either exit 116 or exit 119 off I-81. Each exit is about 0.5 miles from one of the entrances to the business park. Exit 119 was opened in about 2000."

 

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Lowes Regional Distribution Center near exit 119 off I-81 has 800 employees. Lowe's purchased the property in 1998 and developed it a few years later. This was the first significant employer in this area and since that time, other logistics firms have located in the vicinity.

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Wegmans Retail Service Center is part of the food marketing industry. Currently 150-175 employees work at this site. Employment at the site is expected to reach 500. The site is near exit 119 off I-81.

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A Wal-Mart Regional Distribution Center with both cold and dry storage capacity is under construction near exit 119 off I-81. The Center will be about 800,000 sq. ft. when completed.

As in the case of the business park near exit 119, all these employers are logistics related. Entry-level jobs begin at about $10-$18/ hour and journeymen and supervisor salaries for the logistics functions are between about $18 and $25/hour. The Lowes property was established through a tax increment district and the others through tax incentive programs of various kinds (the Pennsylvania State programs which support these developments are constantly evolving).

Other recent businesses have opened south of the 119 exit.

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Tremont Distribution Center near exit 107 off I-81 handles a variety of goods from various manufacturers. It performs some of the functions of a goods broker. The building was completed in 2002 and about 400 people are employed there.

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At exit 112 off I-81, a potato processing plant is in a start up phase. The potatoes are grown locally. The plant uses methane from a landfill nearby in the processing. Currently about 30 employees work at the plant but substantial expansion is possible.

It is too early to expect these developments to measurably affect the overall county employment statistics. Indeed, detection of a change in the overall economic climate in a county is quite a challenge. Nevertheless, county officials are pleased that relatively large employers have established themselves along I-81 in the past few years. Secondary and Tertiary employers (e.g., companies that specialize in training employees, companies that provide financial and other services for the larger business, companies that provide services and goods for employees) are expected to follow the establishment of the major employers. Perhaps Schuylkill County has, at last and partly as a result of I-81, turned an economic corner.


[i] All images were made in mid September 2005 unless otherwise stated. All statements on number of employees, etc. are valid as of September 2005

Updated: 05/04/2012
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