Member counties in a new Interstate 77 Alliance plan appear to subscribe to the old adage that a rising tide lifts all boats. Counties that once competed against each other for development prospects now are joining to take a more regional approach.
The I-77 Alliance, consisting of Chester, York, Fairfield and Richland counties, was formed last month to take advantage of the resources in all four counties to increase interest among potential investors. While the idea of regional economic pacts isn’t new, it is a different approach in many respects for the four counties in this group.
We think the concept of cooperation among counties is one that better fits the new reality of economic development – namely, county lines don’t make much difference to companies making decisions about where to locate new facilities or expand existing ones. They are looking for a particular mix of available land, buildings, roads and utilities that meet their needs, but that mix isn’t necessarily bounded by a single county.
The idea behind the alliance is that there are synergies among the counties that might increase the odds that a particular county is able to attract a business prospect. Ultimately, though, that development might spur similar development in nearby counties, creating a multi-county cluster of related industries.
But counties aren’t abandoning their personal agendas altogether. Each will continue to pursue its own plan and priorities.
York County, for example, will target auto manufacturing, plastic manufacturing, aviation and aerospace manufacturing, distribution, machinery manufacturing and financial services processing.
But while each county will have an individual plan, the counties also will develop an overarching regional plan for the alliance. Karlisa Parker, director of economic development for Chester County, recently noted that, among other things, a regional plan could enable counties to take better advantage of land near I-77 interchanges that now are undeveloped.
Chester County offers a good example of how a plum development for the county also is likely to have a regional impact. Chester County landed the Giti tire plant last June, and the ripple effect from that is likely to spread throughout the region.
This alliance may represent, more than anything, a new approach, a new mindset regarding how to approach development. It encourages counties to think bigger than their own boundaries and consider how they all can prosper from cooperation.
That strikes us as a necessary step in adapting to a rapidly changing business climate and keeping the region and the state competitive.