Nature as an eco-development tool: Chesco’s goal
Friday, February 5, 2016
When it comes to attracting and retaining companies in Chester County, it might not be obvious what one of the main reasons businesses give as to why they’re located in the county.
But Gary Smith, who heads up the Chester County Economic Development Council, and Molly Morrison, president of the Natural Lands Trust, know. Even though they come from two seemingly, entirely different disciplines their missions are intimately connected and that’s not lost on them.
Photo by Alessandra Manzotti
“The No. 1 goal in Chester County is quality of place,” Smith said. “It’s preservation and progress together. The conservancies have been supportive and engaged with us and Molly Morrison and I have worked arm-and-arm together on this. A preserved piece of property creates of quality of place and adds value.”
Smith, Morrison and Chester County officials are on the vanguard of viewing economic development beyond the lens of typical business issues such as taxes, infrastructure and less bureaucratic red tape. However, to be certain they continue to focus on what is important to county businesses, they have launched a comprehensive business survey called “Take the Pulse.” Preliminary results of the survey will be unveiled this spring with a more formal report to be released later this year. The information will be incorporated into VISTA 2025, the county’s 10-year economic development strategy.
“We wanted to get some external perspectives on what the economic health is of Chester County and its businesses,” Smith said. “We want to know all aspects of it.”
Such temperature checks are important since issues can differ from year to year, Smith said, noting a shortage of skilled labor and affordable housing have started to emerge as problems that need more attention. What hasn’t changed and continues to be vital to building and maintaining a strong, diverse economy is sustaining and cultivating a quality of place.
“It’s a fundamental feature in what defines Chester County,” Morrison said. “A lot of other things are important and go into the quality of economic health of a community. Education, transportation, training are all part of the mix but in Chester County a predominant feature that makes the county unique is quality of place.”
That includes making a financial investment in open space, parks, recreation facilities and trails as well as cultural institutions. Just in December, Chester County logged more than 50,000 acres preserved as open space, which is a quarter of the county’s land.
Aside from making it an attractive environment to business, open space and trails provide other values to a community. The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and GreenSpace Alliance set out in 2011 to quantify the economic value of protected space in the region. Among its findings, open space adds $16.3 billion to the value of the area’s housing stock and protected open space generates $240 million annually in property tax revenues to support county and municipal governments and local school districts. The closer a house is to a trail or protected open space, the more value it has. It also helps the environment, attracts spending and, as Chester County has found, jobs.