Cumberland County continues to be the fastest growing county in Pennsylvania. This is certainly good news, but it does come with cautions. Smart growth occurs when proper planning is part of the process. Sprawl occurs when there is little or no planning involved. Sprawl usually coincides with a negative impact to quality of life and results in needless destruction of finite natural resources.

Cumberland County, fortunately, looks at growth the right way, the smart way, through its comprehensive plan. The county also views natural resources such as prime farmland, watersheds and scenic vistas as critical to the present and future of the county. Within the last three years for example, an additional 2,500 prime farm acres were preserved and Cumberland County’s ranking has gone from ninth to seventh in the state regarding the number of acres preserved through the State Agricultural Conservation Easement program. The county also picked up another partner, the Silver Spring Land Preservation program, and is also seeking a partnership with Lancaster Farmland Trust to provide additional options for farmland preservation.

The County’s Land Partnerships Program (LPP) is another program used to protect natural resources. LPP has participated in 82 projects since 2006 and provided grants totaling $2 million. The LPP grant funding has leveraged $3 of federal, state and other local funding for every $1 of county investment. A good example of a recent conservation success is the preservation of the Letort Spring Garden Preserve. Led by the Central Pennsylvania Conservancy, this preservation effort received grant funding from LPP and other entities. This partnership enabled this 34 acre gem to be preserved for all to enjoy. Partnering with the Cumberland Valley Rail Trail, LPP provided grant funding in 2017 and the proceeds helped complete the section of trail between Newville and Shippensburg.

Regarding economic growth and development, the Cumberland Area Economic and Development Corporation (CAEDC) continues to set high standards. Although Cumberland County has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, there is a demand for skilled labor positions such as heavy equipment operators, advanced manufacturing and advanced nursing. Many of these skilled labor positions are good paying jobs and provide a career pathway. Many of these jobs do not require a four-year college degree. CAEDC, in partnership with the county, Cumberland Valley School District, Shippensburg University, HACC and several local employers, is working together to address this need through a new workforce initiative program that is already in progress. CAEDC also assists businesses obtain loans to make upgrades or obtain equipment for business expansion.

The Cumberland County Housing and Redevelopment Authority (CCHRA) also assists with community and business development. CCHRA offers the Cumberland County Commercial Revitalization and Shopsteading Loan Program for example. It offers businesses or properties with commercial tenants located in or surrounding downtowns low-interest financing for projects designed to improve the business community. The loan program is focused primarily on retailers and restaurant businesses or other traditional downtown enterprises. Financing can be obtained to purchase or improve properties, for equipment, fixtures or furnishings, for site improvements or for working capital. CCHRA also offers programs for first time homeowners and rental housing for senior and disabled individuals.

In 2017, the Greater Harrisburg Association Realtors partnered with the county and provided a grant to the county in order to help produce a survey seeking input from our citizens. This survey asked comments and opinions from our citizens regarding the future of the county. The results of this survey were important and were considered within the latest revisions to the county comprehensive plan.

For the county to continue to be a great place to live, we need more partners. For example, our townships and boroughs must update their respective comprehensive plans and ensure there are policies and ordinances in place that properly address growth and conservation. Many townships have already completed updates and revisions to their respective comprehensive plans, but more townships need to complete this task.

We also need partnerships with our state and federal governments to address the transportation issues regarding Interstate 81. Thirteen years ago, PennDOT acknowledged that interstate 81 should be widened. We cannot put this off any longer. The current condition of Interstate 81 impacts not only Cumberland County but much of the eastern half of our nation. Smart growth, economic development and conservation will all thrive in Cumberland County and Cumberland County will remain a great place to live, work and play if we work together.

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Vince DiFilippo is Chairman Cumberland County Commissioners.