Thursday, July 19, 2007

GettysBLOG: Response to a Comment on the Local Economy

A very reasonable sounding person calling themselves pbadgerb has left a comment to a post from the other day. Here is that comment.

So, I will be a pro-casino voice on here, and a borough venter. pbadgerb is my name. Besides saving the "hallowed ground" what has the NCG movement accomplished. This area is suffering. Tourism is down! I never thought that a casino was the answer, but it was a viable solution to the drop in tourism numbers. I always like to see the other side, so now that it is 7 months later, what does everyone propose to keep this area economically viable?

First off, thank you for offering your comments. We published them immediately and without any edits. We appreciate your interest in the subject and your willingness to engage us here in some dialogue.

As for NoCasino Gettysburg, their job ended when the Crossroads Casino was rejected. So yes, they saved "hallowed ground" for the moment. Now it is up to the rest of us to save it in the future, as it is threatened.

We aren’t sure where you get your information but this area is definitely NOT suffering. We have ultra low unemployment, above average household income, and most of all, a very stable local economy based on both the tourism and the fruit industry, with a bunch thrown in from general agriculture.

It has been that way for several decades. It is a stable and bountiful economy. At least it is until you start listening to folks like LeVan, Sites, and Monahan, and the local Chamber of Commerce, and the Adams County Economic Development Corporation. Those people and organizations have worked hard to lay the groundwork in Adams County to support rapid growth through massive housing tracts, and huge commercial centers and malls by making sure the right people get elected as County Commissioners, township supervisors, and township and county planners. Add the borough government as well, but we’ll get to them a bit later since their case is different. For example, what we constantly hear from developers is the catchphrase, “our project will bring many new and much needed jobs to the area.” You can go over the Crossroads statements, and their testimony before the Board and likely find a high number of times that phrase was put forward by them. The folks who want to put a Water Park down near the Boyds Bear Country are saying the same thing. But if you go to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry website that gives the stats for unemployment, the May rate for Adams County is 2.9%, far below the state rate of 4.1% and even farther below the national rate of 4.5 percent as of June of this year according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Why would those developers put forth such blatantly dishonest statements? Because they have much to lose if their projects fail, or do not go forward. So they resort to dishonesties [to put it kindly] to get people behind their projects.

[Note: This is a late edit: the Adams County unemployment figure of 2.9% is the lowest in the state. Other counties nearby, Cumberland, Franklin, York, Lancaster, Chester are all between 3.0 and 3.5%. So it isn't just Adams County that is in good shape, it is the whole farm belt from Chester County west to Franklin that is in good shape.]

Thus, as you can readily see, the area is not “suffering”.

We made this point on here two years ago when the Casino was first announced, and drumbeat it regularly until the casino project was rejected. We also warned people that LeVan would not stop pushing for projects once the casino was shot down. Sometimes, as in the case of the casino project, a bad idea takes on a life of its own. Some get resurrected, as LeVan and his out of county cohorts are attempting to do with the racino project near Littlestown. It’s the same idea in different clothing. Unfortunately, it was not only public opposition that sank the Crossroads Casino, it was also a bad location, in that competition was already in place in Charlestown, West Virginia, and about to add table games to their slots operations, but also Maryland is about to jump into the gambling waters. The Pennsylvania Gambling Control Board simply did not think much of Crossroad’s being able to compete for the gambling dollars from the south. So you need to ask yourself, how does moving that casino ten miles and adding a Sulky Track make a difference? The answer is, that it is an even worse location since the roads are not nearly suitable to handle the traffic the casino must have in order to be profitable, plus, it is even harder to get to than the proposed Gettysburg slots parlor. And they still have the Charlestown Racetrack and casino, and the forthcoming Maryland gambling operations to deal with. If Crossroads was a bad idea, this one is even worse. I almost wish it would go through just to see those fat-cat, out of county investors, and LeVan, lose their shirts. And that is exactly what will happen there.

Whatever you do, turn the sound off when you hear them say, “our project will bring much needed jobs to the area”. Then you can watch their lips move and know they are lying.

If tourism is down at all, the likely culprit is the price of gas. If you want to increase tourism then advertise the fact we have low gas rates. Obviously, since there is no passenger service to and from Gettysburg via rail, air, or bus, the folks who come here do so by car or on chartered tour buses.

But I do not believe tourism is down that much. If there is a drop in hotel room occupancy it is because there are many more hotel rooms this year, so occupancy measured as a percentage will show a drastic drop. Instead, it should be measured by the number of guests registered in a hotel. I'll bet the numbers are up. For one thing 25,000 bikers in one weekend is an enormous boost to the tourism numbers.

But, if you plunk 20,000 new homes and assorted other big developments into this county, especially in Straban, Mt. Joy, Cumberland Townships, you will destroy the stability this county has enjoyed for the past few decades. Such rampant development will destroy the fabric of the heritage tourism that comes to the Battlefield here.

Gettysburg’s Battlefield is not confined to the National Park, there are historic areas that are outside park boundaries, and not designated as areas of conflict, yet they remain part of the history of the great battle that was fought here. I refer to the surrounding countryside which fed and sometimes housed men from both armies, as well as providing hospitals to care for the wounded. When you are dealing with over 50,000 casualties, there will be many barns, farmhouses, and town buildings that will become temporary hospitals. This is what I refer to as the context of the Battlefield. It is every bit as important as the Battlefield itself. It is where the men lived when they were not fighting, it was where the decisions were made that directed the fighting, it was where the men were taken to be treated for their wounds, and where most of them died, and it was where the civilians were directly affected by the presence of the two great armies that clashed here.

That heritage is a precious thing, made even more so by the magnificent speech given by President Lincoln. This is priceless stuff, yet we hear those who favor development minimize it, say it is insignificant. It is anything but. This town, the Battlefield and the Cemetery and the surrounding area are as important to this nation’s people as Independence Hall, Boston’s Commons, and Valley Forge. If 51,000 American casualties is insignificant then I fear those who feel so are without any understanding of this nation and how and why it became what it is. One cannot simply write off such heritage. It is too important to the national interest.

Read the July 18 blog entry for further glimpses of this issue:

http://gettysblog.blogspot.com/2007/07/gettysblog-what-fools-does-greed-make.html

Are there many businesses in Gettysburg that fail? Of course, just as there are elsewhere. Try this on for size:

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, “over 50% of small businesses fail in the first year and 95% fail within the first five years.” (“Are You Ready?” United States Small Business Association:

http://www.sba.gov/starting_business/startup/areyouready.html

Businesses often fail as the statistics show. And Gettysburg has tons of small businesses, most of which are connected to the heritage of the Battle.

The fruit industry is the other major partner in establishing and maintaining a stable and good economy in Adams County. 20,000 acres of orchards most of which are up on South Mountain provide an enormous economic boost to the area. But the economic statistics of the fruit industry here are mixed in with the general agriculture statistics. Adams County is a major player in state agriculture, and fruit growing and processing is a large part of that. Unfortunately, so is dairy farming and crop growing. There are symptoms of the fruit industry going through a period of change which might reduce its role in our economy. Some of the canners are getting fruit from elsewhere, and processing our local fruit in other plants outside our area. We are not sure of the rationale for this movement, but clearly it is an economic threat.

One can understand, then, why the thought of 20,000 houses sitting on what is now non-fruit producing farmland in Straban, Cumberland, and Mt. Joy Township will clearly put a major dent into the area’s economy. That land produces but it will not when it is paved over and built up, it will be filled with thousands of consumers, probably enough to nearly double the population of the County. Where are their children going to go to school? Where are the police and fire personnel going to come from to handle that nearly 100% increase in local population? Where is the water going to come from that they will consume by drinking, flushing washing, and watering their lawns? Where are the doctors and nurses and teachers and schools going to come from to handle a near doubling of the population in such a short time. Where will the groceries go? And can you just imagine trying to drive our roads with twice the traffic?

So, to sum up, the answer to your question is that to make the area viable, or rather to keep the economy viable as it is, you need to protect the three industries that are the bulk of the County's economy: tourism [which means the Park and all that goes with it], the Fruit industry which is starting to show signs of wear, and the agriculture farms that are about to be sold off for high density, high priced housing and shopping malls. If you turn the Gettysburg area into Frederick or York, or Carlisle, the economy will never survive it...at least folks like you and I will never survive it. We won’t be able to afford to live here. It will be a bedroom community for Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The Park will be strangled, and the town will flounder deep into debt, for they will have the burden of dealing with such numbers without having access to the taxes those folks will pay.

And LeVan will be enjoying cold beer in Idaho, [or Montana or wherever], Monahan will be sipping brandy in Washington, and heaven only knows where Dave Sites will migrate once he has sold his last 5000 new houses that he developed. Nope, the developers won’t stick around. Once those housing tracts are in and the shopping malls, and commerce centers are up and standing empty, they’ll be long gone, counting all the money they sucked out of Adams County, and laughing all the way to the bank, thinking, “Boy, we sure showed them!”

So how do we protect the three industries that provide such economic largesse and stability? Stop endangering them. Use economic development money to help the Fruit industry right itself. Use the lack of water in the county’s water tables to stop the development planned for the Route 15 area. Stop approving bad ideas like the Water Park, the four story hotel next to the Pike Restaurant [really, who thinks the Park won’t condemn that property by eminent domain? How close are they to the site of the intrusive National Tower that was taken by eminent domain and taken down? By far, they are too close to both the National and the Evergreen Cemetery! Who okayed this project? Stupidity! Absolute stupidity.]

Further, the borough needs an infusion of regular income. Here is where the Adams County Economic Development Corporation should step in and augment both the county and borough coffers to help defray the costs of protecting the businesses, and citizens of the area. The Federal government, via the National Park Service should also contribute to the borough and county to help defray the costs of taking care of a million tourists per year.

Yes, build new houses, but let’s decide as soon as possible to not become that bedroom community for people from Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. Save the farms. Use ACEDC money to help the farmers cope with rising costs of farming.

The investments coming into this county are going to the wrong destinations. Save what’s here…that is what heritage is all about.

Again, pbadgerb, thank you for taking the time and effort to post a comment here. Dialog is important. We hope we have addressed your comments sufficently, but if you have further questions, feel free to contact us using the Email Me link on the sidebar. If you have further comments, we encourage you, and anyone to post them using the comments link at the bottom of each post.

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