The opening of Interstate 99 from the Pennsylvania Turnpike to Interstate 80 continues to play an important role in economic development in Blair County.
"Data show that the development of the I-99 corridor really has had an impact. There has been some development along the interchanges, and there is a chance for further development," said Rose M. Baker, director of Penn State's Center for Regional Economic and Workforce Analysis, at the second annual Blair County Economic Outlook Wednesday at The Casino at Lakemont Park. "That is where people want to come."
The event, held at the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Club, was sponsored by Blair County's Tri-Agency Coalition for Business and Tourism, a collaboration of Altoona-Blair County Development Corp., the Allegheny Mountains Convention and Visitors Bureau and the chamber.
Martin J. Marasco, ABCD Corp. president and CEO, said true economic development has no municipal boundaries.
"We support a regional approach. It is more positive than looking at individual counties. We have seen a lot of activity and development and will see more in our area," Marasco said.
Baker said the interstate opened up the area to make it easier for people to get to work. She said more than 22,000 people drive into Blair County to work, while about 18,000 leave the county to work somewhere else. More than 3,000 of those who come to Blair County for work drive more than 50 miles, she said.
There are more people driving from Centre to Blair to work than vice versa, Baker said.
If more and better housing were available, some of those people may move into Blair County, Baker said.
The development of I-99 also has had an impact on visitor spending in Blair County.
According to fourth-quarter fiscal year 2011 data provided by the state Department of Labor and Industry's Center for Workforce Information and Analysis, more than $209 million was generated by visitor spending in Blair County in fiscal 2011, which ended Sept. 30.
About 7,392 jobs in the county are linked to visitor spending either directly (through restaurant meals sold, gas purchased, souvenirs bought, etc.) or indirectly (through the trickle-down effect of benefit to the companies from whom restaurants buy their food, trucking companies that transport gasoline, etc.).
"Visitor spending is a big part of the economy. About 10 percent of all jobs in Blair County are in some way connected to visitor spending in Blair County," said David L. Passmore, director of Penn State's Institute for Research in Training and Development.
On another topic, Passmore said although Blair County is not in the Marcellus Shale producing zone, the industry could provide opportunities for local businesses that support the drilling and extraction industries.
"There is lots of experience with manufacturing mining equipment that could be increased," Passmore said. "This could also impact businesses that provide engineering services and site preparation services."
Marcellus Shale has changed the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania.
"We were importing natural gas in 2004, and now we are exporting it," Passmore said.
The low price of natural gas, as a result of Marcellus Shale, could also have an impact.
"Natural gas is selling for between $3.50 and $4 per thousand cubic feet. The projections are it will stay that way," Passmore said. "We won't see prices jump."
He said that would be good for development, when companies look at what energy source to use.
"There are opportunities for industries that use natural gas and there are industries that could change to natural gas, and there are ones that may move to Pennsylvania to use the natural gas that is here," Baker said.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.