Carbon leaders say economy will rebound
The Carbon Chamber and Economic Development Corp. hosted its first partially virtual State of the County address on Thursday afternoon at Blue Mountain Resort.
“We moved into the yellow and now we’re moving into the green and we’re going to get our economy back up and running,” state Rep. Doyle Heffley, R-Carbon, said.
He thinks the development of the Pocono Promise by the chamber and Pocono Mountain Visitor’s Bureau is going to help people feel safe about going to the area businesses.
“Our economy is going to come back. … We’re going to be the leaders in rebounding our economy,” he said. “As far as the state of Carbon County, I think with all things considered, we’re doing pretty well.”
Heffley said the area is growing with hospitals being built by Lehigh Valley Health Network in Lehighton and St. Luke’s University Health Network in Franklin Township.
Plans to finish work on Route 248 are out to bid and Route 443 is going to be widened.
Commissioner Chairman Wayne Nothstein said the pandemic was “extremely challenging” for the county.
Some departments were closed and employees were furloughed, while others such as Children and Youth and Adult Probation had to remain open.
He said that of the 98 employees who were either furloughed or their hours were cut, most of them will be back to work on Monday.
Mail-in ballots also posed a challenge due to the volume of ballots. More than 5,000 mail-in ballots came into the county, so some furloughed employees were called in to help process them. He expects the number of mail-in ballots to double for the election in the fall.
“We’re planning ahead. We’ll have to add more hours to the part-time people and find additional space and staff come fall,” he said.
Even though county departments are opening up again, Nothstein encouraged people to continue to do their county business online.
“We’re looking into how we can further that online process for county government,” he said. “My fear is should we get a second wave of this COVID-19, or any other disease that may come along in the future, we have to be better prepared.”
He thinks the virus caught everyone off guard, but it also brought to light some areas where the county and businesses were vulnerable.
Nothstein said the county is slated for $5.8 million in funding through the CARES Act. He strongly encourages all municipalities and others that may be eligible for reimbursement to apply. The funds are to be used to help with expenses they incurred due to the pandemic. Documentation is crucial.
As for tax revenues, there has been very little growth there, he said, but the county is moving forward on the Emergency Services Training Facility. The access road was completed and site preparation has begun. The specs will be going out to bid in the near future.
“A lot of good things are going on here in Carbon County, (we’re) making great progress. We’ve got a long way to go,” he said. “Let’s get back to business safely as soon as possible.”
Justin Porembo with the Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors Association said the real estate market was shut down during the pandemic, because it was not listed as an essential business. Gov. Tom Wolf reopened it in late May with specific safety guidelines.
Because of the pandemic, the busy spring market stalled, but has now been pushed into a busy summer market.
“We are now seeing a huge pickup in business,” he said.
For instance, the Lehigh Valley has seen 50 offers on some properties. he said people from New Jersey and New York are once again looking to move west to Pennsylvania, and this could also bode well for Carbon County and the Poconos.
“It will be an intense game of musical chairs,” he said.
The one thing the industry continues to lack is supply.
Supply was always low, but during the pandemic, some sellers pulled their houses off the market. The industry likes to have a six-month supply of houses. Carbon County currently has a three-month supply.
With interest rates low and buyers interested, Porembo’s hoping that sellers will jump back into the market.
Chris Barrett, president of the Pocono Mountain Visitors Bureau, is hopeful that the Pocono Promise will entice visitors to the area and bolster tourism, Tourism accounts for 37% of the region’s economy and 65% of its labor income, he said. Statistically though, he said that they are looking at a possible 30% drop in tourism.
In 2018, the Pocono area saw 28 million guests in 2018; 2.5 million of them visited Carbon County. A drop of 30% could mean a loss of about 756,000 guests in Carbon County.
Overall, travel to Carbon County generates about $445 million is sales and $36.5 million in state and local taxes, and $36.3 million in federal taxes. If Carbon County loses 30% of its tourism this year, then that’s and about $161.7 million is lost sales.
Since many people are not sure about making their typical vacation plans this year, Barrett is hoping that locals will venture out to the tourist destinations nearby.
“We feel our destination will come back faster than most. We’re always hopeful,” he said. “There’s a lot of penned up demand to travel.”
U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser, R-9, said turning green is going to allow for more outdoor activities.
“We’re moving forward. That’s the name of the game. We’ve got to keep on thinking forward, leaning forward, and maintaining a high level of health and safety,” he said.
Present at the resort were legislative leaders Meuser and Heffley; Tony Iannelli, president and CEO of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce; Terry Purcell, president of Lehigh Valley Hospital-Carbon; and John Nespoli, president of St. Luke’s Lehighton and Palmerton campuses.
Nothstein, Porembo and Chris Barrett attended virtually.