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First-ever State of the County update presented for Carbon

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    Among the speakers during the first ever State of the County Dinner & Address held Thursday at Blue Mountain Resort include, from left, US Congressman Dan Meuser; John Nespoli, President, St. Luke’s University Health Network Gnaden Huetten and Palmerton campuses; Christopher Barrett, president/CEO, Pocono Mountain Visitors Bureau; Wayne Nothstein, Carbon County Commissioners chairman; Terry Purcell, vice-president, Market Development, Lehigh Valley Health Network; Matthew Marks, Government Affairs Director, Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors; Justin Porembo, CEO, Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors; state Rep. Doyle Heffley; and Amber Breiner, Executive Director, Carbon County Community Foundation. TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS

Published May 24. 2019 12:50PM

Economic development, tourism and health care are all vital components to the landscape of Carbon County.

Those topics and more were delved into during the first-ever comprehensive State of the County Update and Dinner at Blue Mountain Resort on Thursday.

The event was presented by the Carbon Chamber & Economic Development Corp. Future Leaders of Carbon County in cooperation with Blue Mountain Resort, Mauch Chunk Trust Company, Technicom Audio Visual, Lehigh Valley Health Network, St. Luke’s Gnaden Huetten, Palmerton, Miners and Monroe Campuses, Andreas Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning, Future Homes and Sudpro.

Jared McEvoy, Equinox Agency, chairman of the Future Leaders of Carbon County, said the event was held as a way to keep Carbon County at the forefront.

“Ultimately what we’re doing is cultivating leaders,” McEvoy said. “The goal is to introduce people to get involved in the community.”

Marlyn Kissner, executive vice president, Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce and the executive director of the CCEDC, said membership is growing.

The retention rate is 87 percent, which is above the national average of 82 percent.

“We are the connectors,” Kissner said. “That’s what we do, and we’re proud of that.”

State Rep. Doyle Heffley said he believes Carbon County really is positioned well, with a lot of great opportunities moving forward.

“Fifty-two percent of people who live in Carbon County work in the Lehigh Valley,” Heffley said.

U.S. Congressman Dan Meuser, 9th District, said “there are many issues that we are going to accomplish over the next 18 months.”

“I am very impressed with (many) members of Congress,” Meuser said. “For the most part, we have great leadership, people that really care.”

Amber Breiner, executive director, Carbon County Community Foundation, also provided a nonprofit update.

The county

Carbon County Commissioners’ Chairman Wayne Nothstein presented the State of the County.

Nothstein’s address focused on the county’s achievements and challenges experienced this year, and gave a forecast of what can be expected in the second half of 2019 and moving forward.

“Carbon County is a great county,” Nothstein said. “We have a lot of things other counties don’t have.”

However, Nothstein said the county’s tax base has not increased. On top of that, he said there’s the problem of the opioid epidemic.

Nothstein mentioned progress the county is making with its Veterans Treatment Court and Drug Treatment Court.

“There’s a lot of great things going on in Carbon County,” he said.

Economic Development

Kathy Henderson, director of economic development, CCEDC, explained that economic development is “being about creating places where people want to invest, work and live. It’s about making connections between people, companies, institutions, and communities.”

Twenty-two new businesses opened in the county last year.

She said ongoing projects include the LERTA district; warehouse/distribution projects; Weissport Event Center; and the Lehighton Main Street Program.

Real estate

Justin Porembo, CEO, Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors, spoke about tax reform, and said that there have been job additions for eight straight years, while the unemployment rate is 4 percent, record high job openings, historically low jobless claims, high net worth, and wages picking up.

Matthew Marks, government affairs director, of the Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors, said the First-Time Homebuyers Savings Account Program allows Pennsylvanians to save money toward the purchase of a home and the money saved would qualify as a tax deduction for their state income tax return.

He added that House Bill 1200 would enable school districts to exclude up to 100 percent of a homeowner’s school property tax bill by increasing the state personal income tax by 1.8 percent to cover the amount needed to offset owner-occupied residential school property taxes.

Education

Alice Wanamaker, assistant vice president of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, Northern Region, shared said that Carbon Career & Technical Institute has 385 students from the its five area school districts, which represents a 40 percent increase since 2006.

Tourism

Christopher Barrett, president/CEO of the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau, discussed tourism growth.

Barrett said that 27.9 million visitors traveled to the Poconos in 2018, spending $3.3 billion in the region, and that the number of visitors increased by 550,000 to reach 27.9 million in 2018.

“Tourism is very alive, very vibrant, and it’s growing,” Barrett said. “We’re the fastest growing region in the commonwealth.”

Barrett said visitor spending increased by 3.9 percent in 2018, supported by growth in spending on local transportation costs and food & beverage spending, and that visitor spending on lodging has increased an average of nearly 6.7 percent over the past five years, increasing by more than $300 million. Over the recent five-year period, Barrett said spending on lodging and food & beverages has grown the fastest.

“We are a four-season destination,” he said.

Health care

Terry Purcell, vice president, market development, Lehigh Valley Health Network, said that nearly 30 percent of residents seek inpatient care at LVHN.

Purcell stressed that LVHN will continue to give its patients health care access, experience, and value.

“We want to be your health care provider,” Purcell said. “I think the future of health care in Carbon County is bright.”

John Nespoli, president, St. Luke’s University Health Network, Gnaden Huetten & Palmerton campuses, stressed that St. Luke’s wants to keep health care “close to home.”

“It’s great that both health systems are paying attention to the county,” Nespoli said.

Nespoli said the plan includes converting Palmerton’s ER into St. Luke’s Network’s 18th Care Now Center by July 1 of this year, as well as revamping the emergency department at Gnaden Huetten.

He said St. Luke’s plans to break ground on its third campus in Carbon County this summer that will be located off Harrity Road in Franklin Township, and will stand three stories high and include a 22-bed emergency department. It has the capacity for 80 inpatient beds

“We’re thrilled to be here,” he said.

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