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Commissioners Address the State of the County

by and on September 14, 2018 5:00 AM

Before a large crowd at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center the Centre County Commissioners spoke on the state of the county, and all three agreed that things are moving in a positive direction thanks to the cooperation of many.

The event was hosted by The Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County, and had to be moved beforehand from the Nittany Lion Inn to the larger Penn Stater because interest in attending the luncheon was so high. The three commissioners, Michael Pipe, Mark Higgins and Steven Dershem, highlighted work toward county-wide infrastructure improvements, the opioid crisis, updating the county buildings and entrepreneurship growth among, other things that are making the county stronger.

Chairman Pipe said it is the effort of a group much larger than the commissioners that has the county moving toward the future. Pipe cited more than 500 other individuals who work for the Centre County government, the many partner agencies such as non-profits and other government agencies, along with a strong invested community as reasons for the county’s growth.

Pipe said the county’s finances were in good shape moving forward, thanks to work done by the many people in the county securing grants and smartly funding projects.

One of those projects is a new $4.8 million dollar energy saving project that will end offsetting some of the costs of the project with its energy saving. The projects on county building will go in to affect in the upcoming months. The county is also looking to add solar panels outside of the prison in the future, said Pipe.

Pipe also mentioned the upcoming work on the high-speed interchange project for I-99/I-80 that will make getting to and from Centre County safer. He praised the Drive Forward initiative that was led by the CBICC, Glenn O. Hawbaker and many others to secure $35 million in federal funding for the upcoming project.

He also touted the $1 million that the county received from a federal block grant to go toward the Potter Mills Route 322 project, and a $400,000 state grant to improve the county’s 911 services.

Pipe thanked state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, for helping the county secure $300,000 for improvements to the public safety training site and improve the ability and training of first responders.

Pipe said the county is glad to provide a new look and location to Centre Crest, and said with the new location, the county will look at the current building and decide what to do with it in years to come.

Pipe said the opioid epidemic is affecting too many people in the county, and that the drug court established by the county is a step toward fixing the problem. He said the work done by The Hope Initiative is working with communities affected by the issue to find solutions and help people.

“Commissioner Dershem has led the HOPE Initiative to work to find ways to tackle this issue on the ground with targeted approaches,” said Pipe

Pipe also spoke about technology, and said that the county just posted a new position, chief information officer, to meet the threats of cyber security, and so the county “is not putting our citizens information at risk.”

Commissioner Mark Higgins spoke about the many things the county is doing to encourage business growth in the county. He highlighted the business incubators in Philipsburg and Bellefonte that have seen entrepreneurs start and grow their business at low costs.

“The Bellefonte Spring Board Business Incubator is about three quarters full and the entrepreneurs there are creating jobs and they are assisting with the revitalization of Bellefonte,” said Higgins.

Higgins also highlighted the work that the county has done to promote and help agriculture and farmers in the county. He said the one thing that they noticed after a study was the lack of agricultural processing plants locally.

“This means a lack of value ag and lack of jobs in Centre County,” said Higgins. “It also results that Centre County only eats about one percent of the food we grow here in Centre County. That is important for job creation and also important for the freshness of our food.”
He said Appalachian Food Works is a food hub that will look to provide a meat processing facility in Centre County and then move to other agriculture processing.

Higgins also address the “dairy crisis” and said that even the most efficient dairies are losing money currently.

“So to assist our dairy farmers and increase family sustaining jobs in Centre County I’ve been helping Pennsylvania Ag. Secretary Russell Reading with his cheese factory initiative. Sometimes he calls me Mark ‘Cheese Factory’ Higgins,” said Higgins. He hopes to work with the state to help encourage cheese producers in Centre County to bring in jobs and help dairy farmers have a place to process their product.

Higgins said the county is working to continue to provide opportunities for young entrepreneurs who will continue to encourage the growth of the county.

“We have an amazing quality of life in Centre County, and a lot of activities that young professionals enjoy,” said Higgins. “But I need to remind people that we need to redouble our efforts to encourage these young professionals into leadership roles, and creating and maintaining housing that they can afford. I hear a lot of complaint about that.”

Commissioner Dershem spoke on the cooperation that he sees in the county system. He mentioned the drug court as a positive example of that cooperation.

“That wasn’t just an accident. A lot of folks in our criminal justice planning office, folks in our legislative community, folks within our county government, the county commissioners, we all came together and said ‘how can we get this to happen?’. We asked for the money, we got it working, and now we actually have a pathway for some of our most vulnerable folks in our community to find a way out of addiction,” said Dershem. “Those are the kind of things that are truly blessings for us as county commissioners to look back and see and say, ‘you know, that is good stuff’.”

He also spoke on the human services department that works together to help people in the county. Dershem said the district attorney’s office is working at a variety of levels, to find positive solutions for people.

“District Attorney (Bernie) Cantora has really stepped up and done a fantastic job of working with us and really making good things happen for all the people of Centre County,” said Dershem.

Pipe and Dershem both added that the county will be looking into procuring new voting machines for upcoming elections to make the process more secure and up-to-date.

Derhem said the growth of infrastructure and business in the area show that the county is growing in a positive direction and ended by sharing a dream with the crowd.

“This is my dream. I think we could have the Winter Hockey Classic with the Penns and the Flyers here at Beaver Stadium in a few years,” said Dershem. “And this is the group of Commissioners that is going to make that happen. We are going to have those talks, and we are going to have those successes and we are going to do some really amazing things.”



This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.



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