Harrisburg Business Concerned About City’s Health
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Businesses crave stability.
The last 13 months have been anything but stable in Harrisburg.
The city is struggling under an enormous debt burden tied to the city’s incinerator. Late last year, Harrisburg filed for assistance under the state’s distressed cities law.
More than 200 people attended a Monday rally outside City Hall, urging Mayor Linda Thompson to resign. Thompson has been losing key aides, with former city spokesman Chuck Ardo and solicitor Phil Harper resigning in recent weeks. Ardo, who worked as a spokesman for former Gov. Ed Rendell, openly questioned her ability to lead.
Several Harrisburg business leaders expressed frustration about the turmoil. Others remain optimistic about doing business in the city, although they also are keeping an eye on what’s going on at City Hall.
Michael Pavone, owner of Pavone, an advertising firm, bought an old bank building on Market Street in 1992 and moved his firm into the city. His business is growing, but he wonders if he should continue to invest in the city.
“I believe in this city,’’ he said. “...I continue to invest and bring jobs here. I want to see us more on the path that we were 10 years ago. It just seems like there’s more in-fighting and disarray than anything else.’’
Pavone recently installed new windows in his building and asked himself, “Do, I want to spend money here?’’
And while Pavone said he loves the city, he has thought about leaving.
“The thought has crossed my mind,’’ he said. “Not by choice. I will do whatever is best for my business in the long run.’’
The uncertainty over the city’s finances and the negative headlines could be deterring new businesses, said Chad Harvey, a principal with Midtown Development LLC.
“It impacts new businesses and folks coming in more than it affects the businesses that are already established in Harrisburg,’’ Harvey said. “It’s an unknowable quantity in terms of lost business. It’s definitely very troubling.’’
David Black, president of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber, said that the last year has been unsettling to the business community. Many in the business community look upon the recent events coming out of City Hall and are just shaking their head in disbelief, Black said.
“It’s a lot of noise; a lot of distraction,’’ he said.
For now, businesses are not being truly affected by what is going on at City Hall because the basic services such as police, fire and sanitation are still being provided, he said.
Businesses are finding some comfort in the state’s involvement in the Harrisburg’s finances under the state’s distressed cities law. But Black said that even with the state devising a plan to save the city’s finances, that plan’s implementation does fall to City Council and the mayor’s office.
“Cooler heads are going to have to prevail in City Hall,’’ Black said. “The mayor and City Council are going to have to step up and get serious about solving this.’’
GreenWorks Development Inc. is taking a longterm view on the city’s business climate. The developer built Harrisburg Area Community College’s new building, Campus Square, and other buildings along Third Street.
“We’re very committed to the City of Harrisburg,’’ said Matt Tunnell, vice president of GreenWorks. “We’re observing and watching what goes on in city government. We’re still very optimistic about what we’re doing in Harrisburg and don’t see that changing.’’
J. Alex Hartzler, a partner in the Harrisburg development firm WCI Partners, would rather focus on the city’s pluses than its politics. Unemployment remains low in Harrisburg, the seat of state government, he said.
“Sometimes we are our own worst enemies,’’ he said. “The overall trends are positive. The tendency is to get caught up in the shortterm.’’
Hartzler said he is not concerned about what’s going on at City Hall.
“My advice: There will be an election in four years and everyone should do their thing,’’ he said. “We need to support the leaders that are there and make the best of the situation. This mayor needs to have a chance.’’
Shana Woomer, owner of Breads ‘N Spreads in midtown, is taking a wait-andsee approach to some of the news out of City Hall, but says such news is not good for growing local business.
Woomer said that she opened her shop in midtown in 2008 because she saw the potential for midtown Harrisburg and saw city government supporting the area. In the last year, the city’s support has somewhat eroded, particularly in terms of police protection, she said.
Midtown overall is safe, Woomer said. But, there have been muggings and attacks on business owners that have left her feeling less than adequately protected. Woomer said if such crimes persist, she would consider moving her business out of the city.
“If this trend continues, I would consider it,’’ she said. “At this point, I am not.’’