Editor’s note: This story is part of the CDT’s Business Matters special section.
Covering nearly a third of the county, the Bald Eagle Valley and the Mountaintop regions are better known for their rural nature than their business climate.
But business thrives where people thrive, and these regions are no exception. And with the stability that an area like Bald Eagle and Mountaintop offers, County Commissioner Mark Higgins said, it’s only a matter of time before the business opportunities begin to grow.
“I’ve done a lot of research independently and with our planning commission,” Higgins said, “and the population is incredibly stable through the Mountaintop Region. It’s something like plus-or-minus 10 people over 10 years, which, by western-and-central Pennsylvania standards is pretty successful.”
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The average income of the population in the regions is only about $1,000 less than surrounding areas, he said, with a large middle class in both Mountaintop and Lower Bald Eagle.
There’s not much growth now, he said, but there’s certainly no decline either. Every day, hundreds commute from the surrounding counties into the regions for work, be it the various machine tool shops, the Snow Shoe Refractories brick manufacturer or the Federal Express freight station.
Higgins added that, with the growth of the Bellefonte area, he wouldn’t be surprised to see business growth and population increases spill over into the Bald Eagle Area and Mountaintop regions by 2020. Higgins said he hoped the spillover in growth might even increase tourism in places like Howard Township, with its proximity to Bald Eagle State Park.
Business doesn’t mean hundreds of employees, either. A quick jaunt through the regions reveals countless small businesses as well.
A trip through any of the boroughs or townships and a visitor will spot restaurants, like Kitchen Witch Cafe in Howard; specialty shops, like Clarence Archery in Snow Shoe; or any of number of supermarkets or convenience stores.
While gas drilling continues to operate in the Mountaintop Region, with 26 wells handled by five operators at last count, Higgins said he didn’t think anyone will see an increase in wells anytime in the near future. The reason, he said, comes down to “wet gas” versus “dry gas.”
“Wet gas is all the rage,” he said. “It’s what they have in the southwestern corner of the state.”
The gas running through the Bald Eagle Area and Mountaintop regions is dry, he said, and has flooded the market. It will be quite a while before there’s any more of that activity in those regions.
“No one’s going to drill holes, plug them up and wait five to 10 years for them to be profitable,” he said.