WILKES-BARRE — One thing about John Augustine, President/Chief Executive Officer of Penn’s Northeast, Inc., is his enthusiasm — for his job, for his mission and for our economic future.
Augustine said Penn’s Northeast’s mission is simple — to bring businesses to Northeastern Pennsylvania.
“The more businesses Penn’s Northeast brings, the more jobs will be created,” Augustine said. “The more jobs created, the stronger the economy will become. If the economy strengthens, Northeastern Pennsylvania will flourish.”
Augustine said Penn’s Northeast’s mission is to enhance the region’s economy through new investments, job creation and increasing the amount of potential business opportunities for regional businesses.
That regional approach, Augustine has stated, is the key to economic success. He displayed that clearly when Penn’s Northeast put together its proposal to send off to Amazon.com when they were seeking a location for their new second headquarters, HQ2. The region didn’t make the final list, but the package and the regional approach, Augustine said, will be key going forward to attract employers.
“We serve as Northeastern Pennsylvania’s single point of contact for businesses looking to expand or relocate,” Augustine said. “We are the liaison between Penn’s Northeast partners, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and businesses seeking new facility sites. To accomplish these objectives, Penn’s Northeast is a membership organization. The dues allow our staff to proactively market NEPA as the No. 1 place to do business on the East Coast.”
What is Penn’s Northeast?
Penn’s Northeast (PNE) is Northeastern Pennsylvania’s regional non-profit economic development agency, dedicated to attracting quality employers to our region. Penn’s Northeast serves Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Wayne and Schuylkill Counties, as well as the community of Berwick.
Created by a coalition of private business leaders, utility companies, local economic development organizations, Chambers of Commerce, and governments to promote Northeastern Pennsylvania’s collective assets, Penn’s Northeast facilitates the creation and retention of quality jobs by marketing Northeastern Pennsylvania to the world, and by providing site selection and incentive financing assistance to businesses, real estate brokers, developers, and site selection consultants.
The organization serves as a single regional point of contact for businesses looking to relocate to or expand within Northeastern Pennsylvania, functioning as a liaison between local development partners, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and businesses seeking new facilities.
PNE was created to perform a specific set of responsibilities — collaborative external marketing and site selection assistance — on behalf of its member organizations.
As a result, Augustine said Penn’s Northeast’s work wouldn’t be possible without the assets brought to the table by regional partners — industrial land development undertaken by local industrial development groups and private developers; financing and incentive programs managed by banks and nonprofit entities; research performed by the Institute for Public Policy and NEPA Alliance; the educational horsepower of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s colleges and universities; and close cooperation with municipal, county, state and federal governments.
Augustine said Penn’s Northeast (PNE) was created with the knowledge that Northeastern Pennsylvania is a large and varied region. Consequently, the organization works hard to be responsive to its diversity of strengths, to its geography, and to its stakeholders.
PNE is funded through annual contributions from its founding partners and its private members and investors. The organization maintains a staff of two: a president/CEO, and a director of marketing.
Since its inception in 2002, Penn’s Northeast and its partners have helped to bring more than 10,000 jobs to its five-county service area.
History of partnership
• On June 1, 2002, local business and community leaders from five Northeastern Pennsylvania counties signed an agreement creating a new organization to collectively market the region. Representatives of 16 different organizations participated, pledging to work together to attract companies to Northeastern Pennsylvania.
• Named “Penn’s Northeast, Inc.,” the new organization became responsible for generating job-creating leads and performing the marketing, branding and relationship-building required to increase the number of interested employers who would consider locating their business and bringing quality jobs to Northeastern Pennsylvania.
• The new organization had its roots in volunteer efforts dating to the prior decade. John Levitski, the PPL Electric Utilities Regional Manager who served as Penn’s Northeast’s original chairman, described its origins:
“In 1993, the first volunteer regional marketing efforts took shape through an organization called the Eastern Access Group (EAG). As the group moved toward creating a more effective identity for the region, those efforts took shape in 1996 under a volunteer organization called Penn’s Northeast. While we had accomplished a great deal thus far through the work of volunteers, we wanted to increase the visibility of Northeastern Pennsylvania with national and international site selectors, developers and corporate decision makers.
“To take our efforts to the next level in today’s extremely competitive economic development climate, we needed to go beyond a volunteer group. We needed to hire staff dedicated solely to marketing the area, and to secure the partnership agreements and financial commitments from key stakeholders to make that possible.”
What PNE does
• Site selection services
Simply put, the purpose of Penn’s Northeast is to raise awareness, stimulate interest, foster relationships, and keep Northeastern Pennsylvania on the minds of site selectors, brokers and companies interested in expanding or relocating their businesses.
As a first point of contact, PNE can promptly provide regional information to potential prospects. PNE helps them define their needs, identify potential sites, provide them with demographic and salary information, and connect them with other economic development groups and chambers of commerce in specific areas of interest. PNE also arranges tours of sites throughout the region.
When PNE sells Northeastern Pennsylvania, the story always begins with the region’s key assets:
— Only a two-hour drive from New York and Philadelphia.
— Five major interstate highways running directly through NEPA.
— More than 1 million residents living in the region.
— Nineteen colleges and universities with 40,000 enrolled students.
— A skilled and reliable labor force.
— Lower utility and living costs.
— High quality of life and year-round outdoor activities in a safe and family-friendly region.
PNE obtains leads about potential clients from a variety of sources.
Many come from the Governor’s Action Team, a state economic development organization whose job is to recruit out-of-state companies to Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania’s Office of International Business Development, whose job is to recruit foreign direct investment to the Commonwealth.
Other potential deals originate from former clients that have worked with Penn’s Northeast, from the organization’s own prospecting efforts at trade shows, and through PNE’s award-winning advertising and marketing campaigns.
“In the end, it’s all about leads,” Augustine said. “PNE’s marketing activities are intended to generate leads from businesses that are actively seeking a new location for relocation or expansion purposes. For economic development organizations, the ability to turn a single lead into a definite sale often means bringing a multi-million-dollar project and hundreds of jobs to a region.”
PNE’s lead-development system, which began in 2003, continues to work well, with the organization recently processing its 373rd lead.
Companies such as Pepsico, Two Chefs on a Roll, Archer Daniels Midland, c3i, Johnson and Johnson, SECCAS, and many more are located in Northeastern Pennsylvania today because of the marketing and sales efforts of Penn’s Northeast and its economic development partners.
Penn’s Northeast is one member of a team — its work wouldn’t be possible without its local economic development partners. They are hardworking, knowledgeable experts with a passion to see their respective communities and Northeast Pennsylvania grow and flourish.
• Requests for information
As part of its work, PNE is routinely called upon to create and coordinate responses to Requests for Information. RFI’s are essentially requests for site selection proposals, asking a region to make a formal case regarding their ability to accommodate a business’s needs.
In 2017, PNE coordinated Northeastern Pennsylvania’s response to the Amazon HQ2 Request for Information. Amazon’s search for a second headquarters location — projected to be a $5 billion project resulting in the creation of 50,000 direct jobs — captivated North America to an extent unprecedented for a site selection project.
Amazon received 238 responses from cities and regions throughout the continent. Because of PNE, one of those was a submission from Northeastern Pennsylvania. While our region was not ultimately selected as one of the twenty finalists, this effort paid dividends that will continue well beyond HQ2. PNE continues to use the data assembled for the Amazon HQ2 project, repeatedly drawing upon it for subsequent proposals.
“The Amazon HQ2 RFI was Northeastern Pennsylvania’s first truly regional submission to a Request for Information,” Augustine said. “Under PNE’s leadership, it will not be the last.”
• Regional site tours
Penn’s Northeast serves as the single point of contact for companies looking to locate to Northeastern PA. One of the resources offered is the ability to take prospects from one location to the next, introducing the companies to the local economic development directors as well as elected officials. PNE also assists with incentives and workforce development issues.
• Foreign investment
In the last five years, FDI or Foreign Direct Investment has significantly increased in NEPA. PNE works directly with the State’s Office of International Business Development and their many partners stationed across the globe to attract companies to our region.
• Trade shows and conferences
Penn’s Northeast promotes the region at numerous real estate trade shows and specialty conferences. These events are one of the ways that the organization makes new contacts and connects with industry practitioners on behalf of the region, while keeping current on specific industry trends.
PNE holds a variety of signature events designed to showcase Northeastern Pennsylvania and its assets to the site selection community and to potential businesses.
These events include Broker Events, which connect PNE members with real estate professionals working within the metropolitan areas that produce most of our leads.
In 2018, Penn’s Northeast introduced its newest event — the inaugural NEPA Real Estate Summit. At the Summit, PNE convened a group of expert panelists who discussed every aspect of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s commercial real estate sector — the commercial/industrial market, the office market, health care, and downtown redevelopment — in deep detail, allowing participants to come away with new insights about regional trends and opportunities.
• Real estate database
Bringing new companies to Northeastern Pennsylvania means having the available sites and buildings to accommodate a new facility. Our region is fortunate to have an ample supply of inventory to market to outside prospects, and one of PNE’s key responsibilities is to ensure that prospects are well informed about the full array of properties that are available throughout the PNE service area.
To accomplish this mission, Penn’s Northeast created the region’s first comprehensive online real estate database. It provides prospects with available office and industrial sites and facilities from our partners as they come on the market. The database can be accessed by going to www.pennsnortheast.com.
Penn’s Northeast also uses this same information to populate the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s “SiteSearch” website with the same data. It can be accessed at www.pasitesearch.com.
• Business and industrial park maps
Penn’s Northeast also creates and maintains a business park map portfolio with detailed maps of 28 different business parks in Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Schuylkill, and Wayne counties. These maps, which are regularly updated, highlight available land and buildings, existing businesses, infrastructure and available tax incentives. Versions of all maps are available at www.pennsnortheast.com.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.