We asked local leaders what businesses they want in Centre County. Here’s what they said

While Centre County has its fair share of pizza places and mattress stores, residents rarely shy away from offering their opinions on what new businesses they’d like to see come to the area.

The Centre Daily times reached out to a number of community leaders across the county to get their feedback on what new businesses they’d like to see in the area, where they’d like to see them and why.

Below is what they had to say. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Mark Higgins, Centre County Commissioner: “There are any number of new businesses that would be a great addition to the Centre County community. In my opinion three types of new businesses that would add to the Centre County business community are:

  • A children’s day care provider that is open outside the hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

  • A high technology manufacturing company.

  • A locally owned restaurant that stays open very late at night, with a special impetus on having it vegetarian.”

Lee Anne Jeffries, executive director of the Downtown State College Improvement District: “Encouraging more retailers to open in Downtown State College is a top priority.

Adult establishments that attract a diverse clientele, that can be nimble and responsive to the seasonal challenges of business in a college town, are always on my list. Experiential retailers, local artisan pop-up shops or co-ops and an upscale wine bar would certainly be well received in our community.”

Curtis Johnson, superintendent of the State College Area School District: “I would like to see more unique family-owned restaurants. It would also be nice to have additional department stores, including stores for big and tall.”

Nalini Krishnankutty, State College Borough Council member: “As someone who has lived here more than 35 years, I would personally like to see more small, locally owned businesses, that cater to both students and long-term residents.

It would be great to have more diverse restaurants adding to the choices we already have. My wish list includes Ethiopian, South Indian, Indonesian, Nepalese, Tibetan, Cajun, Creole, specialty restaurants serving soup and more vegan and vegetarian choices.

I envision a grocery store in downtown State College, and a pharmacy in the vicinity of Westerly Parkway Plaza that residents can walk to. Also, florists, a furniture store, specialty clothing stores, and perhaps a satellite location of the Penn State Creamery in downtown State College.

Neighborhood coffee shops and more co-working spaces would be great. I would also like to see innovative exploration of being a university town. For example, spaces showcasing Penn State research in downtown State College, around themes that perhaps change on a rotating basis. This will make cutting-edge research more accessible to residents, government, university and high school students, alumni and other visitors to our region. This could facilitate and spark connections and collaborations, potentially leading to new businesses and research, and increased opportunities for students and residents.”

Stan LaFuria, executive director of the Moshannon Valley Economic Development Partnership: “Whenever I see a question like this one that involves business attraction, it always makes me think of the business attraction versus business retention debate. There are always differences of opinions from the board members of economic development organizations as to how much time should be spent on business attraction versus retention. ... Almost all the business leads that are generated have site and building requirements that we cannot meet, such as availability of existing 300,000 square foot or larger buildings, access to a port or rail, and a demand for large volumes of water. Only once in 30 years were we able to meet the requirements of a state lead. ... We are a bit partial to manufacturers since we have had great success in assisting the owners of manufacturing companies over the years. A new and large manufacturer in the area could disrupt the hiring abilities of numerous existing businesses in the region though.”

Rodney Preslovich, Snow Shoe Township Supervisor: “With Hall’s (Market) we had access to fresh groceries and things like that. There was even a state bank there at one point. Now that those are gone, we’re feeling a bit stranded up here.

Having another grocery store come to the area would be great and I think that having a state bank here would be nice too.”

Greg Scott, president and CEO of the Chamber of Business and Industry Centre County: “We are currently undergoing the creation of a County-Wide Economic Development Strategic Plan where we are focusing specific industries (in) which we have strong local resources and that also align with the State’s Strategic Plan. Based on The State’s plan, they are looking to develop and grow these five industry sectors: agriculture, energy, life sciences, manufacturing and robotics and technology. Broadly, based on our county’s strengths, we would like to focus on:

  • Growing our existing, locally owned small businesses — everything from retail/restaurants/hospitality, tech, agriculture, outdoor recreation, tourism, advanced manufacturing.

  • Retaining the commercialized research businesses coming out of Penn State and growing them locally — make Centre County their home base.

  • Creating a more entrepreneurial environment for businesses that lead to our area being a hub for research, collaboration, innovation and commercialization.

As for specific sectors within the broad industry segments, we expect to have a definitive list at the conclusion of our strategic plan, but so far are focusing on the following:

  • Ag Tech

  • Material Science sectors such as: Chip mfg, additive mfg, silicon carbide, semi-conductor development

  • Businesses in the: Sensors, Measurements, Analysis, Testing sectors

  • IT, AI, IOT

  • Outdoor Rec/Tech

  • Hospitality

  • Health care facilities

As for infrastructure needs, our region needs more attainable and workforce housing options for companies to grow and attract employees.”

Fritz Smith, president and CEO of Happy Valley Adventure Bureau:On weekends, demand for room nights is often exceeding supply. However, we are fortunate that there are several hotel development projects in the works that should help meet demand. We eagerly anticipate the reopening of The Nittany Lion Inn, the planned Allen Street hotel, the Holiday Inn Express in College Township and several other hotel projects currently on the drawing board with the Hospitality Asset Management Corporation.

We appreciate this significant investment in our tourism infrastructure in what is still a very challenging operating environment for these types of projects in terms of access to capital and other factors.

In addition, and this a goal shared by the State College Downtown Improvement District, the Borough and others, we would love to see the empty eye-level storefronts in State College filled with specialty retail shops, performing arts venues, meeting/event space and athletic facilities. We applaud the Borough and DID for taking steps to address this need. If some hurdles can be overcome, there is tremendous potential for those spaces.”

John Yecina, Snow Shoe Township supervisor: “We used to have a bank, a grocery store and hardware store, all in the same town (Snow Shoe Borough and Snow Shoe Township). Now we’ve got none of the sort. Having those businesses back on the mountaintop would do this community and the surrounding townships a world of good.”