CLEARFIELD – C. Alan Walker—a life-long resident of Clearfield County—shared his vision for “reinventing” the local economy with the board of commissioners on Tuesday.
Historically, the county’s economy has been built upon its natural resources—timber, coal and clay.
“We all know the story of John E. DuBois,” Walker said, noting DuBois was one of the wealthiest men in America at the time.
That wealth came from his timber holdings in the DuBois area, but Walker said like most great businessmen, DuBois went broke.
Then, in 1920, the county had a booming coal industry that employed 10,000 underground miners.
Mining villages sprung up throughout the county and their remnants still exist today.
The county was also blessed with both soft and hard clay and once home to 25 brick plants including Harbison-Walker Refractories Co.
The plant was by far the county’s largest employer, Walker said, and supplied jobs to 3,500 workers.
“Today they have zero.”
Now the challenge has become finding new industry to recoup the jobs lost over the years in the natural resource economy.
But as the United States transitions to green energy, it creates an “unbelievable” opportunity for Clearfield County, Walker said.
This is mostly thanks to its location—central Pennsylvania, access to rail and water, proximity to Interstate 80 and so on.
“We also got a good workforce here,” he said, noting we have to do something fairly soon before it’s also lost.
As state secretary of community & economic development from 2011 – 2015, Walker looked for new industry to bring back home.
He wasn’t looking for an auto manufacturer to bring in a thousand jobs but smaller companies that would each bring 100 or 200 jobs.
“That way if one goes down, it doesn’t cause an economic catastrophe,” Walker said, like it did with Harbison-Walker.
“Our unemployment—at the time—was up over 25 percent and we had an unbelievable problem here.”
But with United States committing to reshoring manufacturers, he’s begun spearheading work on a potential green energy/smart industrial park.
Walker has multiple sites in mind in the eastern part of the county where he sees a particular need for jobs.
He’s entered into negotiations with multiple manufacturers including two Korean utility-scale battery manufacturers.
“They are very interested in Clearfield County,” Walker said, and would each generate about 200 jobs.
There are also negotiations with companies developing technology that would allow burning of natural gas with no CO2 emissions.
“If that happens, we’ll be the model of how to reinvent your economy for western Pennsylvania,” Walker said.
“That’s my goal for Clearfield County Smart Park.”
Currently he’s seeking grant funding totaling $110,000 through the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
With the commissioners’ approval Tuesday, Clearfield County Smart Park will be using the county as a conduit for the grant, and it (CCSP) must come up with the matching funds.
Funds will be used for a feasibility study to further develop project plans to refocus the local economy.
Walker—when asked by Commissioner Dave Glass—said there was potential to tie this project into local solar farm activity.
“… If we do this right, we will be a power hub in the future,” he said, with the county’s access to more than one grid to sell power.
“I think big and plan for success. If the county would attract battery manufacturers, other things will come with it.
“Every western PA town has been a one-industry or natural resource economy with the same problem as us.
“We have the ability to be at the forefront and transform our economy with today’s world with good jobs with good companies.”