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Staples leads boom in building resurgence

February 14, 1997

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

Commercial and industrial construction in Washington County - led by the new Staples distribution center - has rocketed in the last couple of years, officials say.

"We've seen an incredible turnaround," said contractor George Stone, president of Building Systems Inc. "Back three or four years ago everything kind of died and the competition was terrible. The last couple years, we've had about all the work we can handle."

Stone said low interest rates and a spurt of economic development projects have helped.

The construction value of this year's permitted nonresidential building projects - which includes commercial, industrial and government projects - has already eclipsed fiscal 1996's total.

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From July 1, 1996, to Jan. 31, 1997, permits have been issued for $61.1 million in nonresidential building projects - up from $49 million for all of fiscal 1996 and $17 million for fiscal 1995, according to Department of Permits and Inspections Office Manager Angela Smith.

Large projects, including $29.4 million this year for the Staples center, have fueled the increase.

Area contractors said the spurt of construction has resulted in more jobs.

"In the last six to eight months, our business has grown tremendously," said Tracy Schindle, treasurer and secretary for McCleary & Earley Inc., a Williamsport general contractor.

Schindle said the firm has continued hiring through the winter, adding 10 to 12 workers. "Usually you slow down a little bit in the winter," she said. Milder temperatures and an influx of business have reversed that trend, she said.

The company now employs about 85 workers compared to about 60 at this time last year, she said.

Normally, the firm does about half its business in West Virginia, which has seen growth in the past few years. But this year, Washington County business is growing very fast, she said.

Larry Rydbom, vice president and general manager of Ellsworth Electric Co., said employment there has increased from about 85 employees in 1991 to 150 now.

Aggressive moves by the company and a healthy economy have contributed to the company's success, he said.

Projects including Citicorp's expansion, Blue Seal Feeds and the Staples warehouse have provided boosts in business, he said.

"People are seeing the growth. It's just a real good place for people to do business," he said.

"There seems to be a lot of growth up and down the I-81 corridor," Stone said.

The growth has come despite an end to construction projects at Fort Ritchie, he said.

"The private sector seems to have picked up where the government has cut back," he said.

The number of building and other permits has increased by 10 percent in each of the last two years, said Permits and Inspections Director Paul Prodonovich. He said the permit activity went along with the county's low unemployment rate.

Because of the increased workload, Washington County Commissioners Tuesday approved changing the department's work week from 371/2 hours to 40 hours at a cost of $38,000 a year.

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