It’s been 65 years since CAN DO was founded with the commitment to bring business and industry to Greater Hazleton and improve the quality of life for its residents.
Thanks to many hardworking volunteers and staff, CAN DO has gone from a grassroots effort to a nationally recognized, award-winning leader in the economic development field. It has amassed more than 350 industrial and office projects. It developed more than 21 million square feet of buildings worth more than $550 million. And it has created more than 26,000 jobs to date.
All this development has generated millions of dollars in annual tax revenue and community reinvestment that has transformed Greater Hazleton.
This is the story of the people who led the charge and their dedication, persistence and planning.
The story begins in 1956, during the decline of the coal mining industry, when Greater Hazleton's leaders realized they had a serious problem on their hands.
By the end of World War II, the era of hard anthracite coal was coming to an end. Literally fueled by the demands of the war effort, petroleum products were replacing coal as the nation's fuel of choice, and mine operators started feeling the pinch. The local mining-based economy was failing, and soldiers returned home to find they didn't have jobs anymore.
The decline was fast and steep. The mines employed more than 13,500 men in 1927, but by 1950, that number plummeted to 6,000.
The crushing blow came in 1955, when Hurricane Diane swept up the Atlantic seaboard and dumped several feet of water onto Greater Hazleton. Diane killed most of what was left of the area's coal industry by flooding the deep mines.
More than half of the remaining coal workers were laid off, and more than 1,600 jobs in the area were lost permanently.
Unemployment skyrocketed to almost 23 percent - and stayed there. The local economy had relied on coal for decades. There were no other major employers in Greater Hazleton at the time.
A group of local civic and business leaders couldn't sit back and watch the area fail. They worked with the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce, which had already begun attempts to get one new, large industry into the area.
The group, led by respected physician Dr. Edgar L. Dessen, had a common vision to counteract the decline of the sagging local economy.
Calling itself CAN DO, which soon came to stand for the Community Area New Development Organization, this group coordinated programs to attract new and diverse industries through economic development initiatives. The fledgling development agency decided they needed land they could market to industries.
In 1954, the Chamber of Commerce had supported the “Dime-A-Week” campaign, which asked workers to contribute $5.20 a year. Another effort asked residents to show their support by taping dimes along Broad Street - Hazleton's main thoroughfare - in the Mile of Dimes campaign. A third project placed lunch pails in businesses around Hazleton to collect patrons' loose change.
This combined effort raised $14,000, which was enough to purchase 500 acres of land west of Hazleton - land that would become the Valmont Industrial Park.
CAN DO had land, but still needed buildings. A second community fund drive spearheaded by Dessen - CAN DO's first president - sought $500,000 for the creation of "shell" buildings - pre-built facilities ready for industrial clients. Volunteers sold $100 bonds to workers through payroll deduction plans while merchants and businesses contributed cash.
Many thought CAN DO would never be able to raise a half-million dollars in financially strapped Greater Hazleton. But within four weeks, volunteers from the community and area service organizations sold $540,000 in bonds and collected another $200,000 in contributions. The campaign was a complete success.
The United States government recognized the fundraising effort in a publication: "By this demonstration of civic conscience, men and women fortunate enough to be employed helped create jobs for the less fortunate in Hazleton.''
With available land and money in the bank, CAN DO started work on speculative industrial shell buildings. A regional commission helped out by building roads from State Route 93 (known as Route 29 at the time) to the two development sites.
The hard work paid off in 1957, when General Foam Corp. announced it was moving into Valmont Industrial Park. The company, which made a variety of hard and soft foam rubber products, created 100 new jobs.
Other businesses soon followed, snatching up parcels of land and constructing facilities or moving into shell buildings. These firms created thousands of new jobs that generated millions of dollars in payroll. As Greater Hazleton got back to work, commercial firms and real estate developers soon followed. Soon, the wheel of progress started turning. Development led to improvements in the quality of life, which attracted more industries, which created more jobs and income, which attracted more commercial development and so on.
As the interstate highway system spread across America, CAN DO successfully fought to bring major roadways near Greater Hazleton. Again, community advocates fought to secure the location of those highways, lobbying President Dwight D. Eisenhower himself. It paid off, as Interstate 81 passes one mile west of Valmont on a north-south line from Canada to the Deep South. Interstate 80, which travels from New York City in the east to San Francisco, Calif., in the west, is just over six miles as the crow flies from center city Hazleton.
When local exits to both highways opened in 1965 - 10 years before the entire route through Pennsylvania was complete, Greater Hazleton quickly developed its reputation as "The Crossroads of the East" - a nickname still held today because the junction of I-80 and I-81 is just six highway miles north of Valmont. A few years later, Interstate 80 would link Greater Hazleton to the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-476), which passes about 16 miles east of downtown Hazleton.
The success of Valmont Industrial Park led CAN DO to consider developing other areas. Planning for another park west of downtown Hazleton began in 1968, and CAN DO purchased the land in 1970.
Humboldt Industrial Park opened two years later. The park quickly started filling with eager new tenants.
Stretching for five miles along Route 924, Humboldt has become the largest industrial park in Greater Hazleton. The now 3,000-acre Humboldt Industrial Park is located at the on/off ramp for Exit 143 of Interstate 81, and is minutes from the interchange of Interstate 80 - putting it in the center of 25 percent of the world's population. CAN DO drew on its experiences in Valmont to create the Humboldt park and created the perfect location for companies. The infrastructure was designed specifically to support industries in an industrial park. CAN DO established a system of 12- and 16-inch ductile steel-lined pipes that connect to the park’s water supply. The park’s tenants are the sewer system’s only customers. The roads are hard-surfaced. Utilities stretch to existing curbs so developers don’t have to extend lines great distances or dig under the road to reach them.
In 1987, two clients wanted to locate adjacent to one another but in an industrial area away from Valmont and Humboldt. CAN DO took them to a 200-acre tract of land it owned near McAdoo, a few miles south of downtown Hazleton on State Route 309.
This land had belonged to CAN DO since the 1960s but hadn't been developed. Once these clients expressed an interest in the site, the economic development agency obtained a grant from the state to develop infrastructure in the park.
Opened in 1989, the McAdoo Industrial Park fills the need for those not interested in a high-profile site with direct access to an interstate. With lot sizes ranging from 2 acres to 30 acres, the industrial park can be ideal for a variety of business types. The park is one-half mile from State Route 309 and, with the opening of State Route 424 (The Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce Beltway), which links State Route 309 and Interstate 81, there is increased access to the McAdoo park.
Recognizing there was a shortage of white-collar jobs in the area, CAN DO began an effort to establish a business park by purchasing a 1,000-acre tract of land in Butler Township in the early 1990s.
This park, the CAN DO Corporate Center, is geared toward white-collar, back office and light assembly operations. An ultra-modern business park, the Corporate Center features a unique environmentally sensitive design known as the Terrarium Concept, which preserves the natural ecological beauty of its surroundings. Developed by a CAN DO planning team of local community and business leaders, this seemingly simple strategy earned CAN DO the 1993 Environmental Excellence in Economic Development award from the Arthur D. Little organization, a highly respected international management and technology-consulting firm.
Completed in late 1995, the CAN DO Corporate Center is strategically located adjacent to Interstate 80 and minutes from Interstate 81. It features the latest communications technology and amenities such as a recreation area and conservation preserve. Network Solutions, a leading provider of Internet services such as Web hosting, Web site design, online marketing and e-mail, is one of the many tenants to operate within the Corporate Center.
By the mid-1990s, CAN DO recognized the need to expand the Humboldt Industrial Park and, in early 1996, started work on a section named Humboldt West. About 300 acres of rail-served industrial property attracted attention from developers from the start, but Humboldt West flourished after much of it was declared a tax-free Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) in 1998. Soon, companies like OfficeMax, Cargill, Michaels Handcrafts, and First Quality Nonwovens called this section of Humboldt home.
With the success of Humboldt West, CAN DO turned its attention to the undeveloped land just north of the growing park. Officials began designing and developing Humboldt North, a 400-acre, rail-served tract across State Route 924 from the original Humboldt park.
Humboldt North's development proved to be a successful venture in CAN DO’s economic development efforts as many manufacturing, food processing and distribution centers are open or plan to open in the park. Gonnella Frozen Products plant makes partially baked frozen bread products. Cargill's Cocoa and Chocolate facility on 76 acres. The Coca-Cola Company purchased 164 acres for the site of a future non-carbonated beverage plant. U.S. Cold Storage, one of the nation's premier distributors of cold and frozen foods, opened a state-of-the-art refrigerated storage and distribution center that will link the food processors in Greater Hazleton with the Northeastern United States and Canada. AutoZone, the number-one auto parts retailer in America, opened a 600,000-square-foot distribution center.
CAN DO officials then developed Humboldt East. This 200-acre, KOZ section is home to national companies like Tootsie Roll, which has its northeastern distribution center here. Humboldt East features several rail-served sites, and developers have already made investments in this section with build-to-suit parcels and pre-approved site plans.
Understanding the need for amenities near Humboldt Industrial Park, CAN DO added Humboldt Station – a commercial development at the intersection of State Route 924 and Interstate 81. This highly visible and easily accessible location is also expected to attract many travellers to its two hotel sites. Humboldt Station will provide park employees and residents of the community as well as interstate travellers a variety of fast-food and family restaurants. Residence Inn by Marriott and Turkey Hill opened its doors and became the first tenant in Humboldt Station while Sonic Drive-In and Burger King fast food restaurants followed.
More tenants are showing interest in Humboldt Station as the retail development begins to accelerate. This area of Humboldt has enormous potential as CAN DO seeks to attract more retail development to Humboldt Station.
Recognizing that some of the best business ideas are homegrown, CAN DO developed the Community Association for New Business Entrepreneurship (CAN BE). Begun in the early 2000s, CAN BE is a business incubator that provides office space and infrastructure to start-up companies. CAN BE tenants can also tap into the local business and educational community and the depth of expertise of its leaders and decisionmakers.
The partnership between CAN DO and the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce remains and is stronger than ever. Both groups collaborate on projects of mutual concern and work closely with local municipal governments to improve the quality of life for everyone in the region.
We are proud of our history and look with excitement into the future as we embrace the challenges that face our organization to continue to provide job opportunities and improve the quality of life in Greater Hazleton.