Somerset County extends tax-exempt status for business park; officials plan open house

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Sep. 21—SOMERSET — The Somerset County commissioners approved an extension for the Laurel Highlands Business Park to preserve its "tax-exempt" status through 2031.

And they are taking steps to ensure the business world knows about the Keystone Opportunity Improvement Zone, board members said Tuesday.

Acknowledging that efforts to market the park haven't been steady enough in recent years, county officials are posting billboards and planning an open house Oct 8. to promote the site's central location and offerings.

"Marketing for the park has been sporadic over the last 10 years," Solicitor Michael Barbera said. "But it's a hidden gem in the county and this is part of an effort to bring that to the forefront."

Located along Route 31 between the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Route 219, the park was established in 2006 on land that was carved out from a former state hospital, which had closed decades earlier.

Today, lots inside the more than 90-acre park are shovel-ready, featuring access to water, sewage, natural gas and high-speed internet — the critical infrastructure most businesses seek, Commissioner Colleen Dawson said.

The park is home to hand-crafted honey product maker BumbleBerry Farms and a CNG Motor Fuels of Somerset compressed natural gas station.

But for those who don't travel through the site, there might not be enough "awareness" about the park's available property — realtors included, Dawson said.

For years, the property's entrance has lacked signs to inform potential developers about whom to contact.

That's already changing, though. One new sign has been added along Route 31 and another is planned for the Turnpike.

The KOIZ status extension that was approved Tuesday can only help those efforts, commissioners said.

To keep the land's tax-exempt status intact through December 2031, the measure needed approval from the county, Somerset Area schools and Somerset Township.

The county's resolution was the final one needed for the application to the state to finalize the move, Barbera said.

Cambria County approved its own application in August to extend the KOZ tax-exempt status for a list of high-priority development areas, including the Jackson Township Business Park along side Route 22, 132 acres of Johnstown-Cambria County Airport property, and 117 acres of land in Johnstown, including the hospital corridor and onetime Rosedale site.

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