“Back then we did a shareholder value-added analysis of each new business we brought in,” says Don Bernhard, manager of community and economic development. “Our economic development organisation paid for itself. But the landscape has now changed. With deregulation, our company does not receive revenue from the whole utility bill but just from the wire charges. While we are still instrumental in locating companies here, those businesses are free to purchase their electricity supply from any place.” Consequently, PPL’s role in economic development is more limited. No longer does it need a large staff to travel the world to drum up business.
“Instead, we put more dollars in funding partnerships with local development companies,” Mr Bernhard explains. “We run a series of programmes and help fund organisations so they can do training courses. We offer assistance with their marketing, update their websites, develop and print new marketing materials, and offer programmes to help analyse and develop new sites.”
Deregulation has also made it possible for PPL to fund a sustainable energy programme. “While alternative energy projects are more prominent in the west, there are windmill projects in Pennsylvania,” Mr Bernhard says.
Despite PPL’s now limited role in economic development, the utility still helps attract new businesses to Pennsylvania. “Companies look at utility prices on a regional and sub-regional level,” he says. “Our prices are competitive and cheaper than the average cost in the northeast United States. In fact, PPL has not had a rate increase since 1986.”
The cost of business was a factor in Olympus America’s decision in April to move its North American headquarters from Long Island to Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. With some 800 employees, the company will immediately rank among the region’s 30 largest employers when it opens, which should be by August 2006.