The Indiana County Chamber of Commerce held its monthly board meeting on Thursday at St. Andrew’s Village in White Township.
Several key topics — among them the chamber’s new Center for Internship, Act 89 transportation funding and the Challenger Learning Center — were discussed.
Connecting Talent, Opportunity
Many employers in Indiana County have great opportunities for student interns to learn about business and enhance their career potential. Interns can also help those businesses through their education and training. And in some cases, those student interns may also become permanent employees, keeping our talent here.
But there’s a problem: How do potential employers find those interns and, conversely, how do prospective interns learn about the opportunities that exist in Indiana County?
At Thursday’s meeting, board Chairman Bob Kane with Reliant Holdings Inc. outlined a plan he first unveiled at the chamber’s annual luncheon in December to solve that dilemma. Structured as a log-in website, the Center for Internships will serve as conduit between students and chamber member businesses offering opportunities. The site will allow student interns to post resumes that businesses can search based on various criteria to find a potential candidate who meets their needs. The Center for Internships will be linked from the chamber’s website, www.indianacountychamber.com.
“We’re hopeful our chamber members will find this beneficial,” Kane said. “The Center for Internships will serve a clearing house. It just makes sense.”
H&W Global’s J.P. Habets, who has used students at his business and ultimately hired an intern for a full-time position, agreed.
“It can be difficult for a business to know who to contact for an intern,” Habets said.
The site is being tested. The chamber will be meeting with Indiana University of Pennsylvania representatives, area educators, and the Indiana County Center for Economic Operations to ensure the Center for Internships meshes with workforce development goals and current internship programs. The chamber will unveil the Center for Internships in the near future.
Interested students can submit resumes to chamber President Jim Struzzi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joe Pittman, chief of staff for state Sen. Don White, and Jonathan Longwill, with state Rep. Dave Reed’s office, were in attendance.
Pittman said now that Act 89 authorizing increased transportation funding was signed into law, work must now occur to further illustrate the many benefits the additional funding will bring to the traveling public. Longwill added that Reed is working with PennDOT on an event planned for Feb. 27 at the Indiana County Technology Center to outline transportation improvement projects planned for Indiana County. He said also proposed projects planned as part of Act 89 can be viewed on PennDOT’s Decade of Investment website, www.dotdecade.pa.gov.
Heading into the state budget discussion, Pittman said state revenues are up slightly, but not enough to equal increasing expenses. In Fiscal Year 2013, state revenues increased by only about 1 percent while state expenses grew 2.4 percent.
“It’s going to be a difficult budget year,” Longwill said.
The Challenger Learning Center is a bright spot in recent months and something White and Reed have been working hard to deliver, Pittman said.
The Central Allegheny Challenger Learning Center (CACLC) will be dedicated to educational exploration for students, educators and community members. The facility will house a mission simulator, instructional space, micronauts area, emissions studios and corporate/industry learning space. The projected construction of a Community STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Academy, built in conjunction with the Challenger Learning Center, will allow promotion of the coordination of regional educational institutions to collaborate and offer advanced courses in STEM enrichment/development. The proposed center to be located at the Indiana County Technology Center will serve a 22-county region.
“It will have a generational impact on our region,” Pittman said, “bridging the gap between employers and educators.”
Robin Gorman with IUP gave a short report stating that students will be returning from winter break with classes resuming Tuesday. She said enrollment numbers for the coming semester are on target.
Indiana County Commissioner Patty Evanko reported that the county will be distributing about $600,000 in liquid fuels funding to local governments in Indiana County for road maintenance.
She said also that the PennDOT Bureau of Aviation will be here next week to discuss funding issues with the Indiana County Jimmy Stewart Airport.
The real estate property tax reassessment process is about 40 percent complete.
County Office of Planning and Development Executive Director Byron Stauffer said he has been working with PennDOT and Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC) on the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) update. The TIP determines how funding is allocated for transportation projects. With new funding in place, many long-standing projects may see construction in the next few years.
“Rose Street and some of the projects that have been on the books for a long time will be considered,” Stauffer said.
The proposed Rose Street Extension 2 Realignment, estimated at $17.9 million according to the PennDOT website, includes a two-lane relocation and new two-lane highway from the intersection of Rose Street with Route 286 (Oakland Avenue) to Philadelphia Street at the College Lodge Road intersection in White Township.
More attention will also be focused on bridge and roadway maintenance in the upcoming TIP.
Stauffer added that a key part of the criteria needed to get projects on the TIP and ultimately into construction is public support. In order to move major corridor improvements like Route 422 forward, it is essential that the business community convey to the SPC and PennDOT, through Public Participation Panel meetings, the importance of these projects to Indiana County.
Stauffer provide a review of the Center for Economic Operations, which includes the chamber, county commissioners, IUP and tourist bureau, efforts to attract and retain businesses and jobs in Indiana County.
Some of those efforts include direct letters to businesses that may consider locating here, trade show attendance and working with the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance on Indiana County-focused events.
“There is a plan and effort to market outside Indiana County,” Stauffer said. “Those efforts will be ramping up in 2014.”
Elizabeth Hutton with Kuzneski and Lockard Inc. Real Estate said the Indiana County housing industry is strong moving into 2014.
“There are actually a fair amount of pending sales in the new year,” she said.
Looking back on 2013, Hutton said transactions increased, which is good news considering the government shutdown and the impacts it caused. But she said, many of those sales occurred after significant price reductions. Sales of homes over $400,000 increased in 2013. Overall the Indiana County housing market is in good shape.
“The market is definitely stabilizing, on target to where we need to be.”
Gorman had big surprise for the board as she announced the 2014 Athena and Male and Female Civic Leader Award finalists. The chamber board is the first to learn this news.
Gorman, co-chairwoman for the Leader’s Circle Awards Event, said the finalists will be formally announced and introduced to the public at a Recognition of Finalists Reception on Thursday, Feb. 6, from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex’s PNC Room.
The event is open to all finalists, their families, members, friends, supporters, nominators and the organization’s members, references and all others interested from the community. Media representatives are welcome and encouraged to attend. This event is complimentary and no reservation is required.
Gorman added that she is very excited to have this many finalists and, that by accepting the nomination, these community leaders and volunteers are setting examples for future generations.
“Most don’t want to be recognized because they don’t do what they do for recognition,” she said. “But sometimes you have to be recognized to set that goal for young people in our community.”
Indiana County Development Corporation President Jim Wiley said Creps United Publications, the first tenant at the new Windy Ridge Business and Technology Park near the interchange of Route 422 and Route 286, is in operation. An official grand opening is planned for this spring.
The ICDC continues to work with PennDOT to determine traffic mitigations required at the 200-acre site that will feature a mix of commercial and retail businesses. Wiley expects access road construction to commence this spring with pad-ready sites available for development this summer. For more information on site availability, visit www.indianacountyceo.com or call (724) 465-2662.
Work will begin next week to construct an 80-foot-tall water tower along Route 422. The tower, needed for fire suppression, will display “Windy Ridge Business and Technology Park” visible to motorists and travelers on the busy east-west corridor.
“People will have no doubt where they are,” Wiley said.
Struzzi provided a report on upcoming chamber events and current membership. A chamber chat session for new and potential members will be held on Jan. 29 at the Indiana Holiday Inn. The chamber will also have a second Brains and Grains networking and education session on Feb. 29. In addition, the chamber has partnered with the KCAC and IUP athletics to hold a Chamber Basketball Night on Feb. 15. Chamber members can purchase premium tickets for only $5. Business Expo 2014 will be April 5 at the Indiana Mall. More information about these programs is available on the Chamber’s website calendar of events.
Struzzi also said the chamber did well in 2013, attracting around 50 new member businesses.
“This shows businesses find great value in membership and appreciate the positive direction we are taking,” Struzzi said.
The next Chamber Business After Hours will be a special Friday night event on Jan. 31 at uPtown Fitness.
The chamber’s next meeting is Feb. 13.