The Indiana County Chamber of Commerce held its monthly board meeting on Thursday at St. Andrew’s Village, White Township.
Several key topics including leadership, job growth, economic development and business opportunities were discussed.
Call to Order
Board Chairman Bob Kane with Reliant Holdings Inc. started the meeting followed with the Pledge of Allegiance and the approval of the monthly minutes and financial reports.
Indiana Ready for Economic Success
Evident during the meeting was an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the Indiana County community and enthusiasm fed by the opportunities and an economic outlook on the near horizon that has many excited. From Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) President Dr. Mike Driscoll to Indiana County Development Corporation (ICDC) President Jim Wiley to J.P. Habets with the Indiana County Manufacturing Consortium and H&W Global Industries, the good news spread throughout the meeting.
So why all the positive energy?
“All we have here is good news,” Habets said. “We are hiring back workers and our business is improving.”
As Wiley added, “Good news … yeah. We are currently in discussions with potential business development.” ICDC will soon begin work on new roadways and improvements to existing transportation facilities to provide access to the Windy Ridge Business and Technology Park on Route 286 in White Township. That means the new 200-acre park will soon be pad-ready for development in a prime location with nearby access to Route 422. “Lot’s of good stuff,” he added. An 80-foot water tower emblazoned with “Windy Ridge Business and Technology Park” is also being erected on the site and should be completed in a few weeks. For more information on site availability, visit www.indianacounty ceo.com or call (724) 465-2662.
Greg Sipos with First Commonwealth Bank, second vice-chair on the chamber board, said he recently visited Creps United Publications, which relocated to Windy Ridge after a fire destroyed its previous location on Philadelphia Street. Sipos said the new Creps facility is perhaps one the best printers anywhere, and the company now has capabilities it previously did not, which could lead to growth and new jobs. He commended the efforts of the ICDC, Indiana County Office of Planning and Development Executive Director Byron Stauffer and his staff, and the county commissioners for the herculean efforts to keep Creps in Indiana County as an anchor tenant at Windy Ridge.
“It was big deal to the park and to Indiana County,” Sipos said.
Indiana County leadership has been working hard for many years to reach the point where essential infrastructure is in place to foster significant economic growth and new development. That time is now.
That success, coupled with last week’s Leader Circle Awards Event held at the Kovalchick Athletic and Convention Complex that brought more than 350 people together to recognize many of the volunteers and community leaders, makes Indiana County a special place to live and work.
“I applaud all of you for your leadership and how much you care,” said Robin Gorman, with IUP, co-chair of the Leader’s Circle Awards event. “It truly sets us apart from other counties across the nation. We have what many others don’t.”
Business Expo Review
Chamber President Jim Struzzi said the chamber’s Business Expo held on April 5 at the Indiana Mall went well with good attendance. He gave credit to Anthony Frazier with Renda Broadcasting for coordinating the music and expressed gratitude to the chamber members who participated as well as the many people attending. He added that mall manager Sherry Renosky and her staff were very helpful in making the Expo a success.
Some discussion occurred about the decision to move the Expo from January to April. Struzzi said he is currently surveying the participants and will use that information to decide how to move forward with future events. Related to membership, Struzzi said the chamber added seven new members in March and continues to receive many renewals. “Our energy is spreading,” he said. Struzzi also mentioned preparation work continues on the Corridors of Opportunity, Indiana County event set for July 10 presented by the Pittsburgh Business Times. The event will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the KCAC. The Corridors of Opportunity program shines a regional spotlight on areas set for growth and economic development. Indiana County, with its tremendous academic, energy, manufacturing and economic potentials plus multiple prime real estate locations, is the perfect place for businesses to locate and thrive. The program involves a panel of local experts speaking to 200-300 business leaders and professionals from the western Pennsylvania region interested in opportunities in Indiana County.
Joe Pittman with state Sen. Don White’s office said the senator is busy working on several key bills (Senate Bills 1305-1306) related to organ donation. “He’s trying to really encourage folks to think twice about donating and what that means to other people,” Pittman said. “This is an opportunity to give life back.”
Pittman and White also visited Franklin Regional High School after horrific multiple stabbings occurred April 9. The senator is working on legislation to give schools more flexibility related to security.
With 500 school districts in many different areas and demographics across the commonwealth, there is no single solution related to keeping students safe. “We really need to give school districts options, more flexibility, not less,” White said. He concluded by stating that state revenues are down, particularly related to sales tax, which may make it challenging for this year’s budget.
IUP Enrollment Consistent
IUP President Mike Driscoll said student enrollment for the fall 2014 semester is on track to meet projections. Although overall enrollment is slightly less at about 14,300 students, the freshman class will be close to the same size as this past fall. The smaller overall size of the student body will result in about a $2.6 million shortfall. On a grand scale, Driscoll said the university is prepared, thanks to its planning foresight, to handle this. He did share good news related to a proposed hotel near the KCAC. Though unable to provide details, Driscoll said good progress is being made to finalize details with the developer. If all goes well, construction on the new hotel could begin as early as this fall.
Driscoll said IUP is working with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the county commissioners to review the events of the unofficial IUPatty’s weekend and the resulting rowdiness and ensure something like this does not occur in the future. The effort will involve key community stakeholders through interviews and focused discussions.
“Our goal is not to point fingers, but to see what we can do better, how we plan for future events, and work together cohesively,” he said.
Chairman Kane took an opportunity to commend IUP on its current student marketing efforts, particularly the television commercials currently airing, and how they paint not only the university, but the overall community, in a tremendously positive light. “I can’t tell you how impressed I am,” Kane said. “It makes me proud to be an alumnus. This is huge for our community.”
Commissioner Rod Ruddock echoed Kane’s comments and said this emphasizes the need to market the many great assets that exist in Indiana County. The chamber and the Indiana County Center for Economic Operations are developing a marketing plan for Indiana County.
Ruddock also commended IUP for the recent opening of its Military Resource Center for veteran and active duty students, a number totaling more than 700. He gave much credit to Dr. Driscoll for creating the center and its lauded its benefits to the university and community.
On transportation, Ruddock said he is working to form a committee dedicated to improving Route 422, a significant east-west artery for Indiana County.
“We can’t continue to survive unless our artery expands,” Ruddock said.
Commissioners Patty Evanko and Michael Baker also attended. Evanko said the Indiana County Community Action Program will hold a fundraising event May 30 at the Chestnut Ridge Gold Course. She will also be serving on a statewide block grant committee and said the Armstrong-Indiana-Clarion Drug and Alcohol Commission is receiving many applications for the Bernie Smith Scholarship. Evanko recently returned from Harrisburg, where her husband and Blairsville Mayor Ron Evanko were honored with a local government award.
Baker expressed thanks to Sen. White for his efforts to improve organ donations. “We could see a huge increase,” he said.
Kelly Howells with Anew Home Health Agency said the 10th annual Healthcare Recognition Breakfast will be held May 7 from 8:30 to 10 a.m. at the Indiana Country Club. For reservations, contact Cathy Williams, Scenery Hill Manor, at (724) 463-8705 or Cathy.Williams@shm cares.com if you wish to nominate a health care worker (nurse, aide, physician, etc.). Sponsorship opportunities are also available.
Josh Rosenberger with the 700 Shop said a ceremony to open the new Vinegar Hill stairs will occur in late May. Some dedication plaques are still available for purchase through Downtown Indiana. Work to eliminate diagonal pedestrian crossings at Seventh and Philadelphia Streets is under way. This is believed to improve traffic flow through the intersection. Rosenberger also said funding to add lighting for Memorial Park is almost in place and work should be completed this spring.
Chairman Kane questioned Indiana’s Borough decision to not allow the farmers’ market to relocate to the new IRMC Park on North Seventh Street. The chamber surveyed its membership and a strong majority favored the move. Visit www.indianacountychamber.com to view the survey results. “I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to drive people out of downtown,” Kane said.
Rosenberger said the farmers’ market is relocating for this season to a lot near the KCAC in White Township, but could revisit the move to IRMC Park next year.
“Anything that brings foot traffic to the downtown area is a good thing,” Rosenberger said. “It creates an environment that downtown is thriving.”
Membership Committee Chair Howells highlighted several upcoming chamber member events including Chamber Check-in on April 22 in the chamber office, WyoTech After Hours May 1, Indiana Country Club After Hours May 15, Brains and Grains May 20 (at the Indiana Country Club) and Chamber Chat for new members May 29 at Dingbats. Visit the Calendar of Events on the chamber’s website to learn about these events and more. The Indiana County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors will meet on May 15.
PHOTO: The Indiana Arts Council hosted a Chamber Business After Hours event Thursday at the theater building on Philadelphia Street in Indiana. Becky Driscoll, center, wife of IUP President Dr. Michael Driscoll, and Mandi Moreland, an artist with space in the theater building, demonstrated linoleum printmaking. Steve Mozes, of Indiana, a junior communications media student IUP, selected pieces of paper to use. The pieces were to be put together as part of a mural. (Teri Enciso/Gazette photo)