Rolling out the welcome mat
The Indiana County Chamber of Commerce held its October board meeting Thursday at St. Andrew’s Village.
Several key topics including efforts to shine a regional spotlight on Indiana County, the Chamber Expo, IUP, economic development, and workforce opportunities were discussed.
A key subject of interest was Chamber President Jim Struzzi’s announcement that KDKA Radio will be coming to Indiana for a broadcast focusing on Indiana County.
The chamber, in cooperation with the Indiana County Center for Economic Operations, will host the KDKA CBS Radio morning show with Larry Richert and John Shumway from 5 to 9 a.m. Oct. 28 at the new IRMC Park on North Seventh Street in Indiana.
“KDKA has millions of listeners,” said chamber board chairman Robert Kane with Reliant Holdings Inc. “This is a great opportunity to share what we have here in Indiana County.”
In advance of the broadcast, KDKA will air news and feature stories about Indiana County all this week.
Struzzi also said the county received some regional attention in the Pittsburgh Business Times through an article submitted by the chamber that was published this week. The story featured an overview of the economic opportunities as well as the many other assets and community features that make the county a great place to live and work. These efforts are designed to increase the potential for jobs, tourism and economic growth and opportunity in the county, he said.
New Chamber Treasurer Jim Kinneer, with Indiana Regional Medical Center, was introduced to the board.
With the start of a new fiscal year, a new treasurer in place and many positive changes already under way, Kane said the board should look forward to an exciting year ahead.
One of the first orders of business was a discussion of the Chamber Business Expo at the Indiana Mall. The expo will continue in 2014, though changes are being considered.
“Participation has not gone down, though it could use a spark,” Kane said.
The chamber will form a subcommittee to explore ways to invigorate the expo. Some possible changes include a different date for the event, opening the opportunity to more chamber members and a new format.
Joe Pittman, chief of staff for state Sen. Don White, provided the state government report. The legislature is back in session, Pittman said, and the immediate focus is transportation funding. A decision should be made in the coming weeks. Pittman also mentioned news regarding the state budget is not positive. Pension costs will have significant impact over the next four years.
On a positive note, Pittman commended the county for securing three recently approved Keystone Opportunity Expansion Zones: the former Gorell Enterprises Inc. factory and grounds along Wayne Avenue, the former BiLo location in Blairsville and Dixonville Commons, the former home of PolyVision in Green Township.
The KOEZ designation will allow potential new businesses to occupy these sites without property taxes for 10 years. Indiana County is one of only 15 locations in the state to receive these designations, Pittman said.
“It’s going to set us up well for marketing and attracting business,” he said.
Robin Gorman, chief of staff to the president at IUP, handed out a bookmark with facts regarding university stats. She said President Michael Driscoll continues to work with the entire university to shape and design the vision and set the course for IUP’s strategic plan for the future. As part of this process, Dr. Driscoll has invited Dr. Richard Morrill, University of Richmond chancellor, Teagle Foundation past president and author to the IUP campus to provide his expertise and advice on how to collaboratively develop a strategic plan. What we learn at the summit will guide final revisions to the Strategic Vision, which will go to the University Senate and Council of Trustees in December for endorsement.
During the IUP report, Kane commented on the success of IUP’s recent homecoming parade and event-filled weekend.
“It was fantastic,” Kane said. “There was a sense of wonderful spirit during the parade.”
Kane also said the economic impacts of homecoming weekend on the community cannot be overstated. “The businesses in town and in the community welcome homecoming.”
County Commissioner Rod Ruddock echoed Kane’s comments regarding homecoming, stating it brings millions in revenue to the community.
During the county commissioners’ report, Ruddock said efforts to improve the county cellular and 911 networks is progressing well as is the property tax reassessment effort. Some properties have been found that were not previously on the county’s tax records.
“There is an advantage to getting fairness in Indiana County,” Ruddock said.
He also mentioned the commissioners’ support for two improvement projects at nonprofit organizations to apply for tax-exempt financing. While the county is not involved financially, its support is needed to demonstrate that the projects will benefit the overall area. The projects will allow St. Andrew’s Village and IRMC to expand to better serve the community.
IRMC will be expanding to add more state-of-the-art medical equipment. This will also make the hospital more competitive and attract additional doctors to the area.
“The growth of IRMC is critical to our success in Indiana County,” Ruddock said.
County Office of Planning and Development Executive Director Byron Stauffer provided an update on transportation issues around the county. Concerns are mounting regarding PennDOT posting weight limits on additional bridges pending the uncertainty of future funding.
There is also uncertainty regarding federal funding for transportation and how it is allocated to states. This may impact how the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission develops the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) or may even delay the process this year. Work is under way to develop 10 acres at the Indiana County Airport for additional hangar space. The airport authority is also working with the county to develop a business plan related to the implementation of a new landing system.
Stauffer highlighted the successful effort to retain jobs in the county by keeping the Dlubak Corporation in Blairsville. Gray Mountain Partners recently purchased the company’s assets through bankruptcy court, forming a new corporation, Dlubak Specialty Glass. The bottom line is that these jobs will remain here.
“Hopefully this is one where we can see a positive outcome,” Stauffer said.
Many factors must be in place to make Indiana County attractive to increased economic growth and development. And work to address those issues is under way, Stauffer said. Workforce development is a key focus area for the county. Mohr Partners is working with the CEO to develop a plan to have a trained and ready workforce in Indiana County. The main component, Stauffer said, is connecting high school students with the proper education and training needed to have them ready for the jobs of the future. Efforts are under way to develop a housing plan for the county as well as a countywide storm water management plan. These items, when in place soon, will improve quality of life and make Indiana County more viable as a location for sustainable success.
J.P. Habets, with H&W Global Industries, said the manufacturing sector is weathering the impacts of the government shutdown. Without federal inspectors, production in some areas is affected. He said it’s been difficult to maintain the workforce and the uncertainty of the economy makes it challenging to predict and prepare for the future. Relating to workforce, Habets said the county needs to embrace the technology wave in manufacturing such as 3D printing and train students for these soon-to-be great jobs.
“Technology is incredible,” he said. “We need to keep it here and be part of it. We need a workforce to support that. What we are doing today will be obsolete 10 years from now.”
Elizabeth Hutton with Kuzneski and Lockard Inc. Real Estate said houses continue to sell quickly in Indiana County. While the federal government shutdown had some impact on loan approvals, the overall market is on track, she said. There is a concern with quality rental homes on the market, which can be hard to find.
“Landlords who take care of their properties are having no problem with finding renters,” Hutton said.
ICDC President Jim Wiley said the power is on at the new Creps United Publications facility at the Windy Ridge Business and Technology Park near the Route 422/Route 286 interchange in White Township. The company is close to resuming operations just about one year after a fire destroyed its former location on Philadelphia Street. “That has truly been an Indiana County success story,” Wiley said. “One year after a tragic fire, they are ready to go.”
Wily said discussions continue with other potential retail and commerce businesses at Windy Ridge.
Announcements are expected soon regarding more development and opportunity at this key location.
“We look forward to good news and lots of groundbreakings at Windy Ridge,” said Wiley.
He said also site preparation work has been started at the Joseph Land Development/119 Business Park in the Coral-Graceton area. A prospective client for the entire site continues to converse with the ICDC.
Gorman provided an update on the Leaders Circle of Indiana County. Nominations for this year’s ATHENA and Male and Female Civic Leader Awards are needed, and will be accepted through Nov. 1. The nomination form is available on the chamber’s website.
Wyotech in Blairsville will host the next Chamber Business After Hours event Thursday at 5 p.m. An additional Chamber After Hours planned at Uptown Fitness on Nov. 1 has been tentatively rescheduled for Jan. 31.
The chamber’s next meeting is Nov. 14.