WyoTech, IRMC support shared at meeting
The Indiana County Chamber of Commerce held its monthly board meeting on Thursday at St. Andrew’s Village.
Several key topics including WyoTech, Indiana Regional Medical Center, the Corridors of Opportunity event, the new Indiana County marketing video, future leaders, economic development, transportation and the chamber’s new business hall of fame were discussed. Board Chairman Bob Kane with Reliant Holdings Inc. started the meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance. The June board meeting minutes and financial reports were then approved.
As Indiana Regional Medical Center celebrates its centennial anniversary this year reflecting on the many great achievements of the past, the community-based hospital is also preparing for the future with a $50 million expansion project under way.
Jim Kinneer, vice president of organizational development with IRMC and chamber treasurer, gave the board of directors an update on the expansion effort. The addition, which is being constructed above the emergency facilities, will include a new intensive care unit and operating suites. The new facilities will contain the state-of-the-art technologies and equipment. The facility and modernization efforts will also help retain current and attract new physicians to the area and medical center. All of this is being done to better support and serve the residents of Indiana County.
“We are excited about the project,” Kinneer said. “This is the right decision for the long-term and we appreciate the support and patience of the community.”
In addition, two a new elevators are being installed that will alter the medical center’s faade and create an exciting new look for IRMC. Phase I of the new expansion is slated for completion in April 2015.
Phases II and III, which will upgrade the existing facilities, are scheduled for completion in June 2016. A fundraising effort to support the hospital expansion is also under way.
“A project of this size is great for Indiana County,” Kane said. “It’s important for our community.”
Another tremendous asset for Indiana County is the WyoTech campus near Blairsville. With more than 114 employees, 600 students and its support of the local economy, WyoTech’s importance to Indiana County cannot be overstated. WyoTech, which trains students in the automotive, diesel, collision and refinishing technology career fields, occupies five large buildings at the Corporate Campus along Route 22. About 35 percent of the students at Blairsville WyoTech are veterans.
Art Herman, WyoTech Blairsville Campus president and chamber board member, addressed the group to update WyoTech’s status in light of the many rumors that have been circulating about the school.
Herman quickly addressed the most immediate rumor and concern, stating: “WyoTech is here and WyoTech is not going anywhere.”
Speaking to the board, Herman summarized what has occurred relative to the U.S. Department of Education and Corinthian Colleges, which currently owns WyoTech. WyoTech, with three main campuses and two smaller facilities in the United States, is only a small part of the more than 100 campuses operated by Corinthian (WyoTech’s sister schools include Everest College and Heald College). The Department of Education has been investigating Corinthian for allegedly falsifying graduation and placement records, which the company denies. Herman pointed out that none of the allegations have been proven.
The bad news is that the Department of Education placed a 21-day hold on Title 4 funds, which put WyoTech parent Corinthian in a more-than-difficult financial situation. The good news is that on July 3 both parties signed an agreement which calls for all of Corinthian’s schools — including WyoTech’s Blairsville campus — to be sold to a mutually acceptable buyer. This means that WyoTech will remain and serve students in Blairsville. The buildings and facilities will not be sold and converted to other uses.
So now the focus of WyoTech’s parent turns to finding a buyer for the WyoTech campuses. In the meantime, the campus is operating as normal, and continuing the good work of teaching students hard and soft skills that will lead to lucrative careers.
WyoTech in Blairsville averages an 80 percent job placement rate in just nine months of education.
Herman, despite all that has occurred, said his school is already gearing up for a great fall semester.
“Buying and selling schools happens routinely,” Herman said. “We are up for sale … but we’re not going anywhere.”
The chamber board voiced support for WyoTech, the work it does and the benefits it provides to the local community. Many businesses have located and grown in Blairsville and Burrell Township thanks to WyoTech’s presence.
“This is one of the most important issues facing Indiana County,” Commissioner Rod Ruddock said. “We will make this work.”
The chamber and other local leaders are considering a rally or public meeting to show potential buyers WyoTech’s importance to Indiana County and the efforts taken to support business here.
Chamber President Jim Struzzi said the Corridors of Opportunity event held last week at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex was a great success. The chamber and the Indiana County Center for Economic Operations brought the Pittsburgh Business Times program here to showcase Indiana County’s many great assets and opportunities. More than 200 people attended, with about half visiting Indiana from the Pittsburgh region. Indiana University of Pennsylvania President Dr. Michael Driscoll provided opening comments followed by a panel discussion highlighting what makes Indiana County a great place to live, work, start and grow a business and raise a family. County Commissioner Rod Ruddock provided closing comments and presented for the first time a new marketing video created by the chamber and the Indiana County Development Corporation. The video, produced by Gazette Marketing & Media, is available for public viewing on the chamber’s website, www.indianacountychamber.com.
“The Corridors event was one of the best I’ve seen in marketing Indiana County,” Kane said.
Ruddock also commended the Corridors program. “Word is out,” he said. “We are doing something right here.”
Work continues to prepare for the chamber’s annual member luncheon set for Dec. 5 at the KCAC and the business hall of fame. The first class to the hall of fame will be announced at the annul luncheon, with a spring banquet planned to recognize the inductees. Nominations for the hall of fame are currently being accepted from chamber members. Nomination forms can be downloaded from the chamber’s website.
Joe Pittman with state Sen. Don White’s office said legislators continue to wrestle with the state pension issue. The challenge is the liability that’s already been accrued and how to move forward.
He said also they are pleased the dispute between UPMC and Highmark has been resolved. “The war is over,” he commented.
But there are still many question related to the different providers and what coverage plans will be accepted where. The current contract expires in December and people will be given the opportunity to choose providers. The good news is that Pittman said both UPMC and Highmark should be accepted by community hospitals like IRMC and for specialty services.
The chamber will be working to provide more information to the members on the provider changes in the next few months.
Robin Gorman with IUP handed out the 2014-2015 Lively Arts schedule (IUP.edu/livelyarts). She touted the Lively Arts program and the many unique shows and attractions it brings to Indiana County. The Ovations! series offers world-class touring performers.
“The Lively Arts is a hidden gem for our community,” she said.
IUP is moving into the new school year with a balanced budget and is now looking ahead to the next few years. Enrollments are meeting projections with the expectation of increasing numbers in about two years.
Commissioner Ruddock said the county real estate tax reassessment process is about 75 percent complete and on schedule.
Ruddock said he was pleased the new veterans’ outpatient clinic will be located at the Regency Mall. Many locations were considered. He said IRMC will be involved as much as possible. The clinic will open in October.
“This is a blessing for Indiana County,” he said.
County Office of Planning and Development Executive Director Byron Stauffer provided an update on the transportation planning process. A public participation panel meeting was held Tuesday at the Careerlink Building to gather input for the draft 2015-2018 Transportation Improvement Program set to take effect Oct. 1. The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission will vote to approve the plan on July 28. Many of the projects address maintenance and state-owned bridges. A meeting was held recently with PennDOT to discuss furthering projects to improve Route 422. A committee is being formed to help with this effort.
“A critical piece for us is figuring out where we get money,” Ruddock said, who also attended the PennDOT Route 422 meeting. “What are our economic draws? We need a commonsense approach to do the right thing.”
J.P. Habets with the Indiana County Manufacturing Consortium and H&W Global Industries said the manufacturing sector in Indiana County continues to do well. More employees are needed and jobs are available but Habets cautioned that good, reliable employees are hard to find. Soft skills — work ethic, integrity, dependability — are important.
Gorman said the Chamber’s 2014 Eggs and Issues breakfast with state and federal elected officials is scheduled for Aug. 26 at the Indiana Country Club. Official presenters will include state Sen. Don White, state Rep. Dave Reed and Congressman Bill Shuster. U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey will have representatives in attendance. The registration form can be downloaded from the chamber’s website.
Indiana County Development Corporation President Jim Wiley said bids to construct the new access road for the 119 Business Park/Joseph Land Development (off Route 119 in the Coral-Graceton area) were opened on July 17. Construction for the access road is expected to begin in August.
Bids for grading lots and preparing the roadway locations at the Windy Ridge Business & Technology Park in White Township will be opened next week.
“We will see a whole lot more activity at the 119 Business Park and Windy Ridge in the near future,” Wiley said.
Pad-ready development sites will be ready at both locations soon. To learn more about these areas and other economic and development opportunities in Indiana County, visit www.indianacountyceo.com.
Struzzi said the chamber’s Business After Hours events continue to be successful. The next event is July 31 at Hillsdale Nursing and Rehab followed by Don Huey’s annual summer party on Aug. 8. The chamber is also hosting a Drury training seminar, “A Passion for Service,” on Aug. 12 at the Holiday Inn.
The chamber’s membership committee met on July 9. At the meeting a discussion occurred about developing more programs for young chamber members. A committee is being formed to plan these programs and get young leaders more involved in the chamber and community. Some these programs could be evolved to develop future leaders for Indiana County.
The chamber board of directors will meet next on Aug. 14.