The Indiana County Chamber of Commerce held its regular board meeting at St. Andrew’s Village in White Township earlier this month.
Several key topics impacting Indiana County including workforce development, transportation funding, new businesses and a proposed new hotel near the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex on the Indiana University of Pennsylvania campus were discussed.
Workforce development — creating the skill sets needed for the future — while instilling good work ethics and habits in the current employee base are major factors that need to be considered when plotting the course of the county’s economic future. These issues affect almost every employment sector, but more directly those in manufacturing.
“Workforce issues are primary concern for the manufacturing consortium,” said J.P. Habets with H&W Global Industries Inc. and representing the Indiana County Manufacturing Consortium on the Chamber board. “It’s a serious issue.”
An in-depth discussion related to workforce issues followed, identifying two key factors that Indiana County, and the business/manufacturing sector overall, must address: quality workers and training/education. Quality pertains to an employee’s basic ability to pass drug and alcohol tests, arrive on time and utilize solid work performance habits. Many job seekers are unable to meet even these basic requirements. Secondly, are potential employees and students being properly trained for the workforce of the future? Education and training now should align with predicted job market needs.
“It’s important to economic development to put a focus on workforce,” said Byron Stauffer, director of the county Office of Planning and Development. “We need to kick-start the conversation and sustain the effort.”
The Chamber, along with the Center for Economic Operations, the Indiana County Commissioners, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and other key groups will take a concerted approach to develop a plan for the county’s workforce. A key component to attracting new business is having a workforce ready to meet their needs.
Chamber President James Struzzi said Chamber membership continues to grow. Many new members are joining and even more are renewing, showing continued support for the Chamber’s efforts to improve the economy and business climate in Indiana County. Struzzi added that many members are taking advantage of the Chamber’s new marketing initiatives to promote their businesses and improve customer interactions.
The Indiana County commissioners, Rod Ruddock, Dave Frick and Patty Evanko, also attended the meeting on July 11.
Ruddock started the commissioner’s report by stating displays on county property are welcome as long as they are done properly following the required preliminary processes. He also said a new emergency communications system for the county is working well and will be expanding soon. Ruddock plans to meet later in July with Congressman Bill Shuster to discuss the county’s transportation needs.
Regarding the county real estate tax reassessment, Ruddock said the beginning stages of the process are going well. A public meeting is planned at 7 p.m. on Aug. 20 in the PNC Room at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex to help property owners better understand the reassessment process. An educational video will also be produced. About 50 employees are being hired to conduct the reassessment process. These employees will undergo two weeks of training at Careerlink on Indian Springs Road.
IUP President Dr. Michael Driscoll, celebrating the anniversary of his first year with the university, reviewed some of the budgeting challenges his administration is facing. With student enrollment expected to be lower this fall, Driscoll said tuition has increased by 3 percent and other work is occurring to fill budget holes. Thanks to effective planning though, he said, he doesn’t expect any great impacts to the university or students.
“We are in great shape and will be able to continue offering great things for students,” Driscoll said.
Driscoll also gave an update for a hotel proposed near the KCAC. Reading from a prepared statement, he said:
“In a recent update to the IUP administration, the hotel developer noted that progress is being made related to the financing, construction and operation of a 120-plus-bed Hilton Garden Inn hotel. As you know, the hotel is slated to be located adjacent to the Kovalchick complex. Specifically, the hotel developer confirmed that a regional bank has been selected to finance the construction of the hotel. The bank is concluding its 90-day due diligence process. This process includes: a comprehensive review of the developer’s overall finances; an assessment of the developer’s proposed hotel management company; and the review of an updated hotel feasibility study. You will be pleased to know that the updated hotel study reaffirms that there is a market to support an upscale lodging facility in this area.
“The hotel developer and his team have expressed their confidence and optimism that the loan approval process is expected to be completed by mid-to-late August. This favorable action would enable the project to move forward with very little delay.”
Joe Pittman, representing state Sen. Don White, reviewed some of the highlights of the recently passed state budget. On a positive note, Pittman said this year’s budget reflects an overall increase in spending — particularly to education — greater than the previous budgets passed by the current administration.
But there was disappointment, as well, because the three major items in this year’s budget discussions were not addressed by state leaders in Harrisburg. Transportation funding, pension reform and liquor store privatization remain unresolved. Transportation is the largest concern, Pittman said, because postponing road and bridge maintenance only exacerbates the problem, and minimizes the effectiveness of any additional funding that may become available.
“The return will be less significant because we will only be able to fix what should have been done years ago,” Pittman said.
Jon Longwill, representing state Rep. Dave Reed, echoed Pittman’s comments regarding the state budget, but did share good news that Reed’s bill to close the “Delaware Loophole” passed. The loophole essentially allowed large corporations located elsewhere yet still operating in Pennsylvania to pay less in taxes.
“This will bring more revenue to our state,” Longwill said.
On the topic of business retention, Stauffer said there’s been an increase in inquiries about leasing space for new businesses. About one-half dozen new companies are looking at Indiana County as a location for their business.
Stauffer provided an update on Indiana County Development Corporation projects, stating that Creps United Publications’ new facility at the Windy Ridge Business and Technology Park located at the Route 422/Route 286 interchange in White Township should be open for business this fall. Work to complete a required traffic study for Windy Ridge continues. Two new traffic signals will most likely be required on Route 286. The goal is to have the entire Windy Ridge site ready for tenants next year.
Chamber Board Secretary Joe Reschini gave an overview of two upcoming events. Eggs and Issues 2013, a Chamber event featuring a discussion with state and federal elected officials, will be held on Aug. 23 at the Indiana County Club. Understanding the Affordable Care Act, a seminar conducted by IUP and the Chamber, will occur on Sept. 10 at the KCAC.
The next Indiana County Chamber of Commerce Board meeting will be held on Aug. 15.
Laurel Place (Upstreet Financial, The Finery for Men, and The Reschini Group) on Philadelphia Street in Indiana will host the next Chamber Business After Hours event on July 25 at 5 p.m.
An additional Business After Hours has been added on Aug. 9 at Don Huey’s facility on Campbell Lane off Airport Road.