The Indiana County Chamber of Commerce board on Thursday discussed topics including business growth, new developments, communications, real estate reassessment and upcoming events at its monthly meeting at St. Andrew’s Village.
Indiana County has evolved dramatically over the past decade, yet many outside the area don’t realize the business, educational, recreational and quality-of-life assets the communities here offer, according to Jim Struzzi, chamber president.
The chamber, along with local partners and businesses, will lead an effort to create an Indiana County marketing and promotional council. While marketing already occurs through many organizations, this new group will combine those efforts and resources to reach a larger audience through focused, targeted promotion and advertising. The goal will be to attract more customers for our existing businesses, create more jobs, and shine the light on Indiana County that it deserves.
“We all have a stake and we need to do it right,” said Robin Gorman with Indiana University of Pennsylvania. “We want people to come here and put down roots.”
Struzzi said the chamber has been getting many new members and renewals. Positive feedback continues regarding some of the chamber’s new initiatives, he said, including the new website, www.indianacountychamber.com, the weekly subscriber email every Friday, expanded Business After Hours and other member benefits.
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All three Indiana County commissioners, Rod Ruddock, David Frick and Patty Evanko attended the meeting.
Ruddock started the commissioners’ report by saying the county, in cooperation with the chamber, is revamping the Veterans’ Discount Program, which allows business in Indiana County to offer special discounts for veterans. The current list of businesses offering a veterans’ discount is available on the chamber’s website.)
Ruddock said he hopes to expand the program and have more local businesses participate. A local veteran, Sgt. Sam Smith, who served in the U.S. Army for six years, will be helping with effort by visiting businesses to gain support. Participating business will receive a special window sticker to show they support veterans. An application for businesses to join the program is available by clicking Indiana County Veterans Discount Merchant Application Form
Veterans can obtain a Veterans ID card from the county Recorder of Deeds if they do not have a valid military ID. About 1,000 have already been issued.
Ruddock also said there is good news about the county’s effort to expand cellular service — fiber optic and Internet — in areas that currently have none. When the county installed its public safety radio system several years ago, the towers were intentionally built beyond specifications with the eventual plan of shared use with cellular providers. In emergency situations, cell service can be critical, yet many areas have no service. Ruddock said that shouldn’t be.
“This is a critical piece to Indiana’s puzzle,” he said.
Some of the “dark” areas will soon see light. Verizon has indicated it is interested in installing a system to provide service in Banks Township and it could extend service to other areas of the county.
Expanded cellular service can be essential in attracting new businesses to the area and it appears very soon every corner of Indiana County will have coverage, Ruddock said.
Evanko provided an update on the county real estate tax reassessment process, which will begin next week. A public meeting regarding the reassessment is planned at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the PNC Room at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex.
IUP President Dr. Michael Driscoll provided an update on returning student arrivals, which will occur over the next two weeks through August. Though enrollment is currently down by 579 students to 14,800, the university has made some financial adjustments to account for the decline, he said. Driscoll attributed the decrease to changing demographics and student grant changes. Despite the drop, he said IUP is in sound shape.
Like IUP, Art Herman, campus president at Blairsville’s WyoTech, said his school has seen a slight decrease in enrollment, however, careers in the automotive industry are in demand. The industry predicts a shortfall of available technicians in the diesel field alone of more than 5,500 in the coming years. WyoTech has an 80 percent job placement rate.
“We see tremendous opportunity in the industry for our students,” Herman said.
IUP will host a workshop, Engaging Shale Gas Partners, on Oct. 7-8 to help attendees understand the industry and how they can be part of this growing opportunity in Indiana County. Visit www.iup.edu/energy to learn more.
Driscoll also said construction on the new on-campus restaurant and dining area, the Crimson Cafe, will be starting as well as work on the new Humanities and Social Sciences building. Traffic impacts should be expected.
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The good news continued with a report from Jim Wiley, president of the Indiana County Development Corporation, who shared information about the Joseph Land Development/119 Business Park in the Coral-Graceton area. The chamber is also part of the ICDC board.
“I have a lot of good news,” Wiley said.
Next week, the ICDC will break ground on a major project that is expected to bring new businesses and new jobs to the county. Located at Route 119 and Luciusboro Road, adjacent to the communities of Coral and Graceton, this new business park will comprise two shovel-ready terraces of about 10 acres and 15 acres, respectively, with underground utilities and a public access road. Each terrace will be subdivided into individual parcels according to occupants’ needs.
The county commissioners earlier this week approved a $677,000 contract for the preliminary work needed to make the site pad ready. That work includes erosion and sedimentation controls, utilities, access road construction and other essential activities. The site could be ready for tenant occupation late this year.
“We are thrilled to begin this project,” said Wiley, adding that Executive Director Byron Stauffer and his team at the County Office of Planning and Development deserve a lot of credit for the project’s success.
Interest is also growing at the ICDC’s other sites. Consol Energy is adding professional staff in its natural gas division and will be positioning some of those new hires in Indiana. They are considering expansion at Highpointe along Indian Springs Road in White Township.
Wiley added that the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining will be expanding its corporate campus location in Blairsville.
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Work on the new Creps United Publications facility at the Windy Ridge Business and Technology Park at the Route 422/Route 286 interchange in White Township continues to progress. New state-of-the art printing presses are being installed. Discussions continue with other possible tenants at the new park and Wiley seemed encouraged that even more good news will be forthcoming soon.
Elizabeth Hutton with Kuzneski and Lockard Inc. Real Estate provided good news as well.
“We are in a good place with an overall increase in the past two years,” she said.
The available inventory of homes for sale under $200,000 is decreasing as is the number of days these homes are on the market due to brisk sales.
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Gorman provided an update on the Leaders Circle of Indiana County, which continues to expand and is now reaching out to the leaders of the future in the county. She said county high schools and area businesses are beginning to take an interest.
“We have to grow the culture at a young age,” she said. “This is great because you don’t find this everywhere.”
Bob Kanick with The Indiana Gazette, speaking for the Chamber Relations Committee, provided an update on recent Business After Hours events. Two events were held in the past month, one at Laurel Place (Upstreet Financial and The Finery for Men) on Philadelphia Street, and the second, a special Friday night summer party at Don Huey Construction off Airport Road. Both events attracted more than 150 people. Photos from the events are available on the chamber’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/IndianaCountyChamber.
“We continue to get great feedback on our after hours events,” Kanick said.
The 700 Shop and Intimately Yours at Philadelphia and Seventh streets in Indiana Borough will host the next Chamber Business After Hours event on Aug. 21 at 5 p.m.
The chamber next meets on Sept. 12.