The Indiana County Chamber of Commerce held its monthly board meeting Thursday at St. Andrew’s Village in White Township.
Several key topics — including a new chamber website, an Indiana County Business Hall of Fame, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, the Governor’s Awards for the Arts and economic development — were discussed.
Chamber Business Hall of Fame
As the chamber prepared two years ago to celebrate its centennial, the planning committee struggled to find a written history of the chamber and Indiana County’s rich history of businesses and community leaders.
“A lot of people gave tremendous support to the chamber and community over the years, but we haven’t documented it,” said Bob Kane, of Reliant Holdings.
To address that problem and ensure Indiana County’s founding fathers and foundational businesses are recognized and documented, the chamber is introducing a Business Hall of Fame. While some parameters still need to be defined, the Business Hall of Fame Constitution and bylaws were introduced to the board of directors Thursday.
A nine-member committee will be formed to review nominations. The initial class for 2014 of five to seven people will be inducted during a formal dinner later this year. A Lifetime Achievement Award has also been created to recognize those who may have contributed significantly to Indiana County’s economic growth, but are not directly involved with a specific business. Nomination forms, guidelines and other information will be provided on the chamber’s website.
Greg Sipos with First Commonwealth Bank drafted the constitution and bylaws. “This is a way to honor those who made Indiana County what it is today,” Sipos said.
Extensive work will occur to ensure all aspects and areas of Indiana County are represented.
“We are excited about this,” Kane said.
New Chamber Website
During the chamber president’s report, Jim Struzzi announced that a new website for the chamber went online this week. Though using the same address, www.indianacountychamber.com, the new website has an improved format that is more user-friendly and visually stimulating, he said.
“Our previous site lacked a defined home page and did not allow us to post more than one photo,” Struzzi said. “With this new format we can post scrolling images on the homepage, truly showcasing a chamber that encompasses all Indiana County communities.”
As weather permits and spring colors arrive, Struzzi said he plans to visit every community in the county and take additional photos to include on the new homepage.
He also announced a Corridors of Opportunity 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 Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex. The 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 to 300 business leaders and professional from the western Pennsylvania region interested in opportunities in Indiana County.
Joe Pittman, chief of staff for state Sen. Don White, said legislation recently introduced related to state universities has many concerned. Senate Bill 1275 would allow state universities to transfer out of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
If universities chose to leave the system and become state-related, this could put greater financial strain on those that remain at a time when enrollment across the state is declining.
“It is certainly something everyone needs to think about,” Pittman said.
A discussion occurred about how the chamber might play a role in this because IUP is a vital contributor to the county’s economy.
Pittman said a recent meeting at the Indiana County Technology Center featuring transportation projects that could be advanced due to an increase in available funding through Act 89 was well attended. Four projects under design to improve Route 422 between Indiana and Kittanning are included. The projects, totaling around $60 million, would realign sections of Route 422 to improve safety.
“In a few years you will see significant improvements on the Route 422 corridor,” he said.
Hank Knerr, director of IUP’s Lively Arts program, provided an update on the Governor’s Awards for Arts event coming to Indiana on Sept. 28. The statewide event will shine a lead actor’s spotlight on Indiana County as it is the first time the event has been held in a smaller community such as Indiana and on a university campus. Past events have been held in major cities. The event could have major economic benefit for Indiana County as it is expected to draw a broad base of visitors. IUP plans to make it a grand event encompassing the entire county.
“We are going to celebrate Indiana County,” Knerr said.
County Commissioner Rod Ruddock said the county was able to use drilling impact fees, roughly about $217,000, to benefit several programs including $25,000 for the Challenger program. The Central Allegheny Challenger Learning Center will be dedicated to educational exploration for students, educators and community members.
The facility will house a mission simulator, instructional space, micronauts area, emissions studios and corporate/industry learning space. The projected construction of a Community STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Academy, built in conjunction with the Challenger Learning Center, will allow promotion of the coordination of regional educational institutions to collaborate and offer advanced courses in STEM enrichment/development.
He also said work to create a new outpatient veterans clinic in the county should be under way soon.
Requests for proposals from contractors should be in next week. Once a contractor is selected, they will have 90 days to deliver a turnkey facility. Ruddock expects the clinic to open this fall.
Ruddock said work to improve the county airport is also progressing. Efforts to finalize a plan implementing a Global Positioning Landing System to fully utilize the new runway are moving forward.
However, due to the flight path of larger aircraft, the airport will be able to accommodate, the county must remove obstructions, mostly trees, from 35 parcels in the airport area at an estimated cost of up to $1.6 million. Ruddock said they have received great support from Indiana County’s legislative team to help offset the costs. He expects the airport to be fully functional by fall 2015. Once the airport improvements are complete, many believe it will provide significant economic benefits to the county.
Elizabeth Hutton with Kuzneski and Lockard Inc. said home sales nationwide are down by about 5 percent due mostly to weather, but Indiana County sales are off to a good start in 2014.
“This is a consistent market,” and overall sale prices are up, Hutton said.
County Office of Planning and Development Executive Director Byron Stauffer shared good news related to the Windy Ridge Business and Technology Park near the interchange of Route 422 and Route 286 in White Township. PennDOT is expected to approve the traffic impact study for the development allowing work to begin to improve site access for the 200-acre site that will feature a mix of industrial, commercial and retail businesses.
Stauffer said this is a big step forward as several developers are keenly interested in Windy Ridge. For more information on site availability, visit www.indianacountyceo.com or call (724) 465-2662.
Work to install an 80-foot water tower at Windy Ridge, which has been hindered by the poor weather, is also moving forward.
The waterlines are in place for Phase I and he expects the tower will be visible from Route 422 in late April. The tower will also feature prominently the Windy Ridge name, creating another Indiana County landmark.
A public meeting was held for the access road to the Joseph Land Development/119 Business Park in the Coral-Graceton area. The meeting went well and Stauffer expects road construction to occur this year.
Josh Rosenberger with the 700 Shop said planning is under way to install lighting at Memorial Park in Indiana Borough.
About $10,000 is needed for materials. Earthcraft Design-Build Maintain has agreed to donate the labor to conduct the work.
The next Chamber Business After Hours is March 27 at Bayada Pediatrics in Blairsvillle. A special Friday night Chamber Business After hours will be held April 11 at The Brown Hotel.
The chamber will meet next on April 17.