Marketing, Government Relations, Business Attraction and Membership Discussed at Indiana County Chamber May Board Meeting
Indiana, PA – The Indiana County Chamber of Commerce held its monthly Board of Directors meeting on Thursday, May 11, at the Indiana Country Club.
The Board discussed many issues including business attraction, government relations, marketing efforts, membership and more.
Call to Order
Board Chairman Joe Reschini, with The Reschini Group, started the meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance. The April board meeting minutes and financial reports were approved.
Jennifer Reis, Manager of Government Affairs with the PA Chamber of Business and Industry, attended the meeting to give the Chamber board an overview of the PA Chamber and the legislative issues they are currently addressing. The PA Chamber’s primary concern is legislation that affects business.
“We focus on issues that have clear cut connection to our local businesses,” Reis said.
Some of the issues the PA Chamber is focused on include pension reform, property taxes, minimum wage and the proposed natural gas severance tax.
“Taxing this industry right now, we don’t think, is a smart way to generate revenue.”
Reis was invited to attend the meeting by the Chamber’s Government Relations Committee. The Indiana County Chamber recently conducted a business climate survey to learn what issues are impacting our local businesses. The results of the survey will help the Government Relations Committee determine how the Chamber should position itself for-or-against certain issues. Some of those positions may align with the PA Chamber.
Indiana County Chamber members can join the PA Chamber for free. Click here to learn more.
Chamber President Jim Struzzi said since the Chamber launched its spring membership drive in April, seven new members have joined. There were also 30 renewals in April bringing the total membership to 669 members. The drive features some great incentives for new members including 15 free 30-second radio commercials on Froggy 95.5 plus prizes and give-a-ways. Interested in joining the Chamber? Click here for an application. Various membership levels are available including Chamber Friends for people who want to be part of the Chamber, but aren’t connected with a business.
Struzzi also expressed concerns with several recent dropped memberships due to financial reasons. He reiterated that while the Chamber is based on membership and works hard to promote its members, we are here to support all Indiana County businesses. He again encouraged businesses that may be struggling to contact the Chamber. There are many resources available through the Chamber and its partners in the Indiana County Center for Economic Operations (CEO) that could help.
The Chamber and Indiana Regional Medical Center launched the Healthiest Employer Challenge on May 1. The challenge is a friendly competition between Indiana County businesses to see which company or organization can lose the most average weight, walk the most steps, etc. by June 30. The “Healthiest Employer” recognition will be awarded to the winner at the end of the competition. Many businesses including the Chamber staff have already accepted the Challenge. All Indiana County businesses are encouraged to participate and create their own employee incentives when the program begins this spring. There’s still plenty of time to join the Challenge. Click here for more information.
Continuing efforts to attract businesses and jobs to Indiana County, Struzzi and Byron Stauffer, Executive Director of the Indiana County Office of Planning & Development, were able to meet in Harrisburg with representatives from the Shell Oil Company and the Pennsylvania Chemical Industry Council (PCIC). Both Shell and the PCIC shared information on the opportunities in the petrochemical industry and the meeting also gave the Indiana County economic development team the chance to share information with Shell and the PCIC on a number of Indiana County development opportunities. Struzzi and Stauffer highlighted our local business parks like the Windy Ridge Business & Technology Park in White Township, the 119 Business Park in Center Township and the Corporate Campus business park in Burrell Township, which has an adjacent rail line that connects directly to the location where Shell is constructing the new “cracker” facility in Beaver County.
“We made certain Shell and the PCIC know Indiana County is open, accommodating and ready for business opportunities especially in manufacturing and downstream suppliers,” Struzzi said.
The trip to Harrisburg also included an opportunity to meet briefly with the Pittsburgh Film Office, which helped bring production for the film “Southpaw” to Indiana County several years ago.
“Again, Byron and I emphasized that any time they need a location for motion picture production, please consider Indiana County,” Struzzi said. “We want their crews and personnel here, which help our local restaurants, caterers, shops, hotel and service providers.”
Meanwhile, the Indiana County Economic Development Team is still coordinating plans to visit the Gulf Coast region of Louisiana where the petrochemical industry is driving incredible change and opportunity along the Gulf Coast. Thanks to the Harrisburg meeting, Shell has also offered to help coordinate some meetings in Louisiana while Struzzi and Stauffer are there.
The Chamber is promoting the special offer of significant discounts for television advertising through a partnership with Comcast Spotlight. Chamber members can complete a registration form to take advantage of this great opportunity. Packaged with a brief Chamber message from Struzzi promoting Indiana County and the Chamber, participating members can save 50% on commercial production costs and 35% on advertising rates. Click here to see the Chamber’s promo sections. Several Chamber members are already taking advantage of this great opportunity. Interested members can click here for more information.
Struzzi served as presenter at several meetings to promote the Chamber and Indiana County. He recently served as one of the panelists at the Welcome to Indiana Annual Luncheon emphasizing the many business attractions and incentives in Indiana County and what attributes make a good community. Struzzi also spoke to IUP business students, a large group of community leaders from Wyoming at an event coordinated by Downtown Indiana and served as a judge for Indiana’s Got Talent.
April was a month packed with great Chamber events for members and the community. The April Check-In at the Chamber office was standing room only. Chamber Check-In open houses are an opportunity to network with other businesses and learn what’s new with the Chamber. The next Chamber Check-In at 1019 Philadelphia Street is at 8 a.m. on May 31. The Chamber also had a great ribbon cutting grand opening celebration in conjunction with Downtown Indiana and the Tourist Bureau for the completion of the Streetscape project in Indiana Borough. Business After Hours events continue to attract large crowds and provide great exposure to the host business or organization. May events included a jewelry and website unveiling complete with beautiful models hosted by GC Wyant Jewelry at the Artist Hand and an open house type event at New Story.
The Chamber staff continues to prepare for the 2017 Indiana County Business Hall of Fame induction dinner on Thursday, June 8, at the Kovalchick Complex. The evening of celebration will begin with an open bar at 5:30 p.m. followed by dinner and the induction ceremonies at 6:30 p.m. Table and seat reservations are being accepted now as well as sponsor opportunities including congratulations messages in the event program. Formal invitations are being mailed this week. Individual seats are $75 and full tables of 10 are $725. Click here for more details, visit the Chamber website or call 724-465-2511 to make reservations today.
Chamber Marketing Manager Annie Rizzo gave an update on the Chamber’s marketing efforts including a surge in Facebook and social media activity. Rizzo said the first round of social media training classes in the Chamber board room went very well with full attendance in each of the three sessions. Based on popular demand, the Chamber will schedule additional sessions in the future for Chamber members.
In an effort to attract new businesses to Indiana County, the Chamber is developing marketing and promotional materials. Rizzo said these packets will be targeted to specific retail developers and other business sectors to fill some of the gaps locally.
Rizzo and Camille Morris-Sherry gave an update on the Leader’s Circle of Indiana County. Rizzo is currently vice chair and Morris-Sherry is serving as chair. Nominations for the ATHENA, Young ATHENA and Male and Female Civic Leader Awards are being accepted through June 5. The process to nominate has been streamlined to make it easier. This year’s Leader’s Circle Awards Event is set for September 20 at the Indiana County Club. Click here for the nomination form.
Indiana County Commissioner Sherene Hess said the commissioners voted to create a task force to develop strategies for sustainable economic development. This grass roots effort would focus on renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.
“It’s another tool in the tool box to diversify our economy in a rural area,” Hess said.
Byron Stauffer, Executive Director of the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development, added that the county is also developing a strategic financial management plan in conjunction with an economic development and workforce development plan.
Joe Pittman with Sen. Don White’s office and Jonathan Longwill with State Rep. Dave Reed’s office attended the meeting.
Pittman gave credit to Kevin Lazor, PA CareerLink Administrator, for his efforts to coordinate the recent job fair held at the Kovalchick Complex. Pittman also recognized the efforts of Homer City Borough and the Central Indiana County Water Authority for the recent completion of water line extensions and the benefits the work brings to the community and economy.
“I can’t think of another project that’s had such a big and direct impact on agriculture,” Pittman said. “If you don’t have water, you don’t have anything.”
Arnold Thimons, Director of Student Success at WyoTech, said two of the three community assistance grants offered by WyoTech were awarded to Indiana County organizations. The grants went to a support group in Blairsville against drugs ($10,000) and the Evergreen Boys and Girls Club ($5,000).
He said WyoTech’s enrollment is holding steady through summer and will increase this fall. Thimons added that WyoTech will be investing significantly to upgrade their facilities, campuses and living areas for students. WyoTech is also considering new programs to cover hybrid vehicles and Tesla vehicles. These additions and upgrades should help increase enrollment.
Dave Brocious with the Marcellus Shale Coalition the energy industry continues to show positive signs. Natural gas prices that are usually soft in the spring are increasing as rig counts and employees increase in the industry as well.
Long delays in Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) permitting process, though, continue to hamper the industry. These delays have caused some companies to spend capital in other states instead of Pennsylvania.
“It’s a big issue,” Brocious said. “It affects jobs and it’s affecting capital investment.”
Gregg Van Horn, president of the Indiana County Tourist Bureau (ICTB), said they were honored to receive a proclamation from the Indiana County Commissioners in celebration of National Travel and Tourism Week, May 7-13. The Tourist Bureau organized a variety of weeklong celebrations to bring awareness of the contribution tourism makes to our local economy. Among the events were: Daily Facebook posts entitled “Faces of Travel” which represented the different segments of local industry that provide services to tourist, including accommodations, restaurants, attractions, shops, and businesses; the display of mini Christmas Trees on the Courthouse lawn; a special WalkWorks program held at the Blairsville Riverfront Trail led by Ed Patterson, Director of Indiana County Parks & Trails; a special Mingle at Founders Gallery & Gifts in Blairsville (all refreshments were provided by the local businesses of Blairsville), and the unveiling of the Wooden Quilt Project. Eleven hand-painted wooden quilts were created by local students and artists and are on display around the entire County showcasing the beautiful outdoors of our partner communities.
VanHorn also announced that ICTB welcomed a new board member at their recent meeting, Larissa Csanyi, who is the owner and operator of Founders Gallery & Gifts in Blairsville. At the same meeting, it was announced that Robin Gorman had accepted the officer position of Member at Large.
Stauffer reminded everyone that a Public Participation Panel (PPP) to solicit support for infrastructure improvement projects to be included in the next Transportation Improvement Program will be at 3:30 p.m. on May 23 at the CareerLink Building located at 300 Indian Springs Road, Indiana. Struzzi and Stauffer co-chair the Indiana County PPP.
Working with the offices of Rep. Reed and Sen. White, the county was able to secure a grant for $700,000. The Indiana County Commissioners will providing matching funds of $300,000 creating a total of $1 million that will be used to improve local roads in Indiana County.
“We expect to see most of that work happen this construction season,” Stauffer said.
Stauffer said the Indiana County Center for Economic Operations (CEO) continues to work to attract and retain businesses in Indiana County. A company new to Indiana County, Gordon Sinclair, is doing well and could grow even more in the near future.
Jim Wiley, president of the Indiana County Development Corporation, said there’s a lot of activity and continued interest in the new 200-acre Windy Ridge Business & Technology Park on Route 286 in White Township. The park has many pad ready sites for mixed use development available for sale. While no official development has been announced yet, Wiley is confident that will happen soon.
“We are hopeful to see something this year,” he said.
Wiley also said the 119 Business Park in the Coral-Graceton area is busy with activity as construction on the Sunoco Logistics line that will travel through southern Indiana County is underway. U.S. Trinity is constructing about 60 miles of the pipeline. They are leasing the 119 Business Park from the ICDC while the work occurs. This has brought 300-400 temporary jobs - and potentially 50 permanent positions - to the local area providing a huge boost to the local economy, Wiley said.
Visit www.indianacountyceo.com to learn about the many development opportunities and available commercial properties in Indiana County.
Sheri Kunkle, with K&L Real Estate, said residential sales are steady as they begin the busiest time of year for the real estate market. Homes for sale under $200,000 are moving faster than those above $200,000 which are staying on the market longer.
“Overall we are encouraged where we are at,” Kunkle said.
Steve McPherson, with MGK/Miller Welding and the Indiana County Manufacturing Consortium, shared that most manufacturers are doing well currently and are looking ahead to what should be a good year.
Kelly Howells with Anew Home Health Agency and the Healthcare Consortium said they recently recognized 14 direct care workers from Indiana County at their annual recognition breakfast May 3 at the Indiana County Club. Training for health care workers is underway.
New Indiana Borough Manager Brad Gotshall had the opportunity to attend the board meeting and meet other community leaders. Gotshall reported that the borough is doing well coming off a rough fiscal year with many new initiatives underway including upgrades to the sewer treatment facility, additional paving projects, paperless billing system, revamping the parking system to allow phone and credit card payments, establishing a social media presence and enhancing the borough website. The borough’s pension fund is doing well. They are also launching an effort to fill vacant buildings in the borough.
With the help of elected leaders and county officials, the borough was able to secure a grant to improve the Community Center building.
“That will go a long way to fixing that building which a key focal point for the community,” Gotshall said.
He added that Indiana is a great business community with innovative leaders.
Membership Events Update
The Chamber has several unique events upcoming to network, meet new people and grow our member businesses including the third annual Paddle and Picnic in Blairsville on May 27. This event features an organized kayak trip from Robinson to Blairsville followed by a community celebration picnic next to the Blairsville Community. No experience is needed and kayaks will be provided for a small rental fee of $30, which includes transportation to the launch area in Robinson. In addition, if Chamber members don’t want to kayak, they can still attend the after hour’s picnic at 2:30 p.m. Members can register for both or either by contacting the Chamber or clicking here.
The Chamber Board of Directors will meet next on June 15 at St. Andrews Village