New Year Optimism, Outside Interest and Determined Focus Voiced at Indiana County Chamber January Board Meeting
Indiana, PA – The Indiana County Chamber of Commerce held its monthly Board of Directors meeting on Thursday, Jan. 12, at St. Andrews Village.
The Board discussed many issues including unemployment compensation, business inquires, communities, energy, marketing, upcoming events and more.
Call to Order
New Board Chairman Joe Reschini, with The Reschini Group, started the meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance. Reschini became the Chair in January replacing Greg Sipos with First Commonwealth Bank who successfully completed his two-year term as Chairman of the Board. The November 2016 board meeting minutes and December financial reports were approved.
New Officers and Board Members
Reschini welcomed several new members and ex-officio representatives to the board. New board members serving a first three-year term included Laurie Kuzneski, Kuzneski Financial Group; Brett Stewart, CNB Bank, and Matt Tomb, First Commonwealth Bank. All three had been serving as ex-officio board members. The board also welcomed new Ex-Officio members Rob Walbeck with Walbeck Insurance of Homer City and Linda Gwinn with the Blairsville Community Development Authority (BCDA). New Chamber Executive Committee officers in 2017 include Jim Kinneer with Indiana Regional Medical Center as 1st Vice Chair and Josh Rosenberger with the 700 Shop as Treasurer. Tae Ayers with S&T Bank was also welcomed as the new chair for the Chamber’s Young Professionals Organization (YPO).
Ayers said the YPO will be holding their first event of the New Year on January 17, a social networking mixer at Brunzies. This will be Ayers first event as the chair replacing Luke Shively from McNaughton Moving and Storage.
“The mixer at Brunzies will be Luke’s unofficial retirement party,” Ayers joked.
The Chamber YPO’s is a great opportunity for advancing employees, upcoming managers and others within Chamber member businesses to meet and network with other future business and community leaders. Want to join the YPO? Any Chamber member or employee of a Chamber member age 40 or under can join. Individuals can also join as a “Chamber Friend”. Visit the Chamber’s website to apply. To learn more, visit the YPO page on the Chamber’s website or on Facebook.
In the months of November and December, President Jim Struzzi reported that the Chamber attracted an incredible 14 new members and had 62 renewals. The total membership is currently 677 members.
“We really appreciate our members and do everything we can to make certain they are getting a great return on their investment in the Chamber and Indiana County,” Struzzi said. “Many of these new members are the result of current members sharing their satisfaction with the benefits and business opportunities that come with Chamber membership.”
The Chamber’s annual luncheon in December was another great success with nearly 400 people attending. The luncheon keynote speaker, David Spigelmyer, President of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, gave poignant and encouraging presentation on the energy industry. Spigelmyer highlighted several ways Indiana County can capitalize on positive trends in the industry and the new Shell Cracker Plant that will be built in Beaver County. In addition to gas production, Spigelmyer said the focus is on manufacturing businesses that will benefit from the products produced by the cracker plant. Building on that, the Chamber and the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development have begun to research other areas in the country that have benefited from their proximity to cracker facilities. Site visits may be considered in the near future.
“We want to learn how they prepared and ultimately capitalized on these unique, potentially game changing opportunities,” Struzzi commented. “With our available spaces, workforce and ready-to-be-developed business parks, the time to act is now.”
During the luncheon, the Chamber also announced the 2017 Indiana County Business Hall of Fame class that will be inducted during a formal ceremony at the Kovalchick Complex in June.
The third class of Business Hall of Fame includes:
Dr. Willis E. Pratt, the 16th and final president of Indiana State Teachers College and the first president of IUPCecil Spadafora, Colonial Motor MartE. James Trimarchi, Jr., the first president and CEO of First Commonwealth Financial Corporation, known today as First Commonwealth BankJack W. Clark, Jr., with Clark Metals (Note: Jack W. Clark, Jr. sadly passed away in November shortly after being voted into the Business Hall of Fame.)Living
Chuck Spadafora, Colonial Motor Mart, Colonial Toyota, and Mark Arbuckle Nissan
Lucy Donnelly, Indiana Gazette
Visit the Hall of Fame link on the Chamber’s website to learn more or visit the interactive display at the Kovalchick Complex.
Meanwhile, the Chamber staff is busily preparing for the 2017 Business Expo set for January 28 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Indiana Mall. The registration deadline was Friday and there are currently between 55-60 businesses participating. There’s another great line-up of music and entertainment all day thanks to Anthony Frazier who will also serve as stage coordinator and emcee. In effort to support the community and Indiana County families, the Chamber has partnered with the Armstrong Indiana Clarion Drug and Alcohol Commission to offer free naloxene training all day during the Expo in the former Finish Line location near FYE. The American Red Cross will also host a community blood donation drive in the former Old Navy locations. The Expo tab will be in the Indiana Gazette the Wednesday before the Expo. Visit the Chamber website, www.indianacountychamber.com for more information.
“We encourage everyone to come out to the Indiana Mall on January 28 and enjoy everything the Chamber Business Expo has to offer,” Struzzi said. The Expo is free to attend and everyone will receive a complimentary tote bag from the Chamber while supplies last.
Related to promoting Indiana County, Struzzi recorded a Comcast Newsmakers (www.comcastnewsmaker.com/state/pennsylvania/) segment on December 20 and a live interview on KDKA radio about the economic impacts of Jimmy Stewart and the “It’s a Wonderful Life” movie on Indiana County. Locally, Struzzi had several live and recorded appearances on Froggy 95.5 and Renda Broadcasting. The Chamber is also advertising regionally through television and radio Indiana County businesses and the upcoming Chamber Business Expo.
The Chamber had several successful member and community events in November and December including a ribbon cutting ceremonies at Yankeetown Apothecary in Homer City, Indigo in the Indiana Mall, Anew Home Health in Clymer and Bayada Home Health in Blairsville. Tremendously successful Business After Hours events were held a Kuzneski Financial Group and St. Andrew’s Village. The Chamber also had two Chamber Check-In Networking events and a Brains and Grains educational session on estate planning.
Any Chamber member interested in hosting a Chamber Business After Hours or other events should contact the Chamber office at 724-465-2511. The 2017 schedule is filling fast.
Chamber Marketing Manager Annie Rizzo gave an update on the Chamber promotion and marketing efforts. She emphasized a renewed focus on social media and the use of video to promote Chamber events, Chamber member businesses and Indiana County. She also mentioned the many sponsorship opportunities for businesses to gain exposure and recognition within the business community and region through the Chamber. General sponsorship, advertising, social media, and event sponsors are just a few methods available.
“Becoming a Chamber member and sponsor is a great way for a business to start the New Year in a positive way,” Rizzo said.
The Chamber has created an overview sheet of the many opportunities available in addition to membership.
County Commissioner Rod Ruddock attended the meeting to represent the Indiana County Board of Commissioners. At their public meeting this week, a concern was raised about the county website being out-of-date and lacking pertinent information. Ruddock said this has been an issue that the Commissioners will address in the coming year. They are working to create a new, improved, interactive website that represents the progressive, positive nature of Indiana County and better serves county residents.
Ruddock also voiced some concerns with recent cutbacks and funding issues related to unemployment compensation process. The state recently closed 5 of 8 unemployment call centers across the Commonwealth causing 600 layoffs and seriously impacting services for those in need of unemployment compensation. This has caused issues locally because of the long wait times it is causing at Careerlink – an organization already short staffed due to funding and other state-related issues.
Joe Pittman with State Senator Don White’s office echoed Ruddock’s concerns and expounded on the issue. In perhaps partisan posturing as the budget battle looms, Governor Wolf pulled the plug on three of the eight call centers across the state after not receiving the $57 million he requested to continue processing claims. His funding demand was made without offering any accountability to the legislature on how it would be spent. Those filing for unemployment must call in for their compensation using a required 1-800 line. The problem is that with the layoffs at call centers, there are not enough people to handle the claims across the state. In the past, people could call from their homes or visit the unemployment compensation office in person, but that is no longer an option.
“It’s heartbreaking to see folks waiting for hours to get their unemployment compensation,” Pittman said. “Whatever happened to humans talking to humans face to face? It’s not government that’s working and a lot of innocent people are caught in the middle.”
Pittman said anyone locally struggling with the unemployment compensation system should contact Sen. White’s office in an effort to have the claims process expedited.
Meanwhile, the Governor is preparing for the budget address in February. Pittman said state revenues are lower than they should be; the only realistic way to balance the budget may be through pension reform.
He said they are watching closely what might occur with the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the impacts that may have on Pennsylvania.
IUP President Mike Driscoll said they are anxiously awaiting the Governor’s budget proposal to learn how much of a $70 million appropriation increase requested by the State System of Higher Education will be included. If the amount is less than anticipated, it will impact tuition rates and budgets. Driscoll said IUP continues to exercise frugal cost controls through the challenges that may lie ahead.
IUP will be bringing more students – about 150 - to Indiana through changes in the curriculum offered at their Punxsutawney campus. The changes will create more opportunities based on workforce needs in Jefferson County while offering more benefits for those students coming to Indiana.
Gregg Van Horn, president of the Indiana County Tourist Bureau (ICTB), said the new 2017 Tourist Bureau calendar has been released and is now in circulation. The calendar features the annual events of Tourist Bureau members occurring in the upcoming year.
“It’s a great way to make sure you don’t miss out on these exciting events,” Van Horn said. “The calendar is free, so be sure to get your copy while supplies last.”
As the President of the Indiana County Christmas Tree Growers' Association, Van Horn said he was very proud to acknowledge and congratulate the “It’s a Wonderful Life Festival” for having their Christmas tree chosen by Travel & Leisure as the "Best Christmas Tree in Pennsylvania" in their "The Best Christmas Tree in Every State" article. The award is another example of Tourist Bureau national advertising dollars spent well. Special thanks to Fleming's Christmas Tree Farms for growing and donating Pennsylvania's best tree!
As the tourism promotion and marketing agency for Indiana County, the Tourist Bureau looks forward to promoting and supporting several new events this year. In 2017, we will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Indiana County Parks, a new and expanded Eco Tour/Geo Caching program, and the Ghost Town Trail extension, just to name a few.
“You can put a big smiley face on this report,” said Dave Brocious with the Marcellus Shale Coalition. Since the presidential election, there has been increased enthusiasm in the energy industry. Commodity prices are at their highest point in recent years with prices climbing to $3.23 per MCF, from lows in October of $0.87 per MCF. Drilling rig counts across the country are increasing – up by 54 from November to December bringing the total count currently to 634 rigs nationally. Rig count in PA has increased from a low of 12 in June 2016 to 31 rigs in December, a 138% increase.
But there are still concerns in the industry with negative policy impacts and the current shortage of pipeline infrastructure in Pennsylvania – issues further exacerbated by regulatory permit delays at the local, state and federal level. Although Brocious is optimistic several existing pipeline projects will soon be resolved allowing more gas to make it to the market, alleviating the oversupply, delays in permitting approvals are still adversely impacting the industry and could eventually send energy companies to other states and other energy basins globally looking for better investment returns.
Nevertheless, the overall outlook is better than it’s been in recent years. “We are forecasting well in Western Pennsylvania,” Brocious said.
Cal Farren with Turner Dairy and the Indiana County Farm Bureau said though it’s a slow time for field activities in the agriculture industry, farmers and others are busy year round taking care of livestock and animal herds.
Sharing some positive news, Farren said Dave Kimmel, a dairy farmer from the Marion Center/Plumville area, will be serving on the statewide Pennsylvania Farm Bureau board as the District 12 representative, which covers Indiana and several other counties.
“It’s great to have a local boy at that level,” Farren said.
Kelly Howells with Anew Home Health said the Healthcare Consortium is busy planning it’s annual recognition event in May and reviewing scholarship applications. They are also looking at quotes for training activities in 2017.
Jim Kinneer with Indiana Regional Medical Center said the second phase of the ICU (intensive care unit) project is nearing completion. Eight newly renovated ICU rooms were opened in 2016; the second phase includes renovations of the old ICU space to bring the total ICU rooms to 12 and additional space for support functions. The former unit capacity was 10 beds.
Indiana County Development Corporation
ICDC President Jim Wiley said work to prepare the first phase of the new 200-acre Windy Ridge Business and Technology Park in White Township has been completed and state-of-the-art site is ready for development. Interest in the park from developers is already increasing with several discussions and possible plans underway.
The next step in construction will be to extend the main roadway through the park to eventually connect on the west side with Rustic Lodge Road. Wiley anticipates that work beginning in 2018.
He encouraged anyone interested to take a drive through Windy Ridge and see the work that’s been done. The roadway from Route 286 is open to the public.
Sharing more good news, Wiley said the ICDC is discussing leases with new commercial tenants at the Interchange Center in Blairsville and High Pointe on Indian Springs Road.
Visit www.indianacountyceo.com to learn more about available buildings, business park sites, access to programs and other opportunities in Indiana County.
Rosenberger gave kudos to Jenny Rairigh and her team of volunteers for their efforts with the expanded It’s a Wonderful Festival in downtown Indiana this past holiday season. Despite some challenging weather during several weekends, the event is considered a success and sets the stage for an even better festival next year.
“It’s important to see everyone come together and create something Indiana County can hang its hat on,” Rosenberger said.
Gwinn said Blairsville is planning events to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Indiana County Parks and Trails this year. With its proximity to the Conemaugh River, Blairville has many assets related to trails, parks and water recreation. The Chamber, Conemaugh Valley Conservancy and the BCDA will partner again in May 2017 to hold the third annual Paddle and Picnic event. The event includes 10-mile kayak trip on the Conemaugh River from Robinson to Blairsville concluding with picnic near the bandstand.
The annual chili and soup cook-off will be held on Feb. 4 at the Blairsville Elks to benefit Blairsville community projects. Once again, Chamber President Jim Struzzi will serve as one of the event judges.
Membership Events Update
The Chamber will hit the ground running in 2017 with several events aimed helping its members through education, networking and opportunity. On Wednesday, January 18, Chamber members are invited to the Park Inn to enjoy a special morning seminar on interviewing and hiring good employees presented by author and human resource expert Bill McConnell. The event, Hire Honesty, is $45 for Chamber members ($50 for non-members) and includes a copy of McConnell’s book plus a hot buffet breakfast. Register at the Chamber today! The Chamber will partner with the Indiana County Tourist Bureau to hold combined Business After Hours Mingle, a “Chingle” at the IUP Hilton Garden Inn on Wednesday, January 25 and all members (and prospective members) are invited to Chamber Check-In open house in the Chamber office on Tuesday, January 24. And of course the Business Expo is on Saturday, January 28, at the Indiana Mall.
The Chamber Board of Directors will meet next on February 16 at St. Andrew’s Village.