Indiana, PA – The Indiana County Chamber of Commerce held its monthly Board of Directors meeting on Thursday, March 16, at St. Andrews Village.
The Board discussed many issues including business inquires and expansions, education, energy, promotion, recent events and more. There was positive news on many levels that bodes well for Indiana County’s economic future.
Call to Order
Board Chairman Joe Reschini, with The Reschini Group, started the meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance. The February board meeting minutes and financial reports were approved.
Chamber President Jim Struzzi said the Chamber added five new members and had 33 renewals in February bringing the total membership to 672 members. Unfortunately, the Chamber lost several members in February due to economic reasons. While the Chamber is based on membership and works hard to promote its members, we are here to support all Indiana County businesses, Struzzi said. He 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.
With the Chamber’s help, Gatti Pharmacy held a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a day long celebration followed by a Chamber Business After Hours at their new location at 1024 Philadelphia Street in Indiana. As a new feature, the Chamber is creating promotional videos for businesses that host Business After Hours. Videos from previous events can be also found on the Chamber’s YouTube Channel and social media.
The February Chamber Check-In at the Chamber office was well-attended including many new members and first time visitors to the Chamber. Chamber Check-In open houses give members an opportunity to network over coffee and donuts with other businesses and learn about what’s happening with the Chamber. It’s also a great way for potential members to learn more about the benefits of Chamber membership. The next Chamber Check-In at the Chamber office at 1019 Philadelphia Street is at 8 a.m. on March 29. The Chamber also had a great Happy Hours at Levity Brewing in February.
At Thursday’s board meeting, Struzzi unveiled an exciting opportunity for Chamber member businesses. Through a partnership with Comcast Spotlight, the Chamber is offering significant discounts for television advertising across many key Comcast networks during peak periods for members only. Packaged with a brief Chamber message touting Indiana County businesses, participating members can save 50% on commercial production costs and 35% on advertising rates. The program is being finalized and will be rolled out to Chamber members in next couple of weeks.
“We saw this as a great opportunity for smaller businesses in the community that may not have a large budget for television advertising to gain incredible exposure across the region,” Struzzi said. “It also give us an opportunity to promote Indiana County overall. If our Chamber member businesses succeed and we bring more people here, we are all successful.”
The region will see economic impacts not realized in our area for many decades through the construction of the Shell Cracker Plant in Beaver County. There will be opportunities across Western Pennsylvania that could and should stimulate our local economy to incredible levels. By “cracking” ethane from natural gas, the plant will create materials used to produce many plastic-based products, cleaning products, and much more. These products will be shipped to manufacturers all over the east within a 700-mile radius of the Shell plant. Why not to Indiana County? That is why Chamber President Jim Struzzi and Byron Stauffer, Executive Director of the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development, recently participated in a one-day conference exploring the petrochemical industry and the opportunities the Shell Cracker will bring to the area. Indiana County has the space, incentives, resources and infrastructure to support plastics manufacturers. Our goal is to be ready with new companies here that will utilize the products created by the Shell plant. In addition, the Indiana County Economic Development team is looking at the Gulf Coast region of Louisiana – the petrochemical epicenter of the United States - to mirror what their local communities did to capitalize on the industry. The conference, held on March 8 in Titusville, featured many speakers on a variety of topics related to the petrochemical production and the workforce needed to support the industry. More than 400 people attended. Several of the key speakers came from Louisiana and provided great insight based on their experiences on how to prepare for this great opportunity coming to Western Pennsylvania. Struzzi and Stauffer made certain Indiana County was part of the conversation.
The Chamber staff in partnership with the Indiana Gazette 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 p.m. Table and seat reservations are being accepted now as well as sponsor opportunities. Early sponsors will get recognition on the formal invitations that will be mailed in April. 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 and upcoming Spring membership drive which will again include free radio ads on Forever media for new members, great prizes, and the member referral contest. Rizzo also shared a new program created by the Chamber and Planful, LLC to offer free social media training at various levels for Chamber members. The Chamber’s social media presence continues to grow to the benefit of our membership. In February, the Chamber’s social media outreach had 4,000 new impressions from first time viewers, Rizzo said.
County Commissioner Rod Ruddock said the commissioners are concerned with the proposed reduction or elimination of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and the impacts this could have locally. He also mentioned the recent release of the Regional Transportation Alliance (RTA) Imagine Transportation 2.0 report, a vision for a better transportation future in the greater Pittsburgh region. The vision includes Seven Principles the RTA believe provide guidance for our region to make decisions and investments that achieve better mobility for all. These principles are further illustrated by 50 Ideas to Explore, which serve as examples of what those changes could look like. Click here to view the full report online, download the executive summary, or read “An Open Letter to the Greater Pittsburgh Region” from the Regional Transportation Alliance Steering Committee. In addition to Ruddock, the Chamber and Indiana County were represented on the RTA by former board chair Greg Sipos and now by Struzzi.
“The RTA is looking at where we are today and where we need to be in 20 years,” Ruddock said.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania President Mike Driscoll said projections are looking good for fall 2017 enrollments. This is due to effective marketing and recruitment without weakening admission standards in challenging financial times.
As it was announced recently, the state system will be moving forward with a review process to look for improvement opportunities. Driscoll said a consultant has been engaged and will be begin visiting state system universities in April. He looks forward to their visit to IUP.
“IUP is in a strong position,” he said. “I look at it as an opportunity to make things better and make other universities as strong as we are.”
Driscoll was also recently appointed as board member with the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, which focuses on issues affected rural areas including addiction issues, safety, economic development and others. He said it will provide opportunities to compare best practices.
Arnold Thimons, Director of Student Success at WyoTech, said they are completing an exciting month. WyoTech’s recent career fair attracted 84 employers from around the country conducting 150 interviews with WyoTech students. These interviews resulted in 50 on-the-spot job offers, many of them from local companies.
New classes for adult students will begin in two weeks. WyoTech has about 100 students enrolled in the adult program in addition to their younger students fresh out of high school.
Thimons also said WyoTech has a strong student Veterans organization that is looking for volunteer opportunities in the community.
“We have a large group of people who want to get out and help the community.”
Community groups in need of volunteers should contact Thimons at Arnold.Thimons@zenith.org.
Dave Brocious with the Marcellus Shale Coalition said gas commodity prices remain a mixed bag to due temperatures fluctuations. While the cold temperatures this month are good for the industry, the warm days in February were not.
“There is a softness in demand and an excess in supply,” Brocious said.
Rig counts are also down this month by two to 32. Gas production, as a byproduct of increasing oil wells, is also increasing in Texas.
Overall, Brocious said 2017 will be a transition year for the industry as policy shifts and the market place changes. The MSC is also concerned the proposed severance tax in the Governor’s budget could push companies to other states if it moves forward. There are also issues currently being contested in areas where land use zoning is in place. Most drilling currently occurs in agricultural areas. Though it may not have much of a local impact, the current court case elsewhere may require drilling in industrial zoned areas only.
On a positive note, Brocious said work is beginning on various pipeline projects across the state including the Sunoco Logistics line that will travel through southern Indiana County. This construction is expected to bring 300-400 temporary jobs - and potentially 50 permanent positions - to the local area providing a boost to the local economy. The company, Trinity, constructing about 60 miles of the pipeline is based at the 119 Business Park in the Coral-Graceton area.
Byron Stauffer, Executive Director of the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development, said the focus at the regional level continues to be Route 422 through Indiana and Armstrong counties.
Multimodal funds through a $700,000 grant have been allocated for local road and bridge improvement projects. Coupled with local matches, between $1.5 and $2 million could be available for Indiana County projects this construction season.
“There is a lot of excitement to get these underway and improve our infrastructure,” Stauffer said.
Business Retention and Growth
Stauffer said major upgrades are underway at the Gordon Sinclair facility on Indian Springs Road. The new business in Indiana County that manufactures marketing and branding materials should be operational soon.
Meanwhile Stauffer said there’s positive news that many local companies are looking to expand and grow their operations. New business inquires are increasing as well
“We seeing a lot of activity so that’s good,” he said.
Dave Coleman with the Indiana County Manufacturing Consortium mirrored Stauffer comments saying local manufacturers are seeing a solid return in the industry. While not yet a significant increase, most manufacturers are back to consistent levels of orders and commerce.
Indiana County Development Corporation President Jim Wiley continued the upbeat rhythm with his report stating that there is a lot of positive movement and inquiry from developers interested in the new 200-acre Windy Ridge Business and Technology Park on Route 286 in White Township. The state-of-the-art site is ready for development.
Work will continue this summer through 2018 to complete roadway construction through the west side of Windy Ridge to ultimately connect with Rustic Lodge Road.
“Windy Ridge is set and ready to go,” Wiley said.
Visit www.indianacountyceo.com to learn about the many development opportunities and available commercial properties in Indiana County.
Kelly Howells with Anew Home Health Agency and the Healthcare Consortium said various trainings are underway for healthcare professionals through the consortium. Their annual recognition breakfast is May 3 at the Indiana County Club. Tickets and sponsorships are available. There is also a 5K in Clymer on May 27 to benefit local veterans sponsored by Crossbridge Physical Therapy and Anew Home Health Agency.
Mall Manager Sherry Renosky said despite what many may have heard the Mall still has more than 40 stores and only 10 vacant spaces. Mall owner Zamias continues to search for businesses to fill the vacant spaces, but Renosky acknowledged it is a difficult time currently. She emphasized that retailers are struggling everywhere across the nation, not just locally. Some stores, she added, are doing exceptionally well including the movie theater which hosts more than 1,000 attendees every Monday.
David Smith, Board Member and State Farm Agent in Clymer, gave an update on Clymer Borough. While there are some vacant stores, business is improving in Clymer, Smith said. The former Whipstock location was recently purchased by a company affiliated with the gas industry as was the former Nittany Oil Company. The borough is also working to improve quality of life by applying for grant to improve the green space adjacent to the little league fields. In addition Clymer is conducting tests to remove an order from their drinking water. New waterlines and a tank will be installed in the future.
“Everything is going fine in Clymer,” Smith said. “We are working together well.”
Chamber Young Professionals Organization
Tae Ayers with S&T Bank and chair for the Chamber’s Young Professionals Organization (YPO) said the recent Breakfast and Learn with Stauffer went exceptionally well. A St. Patrick’s Day mixer is also planned next Wednesday at the Coney. In addition the YPO is exploring more opportunities for community service and volunteer opportunities.
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.
Struzzi said the Chamber’s revamped Government Relations Committee is working to explore various legislative issues that impact businesses and develop positions for the Chamber. These will be available on the Chamber website. As the representative for more 670 member businesses, the Chamber is a powerful voice for Indiana County businesses.
Membership Events Update
The Chamber will offer its members many opportunities to network, meet new customers, learn and grow and find success including a special Business After Hours speed networking event sponsored by Bayada Home Health on March 30 and Bill Drury Customer Service Training on April 4 and an after hours at New Story on April 6.
The Chamber Board of Directors will meet next on April 12 at St. Andrew’s Village.