News for Immediate Release:
Jan. 15, 2016
Optimism, Encouragement and Opportunity discussed at January Chamber Board Meeting
Indiana, PA – The Indiana County Chamber of Commerce held its monthly Board of Directors meeting on Thursday, Jan. 14, at St. Andrews Village.
Chamber news and events, the state budget crisis, positive developments at the Windy Ridge Business and Technology Park and the 119 Business Park and opportunity for positive news across Indiana County was shared.
Call to Order
Board Chairman Greg Sipos with First Commonwealth Bank started the meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance. The November 2015 board meeting minutes and December 2015 financial reports were approved. There was no board meeting in December due to the annual membership luncheon.
Sipos introduced two new ex-officio members to the board, Laurie Kuzneski with the Kuzneski Financial Group, and Matt Tomb with First Commonwealth Bank. Sipos also welcomed three new board members, Elizabeth Hutton from K&L Estate, Rich Fiscus with S&T Bank, and Dave Brocious with the Marcellus Shale Coalition. Hutton and Fiscus had been filling unexpired board positions and Brocious was serving as an ex-officio.
Promoting the Positives and Potential
During the meeting, an encouraging and insightful discussion occurred about many of the unsung efforts underway to sustain, market, and grow Indiana’s economy. Though much of this hard work doesn’t make the headlines, the fruits of those labors are beginning to ripen.
Commissioner Rod Ruddock started the conversation after a constituent voiced concerns at a recent commissioner’s meeting about rumors and the perception that not enough is being done by county leaders to create and protect jobs and attract businesses to Indiana County. While unfounded, that unfortunately is the public perception, and it needs to change.
Through the Indiana County Center for Economic Operations (CEO), which includes the Chamber, Indiana County Tourist Bureau, Indiana County Development Corporation (ICDC), County Commissioners, Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), and is staffed by the Indiana County Office of Planning & Development, diligent efforts have been underway for years to market and grow Indiana County. The challenge is that much of that focus related to advertising and promotion has been on markets outside this area in order to attract businesses, people and jobs here. Indiana County residents most likely do not realize all that occurs outside the local area.
“We need to do more public relations,” Ruddock said. “We have worked extremely hard.”
Indiana County Office of Planning & Development Executive Director Byron Stauffer said his staff spends 70-75% of their time working with local companies to keep and grow jobs here. And many local companies are growing.
“It’s a lot easier to retain what we have,” Stauffer said. “We are seeing opportunities as a result of all of these efforts.”
Stauffer added that the CEO, among other projects and initiatives, is developing an economic and workforce development plan for Indiana County, a commercial real estate database, and targeted engagement with regional economic development agencies like the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance and the Allegheny Conference, among others. In addition, the CEO recently launched a revamped website, www.indianacountyceo, highlighting all that Indiana County has to offer.
While there are obvious challenges with the energy industry and the detrimental impacts on jobs in the county, much of that is beyond local control due to federal regulations. Conversely, there are a lot of positives in Indiana County both tangible in the form of new business in the area and intangible in the sense of community and a quality of life that’s hard to find elsewhere.
“We have a great sense of community here,” said Todd Brice, S&T Bank President. “We need to share what we have.”
All of these opportunities and successes need to be shared more locally to ensure confidence and faith in our local residents and communities. Indiana County is a much better place economically, civically and culturally than many may realize.
Robin Gorman with IUP mentioned a growing healthcare network in Indiana Regional Medical Center, IUP’s ongoing expansion and renovation, the new Hilton Garden Inn at the KCAC, new business parks, and more positive progress in our downtown areas and around the county.
“Where else is that happening?” she said rhetorically. “Slow and steady wins the race. Our strength in this county is working together to keep the great assets we have and grow what we don’t. It is unrealistic, especially in this erratic economic environment to think we can constantly ‘hit one out of the park’ all the time. Most places around the state are not in a position to grow and are thankful just to maintain what they have. Many federal and state regulations create economic uncertainty and economic constraints unnecessarily. Those things we can only control at the voting booth. However the adverse consequences are a reality that cause private businesses to make decisions they don’t want to have to make. This is an economic reality that happens all over the world that we are not immune from. That is why the slow and steady focus to continuously develop our infrastructure and position ourselves for opportunities will keep us growing. We need to better communicate the positives and brag more about every incremental successes. We have a lot to be proud of!”
New Downtown Indiana Director David Janusek, who attended the meeting as a community representative, recently moved to Indiana County. Janusek summarized the conversation well with his remarks from a newcomer’s perspective.
“There is a real sense of working together here,” he emphasized. “The partnerships and the quality of life are great. You don’t find that elsewhere.”
The Chamber, CEO, and other groups are dedicated to growing and sustaining Indiana County’s economy, workforce and opportunity for all residents. Those efforts may fly under the radar, but the residents of Indiana County need to know that hard work is occurring, and those successes are becoming clear.
Chamber President Jim Struzzi said the annual luncheon in December was a great success thanks to the more than 400 people who attended, keynote speaker Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference, the staff at the Kovalchick Complex and Aramark, and overall community and sponsor support. Struzzi said Yablonsky gave a tremendous presentation that was poignant, honest, visionary and helpful for Indiana County and the region. The speech and overall luncheon video can be viewed on the Chamber’s website, www.indianacountychamber.com.
The Chamber added four new members and had 33 renewals in December. The Chamber overall added 75 new members in 2015 brining the total membership base to 676 currently.
“We are seeing a lot of interest in Chamber membership and involvement, which shows that people are interested and appreciative about what we’re doing to help Indiana County’s business community,” Struzzi said.
Struzzi said a new digital touch-screen monitor will be installed soon next to the Business Hall of Fame display at the Kovalchick Complex. The interactive screen will access the new Hall of Fame website and allow visitors to watch videos and learn more about all of the inductees, their business successes and community achievements. Visit the Chamber’s website and click the Hall of Fame tab on the top menu to access the new site. In an effort to avoid a conflict with the Downtown Decathlon, the 2016 Business Hall of Fame induction dinner has been moved to Thursday, June 9, at the Kovalchick Complex. Tickets are $75. Advanced registrations can be made by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the Chamber at 724-465-2511. Additional information will be forthcoming.
The Chamber is also preparing for the annual Business Expo set for Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Indiana Mall. More than 57 businesses and organizations have already registered to participate. In addition, Indiana Regional Medical Center will be doing health screenings and more in the former Old Navy location plus there will be live music, entertainment and give-a-ways all day. Everyone is encouraged to attend.
Gorman said the University is gearing for the start of the spring semester Jan. 19 and the grand opening and ribbon cutting celebration for the new Humanities and Social Sciences building planned for January 22.
During the meeting, Gorman also reviewed a new publication from IUP, Cutting-Edge Conferences, that highlights some of the many venues, eateries and amenities available to the community on campus. Visit www.iup.edu to learn more.
“A lot of things are available on campus that people really don’t know about,” she said.
Commissioner Ruddock said the newly reorganized commissioners continue to work through the reassessment issues. They are also focusing on the future and where Indiana County needs to be, particularly related to workforce development and engaging students at young ages.
House Majority Leader Dave Reed attended Thursday’s meeting providing a recap of the many challenges over the past seven months dealing with state budget debacle.
“It’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride,” he said.
The challenge is still ahead as the Governor’s new budget for 2016-17 will be presented in less than a month, while the 2015-16 budget is still not fully passed.
Joe Pittman with Sen. Don White’s office said beyond the budget issues, they are focusing on legislation that will help the energy industry statewide and locally while finding ways provide more natural gas infrastructure - residential and commercial - where none exists now.
“We are looking for incentives for gas companies to move into more rural areas,” Pittman said. He added that this would have positive economic impact for Indiana County.
Gregg Van Horn, president of the Indiana County Tourist Bureau (ICTB) said they are proud to be a part of the continuing “Try Indiana County First” campaign, which launched back in November. One goal of the campaign is to help educate local shoppers on the benefits of shopping local. If each resident would shift some of their spending dollars to businesses in Indiana County, it would provide new economic growth into local communities and the county. The campaign is a result of the joint efforts of the Tourist Bureau, the Chamber, Downtown Indiana, Indiana Mall, Renda Broadcasting, the 700 Shop, Henry Hall, and the branding agency, Planful.
The Indiana County Tourist Bureau was one of three main sponsors presenting the 2016 Fire & Ice Festival, in Downtown Indiana. An estimated crowd of more than 350 people enjoyed the family fun festivities. The festival included a breakfast at Gatti Pharmacy, live ice carving demonstrations, free admission to a Jimmy Stewart movie at the Museum, ice hockey shooting competition, and a chili cook-off at H. B. Culpeppers. The Tourist Bureau has committed to being a key sponsor again in 2017.
The 2016 Indiana County Tourist Bureau calendar is completed and being distributed.
This year's calendar includes photography from a talented local photographer, Anthony Frazier. The calendar, which includes a scrapbook theme design, promotes the annual events of Tourist Bureau members.
Van Horn, who is also with the Indiana County Tree Growers Association, said they had a great year selling Indiana County Christmas trees. Sales were up and the industry is doing well.
Stauffer said work for the Route 286 US 422 Interchange West project is expected to begin in March, weather permitting. Work includes widening, signals, turn lanes and other improvements on Route 286 from Walmart to Louise Drive, the entrance to the State Police Barracks and Creps United Publications. This project will also provide turning lanes and signals for access to the developing Windy Ridge Business & Technology Park.
Work also continues to update the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). A draft of the 4-year plan is expected this month.
The local housing market appears to have closed out 2015 sales consistent with previous years, according to Elizabeth Hutton with Kuzneski and Lockard Real Estate. Thanks to mild weather in December and early January, the housing market has remained busy.
Hutton said work underway by the Center for Economic Operations to create a commercial real estate database will be a useful tool to help market properties Indiana County. Previously a one-stop commercial real estate database did not exist.
“This is so important because there isn’t one commercial database,” she said. “Businesses have to go all over and subscriptions are expensive.”
Indiana County Development Corporation
The new 200-acre Windy Ridge Business and Technology Park on Route 286 and the Route 119 Business Park in Coral-Graceton area are two key developments for Indiana County’s future that are making good headlines.
The advancement of a new Holiday Inn Express at Windy Ridge was recently announced in the news. ICDC President Jim Wiley said construction could begin in early spring. He added that work to construct the entrance from Route 286 and internal roads in the business park have progressed well. And the construction of the new hotel – the second in Indiana County in the past year – could spark additional development in the business park.
“There’s more in the works,” Wiley said. “You can see what it is and the potential it has.”
Sipos added Windy Ridge - and all of the work that’s been done for its creation and success behind the scenes - is one the efforts that has been occurring outside the public eye.
“People don’t see all the work, all the things we’ve been talking about,” he said. “This is a momentum game and we have it now. This is a great business park – now let’s fill it!”
In addition, discussions are underway for several businesses to expand at other ICDC properties including the Interchange Center and Corporate Campus Office Building. Once leases are formally executed, public announcements will follow.
With the PennDOT roadway improvements on Route 286 getting started, Windy Ridge now being developed, increasing interest in the Route 119 Business Park, and current businesses expanding, the coming year looks to be one of significant economic development news for Indiana County. Visit www.indianacountyceo.com to learn more about these sites and other opportunities in Indiana County.
Josh Rosenberger with the 700 Shop thanked everyone who supported the Try Indiana County First campaign during the holiday season. The effort was successful and will continue to keep reminding people about the benefits of shopping local. Try Indiana County First will be participating in the Chamber’s Business Expo on Jan. 30 at the Indiana Mall.
Rosenberger also shared some great news from Blairsville Community Development Authority. The Western PA Conservancy has funded two applications for two boat launches in Blairsville Borough. This will allow non-motorized boaters to enter the Conemaugh River at one end of the borough and paddle around the southeast end of town to the southwest of town in around one hour. These improved boat launches should encourage people to enjoy “active” recreation and even attract visitors to the town. This type of activity is what young employees enjoy and may help attract businesses that employ outdoor enthusiast that will not have to leave the Borough to recreate. This, in addition of the Blairsville Riverfront Trail will make southern Indiana County a more attractive place to live, visit, start a business. The Chamber recently met with BCDA Board Member Linda Gwinn to discuss, among other things, the second annual “Paddle and Picnic” to be held in Blairsville on Saturday, May 14. Last year, the Conemaugh Valley Conservancy, the Chamber and the BCDA hosted about 40 kayakers on the Conemaugh River and the BCDA treated the guests to a picnic with donated tents, food, refreshments, flower arrangements, music, door prizes, and more. The event was so well received that the Chamber added it to the annual calendar of events for Chamber members.
Young Professionals Organization
Luke Shively, Chair of the Chamber’s Young Professionals Organization, said the YPO continues to grow with more than 145 members currently. They have had some great events recently and continue to create new idea and activities to engage young professionals and develop future business and civic leaders.
A YPO mixer is planned on Jan. 20 at Spaghetti Benders. On the community service side, the YPO will also be helping with the upcoming Cold Hands Warm Hearts event. To help create unity and promote the young professionals, YPO t-shirts are being created and will be available at a reduced price through the Chamber. More information on the t-shirts will be released soon.
Any Chamber member or employee of a Chamber member age 40 or under can join the YPO. 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.
Visit the YPO Facebook and Chamber’s YPO website pages to learn more and get involved.
Membership Events Update
The Chamber has many upcoming member and community events including a Check-In at the Chamber office on January 20; the Business Expo at the Indiana Mall January 30; a Chamber Chat for new members on February 3 at Eat-n-Park, and Business After Hours at Uptown Fitness on February 4 and Smith, Lewis and Chess (at the Artist’s Hand) on February 11.
Struzzi said the Chamber will be publishing a comprehensive membership guide that provides details and step-by-step instructions on how businesses can fully utilize all of the benefits that come with membership. The draft guide has been completed and should be available in the next few weeks.
The Chamber Board of Directors will meet next on February 11.