Positive Business Trends, Increasing Interest and a Stellar Hall of Fame Event Discussed at Indiana County Chamber June Board Meeting
The Indiana County Chamber of Commerce held its monthly Board of Directors meeting on Thursday, June 15, at St. Andrew’s Village.
The Board discussed many issues including increasing interest in business parks, transportation infrastructure, successful events, member opportunities and more.
Call to Order
Board Chairman Joe Reschini, with The Reschini Group, started the meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance. The May board meeting minutes and financial reports were approved.
Chamber President Jim Struzzi said the Chamber continues to attract new members during the spring membership drive. Four new members joined in May and 26 current members renewed bringing the total membership to 662 members. The spring membership drive, which concludes June 30, features some great incentives for new members including 15 free 30-second radio commercials plus prizes and give-a-ways. Interested in joining the Chamber? Click here for an application.
Struzzi is coordinating a project with the Pittsburgh Technology Council to give Indiana County great exposure across the region and state. The PTC publishes a quarterly magazine entitled Made in PA. They recently dedicated an entire edition to Cambria County.
“After seeing the Cambria County edition, I thought why not Indiana County,” Struzzi said. “We have so much here to offer and highlight and this is the perfect opportunity.”
Struzzi contacted the magazine’s associate publisher and shared some of the opportunities and assets in Indiana County. The PTC jumped at the idea and will begin visiting Indiana County later this month to take photos, write stories, visit Chamber member businesses and work with community leaders. The edition will be published this fall. To see examples of the magazine, visit www.pghtech.org.
Struzzi and Byron Stauffer, Executive Director of the Indiana County Office of Planning & Development, and the Indiana County economic development team will be traveling to the Gulf Coast region of Louisiana this month. This region is the current epicenter for petrochemical industry that will soon be coming to Western Pennsylvania when the Shell cracker facility opens in a few years in Beaver County. Working with the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance, an itinerary has been set for the trip that includes sites visits, business meetings, education and workforce development, and more. Indiana County is uniquely positioned to capitalize on this opportunity with rail lines that can connect directly to the Shell Beaver County facility and other assets. Struzzi, Stauffer and the Indiana County economic development team want to be sure we are ready when the time comes.
Struzzi continues to play a role in addressing the region’s workforce issues serving on several Indiana County school district career advisory development boards and the Tri-County Workforce Investment Board.
“It’s important for the Chamber to play a role in addressing the workforce gaps that exist both now and in the near future,” Struzzi said. “We can help make those connections and create a workforce to meet the needs of current and future businesses in Indiana County?”
May was another month packed with great Chamber events for members and the community. The May Check-In once again filled the Chamber office giving members and soon-to-be members the opportunity to network and learn what’s happening in the business community. The next Chamber Check-In is at the Hire On Corp in Blairsville at 8 a.m. on June 27. The Chamber also had a great ribbon cutting grand opening celebration for Government and Civil Employee Services, a packed Business After Hours at the Indiana Country Club, a Brains and Grains on medical marijuana, and a Happy Hours at the Firehouse Brewing Company. As part of their after hours, the Country Club unveiled a unique opportunity for Chamber members only in the form of a $500 gift certificate for new members to the club that are also Chamber members. Contact the Chamber to learn more.
The successful third annual Paddle and Picnic in Blairsville also occurred in May on Memorial Day weekend. The more than 50 kayakers who dared brave the rushing waters of the Conemaugh River were rewarded with an adventure that included everything from exhilarating thrills to breathtaking wildlife and tranquil moments with friends and family. Intense rapids in some sections of the river led to calm stretches of peaceful, placid waters and rising mists creating a truly memorable day and a unique experience for everyone. The Chamber, in partnership with the Blairsville Community Development Authority (BCDA), the Conemaugh Valley Conservancy (CVC) and the Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg Main Line Canal Greenway, created the annual Paddle and Picnic in an effort to highlight the outdoor entertainment and recreational opportunities that are available in Indiana County. The Conemaugh River is a great showcase for kayaking, fishing, biking and hiking and other activities that can be found in communities like Blairsville. Moments of reflection and respect come hand-in-hand with a sojourn on the Conemaugh River. The trip takes kayakers through the historic Packsaddle Gap, a gorge that runs through the Chestnut Ridge mountains. It offers exceptional views that can only be seen by traveling on the water. It’s also one of the best places anywhere to see the historic canals that were used to transport goods along the Conemaugh River from Pittsburgh to Johnstown in the 1800s. After the trip, the BCDA hosted a picnic sponsored by S&T Bank, First Commonwealth Bank, Indiana First Bank and Northwood Realty. Blairsville will be constructing two docks this summer for easier access to-and-from the Conemaugh River.
“Blairsville has really done a lot to accent the trails, assets and activities that can be found on and around the Conemaugh River,” Struzzi said. “It’s a great community and we are happy to partner with the BCDA.”
The third annual 2017 Indiana County Business Hall of Fame induction dinner held on June 8 at the Kovalchick Complex did not disappoint. The emotional evening was another special moment in history as the 2017 class was inducted among family, friends and other guests. About 220 people attended. The evening would not have been possible without our generous sponsors: First Commonwealth Bank, Palladio Investments, LLC, S&T Bank, The Reschini Group, Colonial Motor Mart, Indiana Gazette, Renda Broadcasting, OnDemand Energy, Diamond Medical Supply, Gibson-Thomas Engineering, Kovalchick Corporation, NCDMM, Phoenix Spa & Salon, Highmark, Stiffler-McGraw, Comcast, Creps United Publications and Larson Design Group. A special thanks to Jim Nestor and Chauncey Ross of the Indiana Gazette, Kris Mellinger of Curly Bear Productions, WMUG and Chamber Ambassadors: Carol Fry, Skip McGreevy, Cheryl McCabe and Bob Vargo. The Hall of Fame wall in the KCAC lobby features all six individuals that were inducted as well as a virtual touch screen monitor where you can click on each individual and watch a brief video commemorating their success. The fourth annual class of inductees will be announced in December. Chamber members can find the nominations form online at the Hall of Fame website.
“We want to thank everyone who attended, the Chamber staff and Ambassadors for their efforts, our many sponsors and of course the families and friends of our honored inductees,” Struzzi commented. “It was truly an evening to remember.”
To learn more about the Indiana County Business Hall of Fame and see photos and video from the event, visit the Chamber’s website and YouTube and Facebook pages.
Chamber Marketing Manager Annie Rizzo gave an update on the Chamber’s marketing efforts including a surge in Facebook and social media activity. The second round of social media training classes in the Chamber board room is underway and again with full attendance in each of the sessions. The Chamber had 7,426 visits to the member directory/”Find a Business” locator on the Chamber website and attracted 27 new Facebook followers in May. The Chamber is running Facebook give-a-way contests with prizes like tickets and gift cards from Chamber members. Visit and “like” the Chamber’s Facebook page to learn more.
Rizzo, who is also the vice chair of the Leader’s Circle of Indiana County, said they received several nominations in each category for the Leader’s Circle Awards event on September 20 at the Indiana Country Club. The finalists will be revealed at special event on August 10 at the Indiana Elks.
“We are very pleased with the nominations we received,” she said.
Indiana County Commissioner Rod Ruddock said the Children and Youth Services will be moving to its new, expanded location at High Pointe on Indian Springs Road in August. This move will be temporary until a permanent location is determined, which could be High Pointe if it is successful. The county is still determining what to do with the current CYS building on North Fourth Street, but Ruddock emphasized that the decision would be made in the best economic move for the county.
Ruddock also lauded the Flag Day event that took place on the courthouse lawn and the Jimmy Stewart Airport Festival.
The airport, he said, has great potential for Indiana County.
Jonathan Longwill with State Rep. Dave Reed’s office attended to give an update on legislative affairs in Harrisburg. Most of the focus currently is on the state budget and the looming June 30 deadline to have it in place. Longwill said progress is being made to create a balanced budget without a broad-based tax increase.
“There seems to be a lot of momentum to get the budget done,” he said.
There was some discussion about property tax reform and the dramatic differences in opinions based on geographic locations around the Commonwealth.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania President Dr. Michael Driscoll said they are looking at stable student enrollment for the upcoming fall semester. While the figures are still not on the rise, he feels they are moving in the right direction.
“We seem to have reached the bottom of the steep decline and are turning it around,” Driscoll said.
He also provided an update on the many construction and infrastructure improvements underway around the IUP campus. The new north dining hall is expected to open later this summer and demolition of Leonard Hall will begin to make room for construction of the new sciences building. Debris removal from the demolition site will have some impacts to traffic on Oakland Avenue.
Campus is busy this time of year with several large conferences and new student orientations.
In July, the State System Board of Governors will receive a briefing on the review of the state school system. Several new degree programs will also be introduced to the board.
Robin Gorman with IUP added that the “Welcome Mat” program to introduce parents of new students to Indiana County is going well.
“They see how beautiful the community is,” she said. “And that this is a really nice, safe place for their child to go to school.”
The energy industry continues a back and forth recovery depending on commodity rates, said Dave Brocious with the Marcellus Shale Coalition.
But the good news is that prices, while not at the extreme high of several years ago, are much better this year than they were last year.
“We definitely hit the bottom last summer,” Brocious said.
The industry continues to be plagued by long delays in the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) permitting process. MSC is working with the DEP to develop a pilot project aimed at improving the process and shortening lengthy time delays – in some cases more than 200 days. In other states, the permitting process is about 40 days, which could cause some companies to leave Pennsylvania.
Increased drilling and gas and oil production in Texas is having a global impact on the energy industry keeping prices stagnant. Texas is now the second largest producer of natural gas behind the Marcellus Shale basin in Pennsylvania. Still, Brocious said they are seeing more geological exploratory efforts in the local region that could indicate more drilling operations in the near future.
Gregg Van Horn, president of the Indiana County Tourist Bureau (ICTB), said ICTB Executive Director Denise Liggett attended the 2017 National Center for Defense Machining and Manufacturing (NCDMM) Summit held in May at Chestnut Ridge Resort. Liggett worked alongside Dana Henry of the Indiana County Center for Economic Operations (CEO) with NCDMM prior to the summit to assist with event details. The CEO was a platinum sponsor.
ICTB has taken the lead with Downtown Indiana in organizing the IUP "Welcome Mat" event that is occurring 12 times during the month of June. The event takes place in IRMC Park, where parents of new freshmen are greeted by local community leaders, vendors, and area businesses and organizations to learn more about what Indiana County offers.
Van Horn was happy to share that the ICTB presented a bid for the 2019 Pennsylvania Bus Association’s Conference to be held in Indiana County. If awarded the conference for June 2019, Indiana County would host approximately 180 to 220 visitors for this 3 night/4 day event.
He reminded everyone that discount Idlewild tickets are on sale at the Tourist Bureau.
They are $24 dollars each and are valid for the entire season. Indiana County Day at Idlewild is July 21.
Stauffer said the Public Participation Panel (PPP) held in May to gather support for infrastructure improvement projects was well attended and led to great discussions on what is needed in Indiana County. Struzzi and Stauffer co-chair the Indiana County PPP. Information gathered at the PPP will be used to develop the Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) that will be implemented next June. Stauffer cautioned that are many large projects in the region vying for the same limited funds and local support can make the difference in what moves forward.
“We are trying to carve out our piece for Indiana County,” he noted.
Local communities should see more paving projects this summer thanks to liquid fuels funds, grants and matching county contributions.
Business Retention and Growth
There is an effort by the CEO to attract several conferences and special events to Indiana County. Discussions and planning are underway to demonstrate the many local assets here making Indiana County the right location for these event opportunities. These events would create an economic boost locally.
Jim Wiley, president of the Indiana County Development Corporation (ICDC), said solid interest from serious developers in the new 200-acre Windy Ridge Business & Technology Park on Route 286 in White Township continues to increase. He is hopeful that they could see shovels in the ground later this year. The park has many pad ready sites for mixed use development available for sale.
“We are close to a major announcement,” he hinted.
Wiley also said the 119 Business Park in the Coral-Graceton area continues to bustle as construction on the Sunoco Logistics line traveling through southern Indiana County progress. 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. They will remain at the 119 Business Park through early 2018.
The ICDC continues to assist local manufacturing companies. “It’s important that we do what we can to keep our manufacturing businesses in Indiana County,” Wiley stated.
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, after a soft May, are looking great in the early weeks of June as the industry begins its busiest time of year.
Steve McPherson, with MGK/Miller Welding and the Indiana County Manufacturing Consortium, said many Indiana County manufacturers are doing very well this year. While some have had to diversify and create new products and markets, they are heading in a positive direction.
“We’ve really turned it around from where we were the past couple of years,” he said.
Kelly Howells with Anew Home Health Agency and the Healthcare Consortium said they are finishing training for this year and are waiting on the state budget to see what funding will be available for next year.
Jim Kinneer, with Indiana Regional Medical Center, said the hospital recently completed a successful accreditation process which indicates they are doing well. He said also that capital improvements continue at IRMC. The new ambulatory space recently opened. The old ambulatory space will be renovated to create the new pharmacy for the hospital which will be completed later this year. The effort to revamp IRMC’s Information Technology is going well. The hospital will also be expanding capabilities and technology with the introduction of a surgical robot in the near future.
“We are excited about our continued growth and our ability the best care here locally,” Kinneer said.
Chamber Young Professionals Organization
Tae Ayers with S&T Bank and chair for the Chamber’s Young Professionals Organization (YPO) said they had a great Lunch and Learn with Laurie Kuzneski from the Kuzneski Financial Group and Miss Laurie’s Gourmet Kitchen. Ayers said the YPO is now featuring YPO of the Month videos to highlight up-and-coming professionals in Indiana County’s business community. The first video featured Rachel Hrabovsky with the Indiana County Technology Center. The videos are featured in the YPO e-newsletter and can be seen on the Chamber YPO website.
The next event for the Chamber’s YPO is a pool party mixer on July 12 at the Indiana Country Club.
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.
Government Relations Committee Chair Gorman said the group will be meeting in the next few weeks to discuss the format of the Chamber’s annual Eggs and Issues breakfast and the potential for a “State of County” event early next year.
Struzzi added that he recently attended Chamber Day at the Capital in Harrisburg. The event brought more than 100 state and local chamber officials from across the Commonwealth together. The annual event, which is co-hosted by the PA Chamber of Business and Industry and the Pennsylvania Association of Chamber Professionals, allows local chamber officers to meet with key policymakers and discuss ways to improve Pennsylvania’s business climate and competitive edge.
Participants met with key elected officials throughout the day, including Gov. Tom Wolf, who served as the keynote speaker during the Chamber Day luncheon. Senate Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, R-Jefferson, and Speaker of the House Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny both kicked off the event with welcoming remarks at the State Capitol. The day-long event also featured policy discussions on a variety of topics, including: the upcoming 2017-18 state budget, pension reform, property taxes, workforce development, as well as the Commonwealth’s transportation and infrastructure needs.
Struzzi also had the opportunity to met Governor Tom Wolfe, keeping Indiana County at the forefront of statewide attention.
Membership Events Update
June will feature an After Hours event Chamber members will not want to miss. The third annual Kuzneski and Lockard Real Estate Business After Hours is set for Thursday, June 29. If you’ve attended their previous events, you know a great host K&L is and how much fun the evening will be. Members can register by contacting the Chamber or clicking here.
The Chamber Board of Directors will meet next on August 17 at St. Andrews Village. There is no meeting in July.