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Development Opportunities, Marketing and Growth Discussed at Indiana County Chamber February Board Meeting
by ICCC on February 21st, 2017

Indiana, PA – The Indiana County Chamber of Commerce held its monthly Board of Directors meeting on Thursday, Feb. 16, at St. Andrews Village.
 
The Board discussed many issues including business inquires and expansions, education, energy, promotion, recent events and more.
 
Call to Order
Board Chairman Joe Reschini, with The Reschini Group, started the meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance. The January board meeting minutes and financial reports were approved.           
 
New Officio Members
Reschini welcomed new ex-officio representatives to the board. Former Board member Sherry Renosky, Indiana Mall Manager, returns as an ex-officio joining new ex-offico member Jack Delaney, Jr. with Delaney Auto.
        
Chamber Update
Chamber President Jim Struzzi said the Chamber added three new members and had 43 renewals in January bringing the total membership to 677 members. The Chamber will be launching a membership drive this spring.
 
Struzzi thanked everyone who attended the Chamber Business Expo on January 28 at the Indiana Mall. The Chamber distributed more than 1,000 tote bags featuring the Chamber’s Principal sponsors, S&T Bank, First Commonwealth Bank, Palladio and The Reschini Group; Expo Platinum Sponsor the Indiana County Center for Economic Operations and event silver sponsors Visiting Angels and Gibson Thomas Engineering. More than 60 businesses and organizations participated in this year’s Expo.  
 
“The event was another great day for business-to-business and customer community connections,” Struzzi said. “We want to thank our sponsors, the Indiana Mall, our media partners, the bands and musicians that played all day and everyone who came out to make the 2017 Business Expo a success.”
 
Struzzi said they will look at feedback from participants at this year’s Expo and make improvements for the 2018 event.  
 
WIUP (Channel 6) attended the Expo and will air a half-hour program in the coming weeks. The video is also available on the Chamber’s YouTube channel by clicking here. 
 
The Chamber also had a successful Business After Hours in partnership with the Indiana County Tourist Bureau. The Chingle was held on January 25 at the new Hilton Garden Inn at IUP. More than 200 people attended bringing great exposure to the hotel and C.H. Fields restaurant inside.
 
“We were happy to see such a great turnout of support for the new hotel, which is a true asset for Indiana County,” Struzzi said. “The value of hosting an after hours comes with the tremendous benefit of getting people to your business.”
 
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 January Chamber Check-In at the Chamber office was standing room only with about 25 attending. 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 Tuesday, Feb. 28.    
Continuing the Chamber’s efforts to market and promote Indiana County regionally, Struzzi said the Chamber will be hosting the Regional Advocacy Coalition of Chambers on April 11 at the Kovalchick Complex. Lead by the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce and the Allegheny Conference, the RACC is a voluntary alliance of local chambers of commerce throughout the ten-county region of southwestern Pennsylvania. The purpose of the RACC is to educate legislators and regulators at all levels of government on issues that are important to the common interest of the region's business community. The Indiana County Chamber is a member of the RACC along with 17 other chambers in the Western Pennsylvania region.
“We are excited to host the RACC meeting here in Indiana County at the Kovalchick Complex to show off our many assets and opportunities here,” Struzzi said.
The Chamber will offer a tour for the group around the Kovalchick Complex, IUP and other feature locations in Indiana County. To learn more about the RACC, visit www.regionaladvocacycoalitionofchambers.com.
Related to economic development, Struzzi said there are several new business prospects in the works. He continues to reach out to national retailers and developers to make sure they are aware of the opportunities here in Indiana County. Partnering with the Indiana County Center for Economic Operations and Byron Stauffer, Executive Director of the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development, Struzzi will be part of a team attending conferences and visit other areas related to the petrochemical industry. The goal is to prepare Indiana County for any opportunities that may come from the Shell Cracker Plant being constructed in Beaver County.          
It’s official! The date for the 2017 Indiana County Business Hall of Fame induction dinner is set for 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.
 
Struzzi said many Chamber members are not aware of the many benefits available to them through the ChamberChoice program including the On Demand Energy savings program, the Penn National business insurance dividend program and more. To help member learn about these programs, the Chamber will be holding several free educational sessions. 
 
Chamber Marketing Manager Annie Rizzo gave an update on the Chamber’s marketing efforts and upcoming Spring membership drive. Rizzo shared some of the marketing items featured in the Expo tab. Click below to view:
 
State Government
Joe Pittman with State Senator Don White’s said as they begin the state budget discussions, there is hope that Personal Income Tax revenues in February and March will be higher than they were in the latter months of last year. These are traditionally better months for revenues. Revenue projections had identified a hole of more than $2 billion less than anticipated.   
 
“We aren’t expecting them to miraculously plug the gap,” Pittman said. “But they could make it easier.” 
      
On a positive note, Pittman said Governor Tom Wolf’s proposed budget doesn’t have the partisan tone of the past two previous years, though there are still many issues that will divide discussions.
 
Jonathan Longwill with State. Rep. Dave’s Reeds office echoed Pitman’s comments.
 
“We’re seeing a little more realistic perspective on the budget,” he said. While there are no broad based tax increases, the proposed natural gas severance tax and other fees are areas of concern.     
 
One of Sen. White’s focus areas will attempt to address high cost issues in the pharmaceutical industry. Pittman said there has been good movement by the federal government to target this problem, but more initiative is needed on the state level.         
 
Education
IUP President Mike Driscoll said they are excited about the success of the men’s and women’s basketball teams and encouraged more people to come out and support these exciting young athletes.
 
Driscoll said it was positive to see the Governor include an increase in appropriations for the State System of Higher Education in the proposed budget.
 
“It’s a policy statement when we are investing back into state universities while in difficult times financially for the Commonwealth,” he said.
 
Driscoll also felt the recently announced effort to reassess the state university system was a step in the right direction. A consultant will begin analyzing the system and making recommendations for improvements later this year. Driscoll said while IUP has continually looked for ways to improve and maintain a quality educational experience for students, not all state system universities have followed that model.   
 
“Our hope is to have recommendations by this fall,” he said. “This is overdue and needed. The system in its current form is not sustainable.”
 
Fall enrollment for the upcoming semester is flat, which Driscoll said is good because the student population is no longer declining. While IUP will have a large senior class graduating this spring, he feels they have turned the corner on decreasing enrollments.
 
Driscoll said they have seen some minor impacts on international enrollments due to the current immigration policy, but said overall their international student population at IUP exceeds all other state system schools combined.       
 
The state system is currently in a hiring freeze, which unfortunately means there will be fewer new IUP employees in the community.
 
Robin Gorman with IUP said they will begin ticketing for commencement ceremonies this spring for safety reasons and to ensure all students and their families have an opportunity to attend. There is still no charge. Each student will have four tickets guaranteed. Remain tickets will be distributed via lottery in April. To learn more, visit the IUP commencement website.  
 
WyoTech is doing well, said Arnold Thimons, Director of Student Success. Enrollments at the school in Blairsville increased year over year in January.
 
“We are on the upswing at WyoTech,” Thimons said.
 
Focusing on student success, WyoTech recently had a career fair with more than 80 employers from around the country attending.  
 
Thimons, who has been with WyoTech since August, is also pushing his students to be more involved in the community.
 
“We are teaching them to make the community they live in a better place,” he said. “We have a group of students eager and willing to give back to the community.”
 
Community groups in need of volunteers should contact Thimons at Arnold.Thimons@zenith.org.
            
WyoTech’s parent company is also offering $25,000 in grants to help our local area. Applications have been submitted and the recipients will be announced soon.   
 
Tourism
Gregg Van Horn, president of the Indiana County Tourist Bureau (ICTB), said this June, Indiana County will welcome over 10,000 visitors as three ICSST/USSSA Fastpitch Softball Tournaments return to the area.
 
“The 12th annual tournament - held over three separate weekends - provides an opportunity to showcase our entire county, our university and provide an economic impact to the area businesses that is immeasurable,” he said.
 
The Tourist Bureau has been working hard with Indiana’s lead organizer, Tom Harley, and local hotels to ensure all visitors are welcomed and provided with local information to make their visit one that will bring attending staff and families back for a return visit.
 
In honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Indiana County Parks & Trails, the Tourist Bureau is sharing excerpts from the Parks & Trails 50th Anniversary Booklet, in their Facebook postings. The excerpts share how the parks & trails were formed and takes a look at county history during the time period.  Be on the lookout for pop-quiz posts that could win you prizes! Celebrations and special events will take place throughout this year, so watch for these announcements. To learn more about Indiana County Parks & Trails, visit www.indianacountyparks.org.
 
In celebration of tourism in Indiana County, the ICTB is conducting an online photo contest beginning March 1, 2017 through February 28, 2018. Winners will receive a gift certificate or promotional item courtesy of ICTB or from one of its members. Each quarter, a new winner will be selected whose photo best depicts one of the tourism subjects. All photos must be in good taste and taken within the county lines. For a complete list of Photo Contest Rules, visit www.VisitIndianaCountyPA.org beginning March 1, 2017.
 
Part of ICTB’s mission is to bring media attention to the region, so they are happy to share that Indiana County and the Blairsville Knotweed Festival were included in the January issue of Eastern Home & Travel Magazine. The magazine is distributed from Maine to Florida and it is an exciting accomplishment for the Tourist Bureau to share that Blairsville of Indiana County PA, is now among the many locations highlighted in this high-end travel magazine for all to read and be intrigued.
 
Energy
Dave Brocious with the Marcellus Shale Coalition said the needle continues to move in the right direction for the energy industry. Although commodity prices are still low, drilling rig counts continue to increase with 34 currently in Pennsylvania – up by three in December. Regionally in the tri-sate area, there are 63 rigs, which is double the count from this time last year.
 
While Brocious expects 2017 to be a good year as the industry rebounds, he expects 2018 and 2019 to be even better. News of pipeline advancements and approvals bodes well for the overall industry and economic impacts on the Western Pennsylvania region.
 
Brocious said the recent announcement of DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) approval for the Sunoco Logistics pipeline that will run through southern Indiana County is a tremendous step forward.
 
“This is big news for our region,” he said. “We are starting to see progress. If we can get these going, we’ll see the ripple effect come back to our region.”            
 
Indiana County Development Corporation President Jim Wiley said the advancement of the Sunoco pipeline will have a direct benefit on Indiana County’s economy. The Texas- based company constructing the pipeline through Indiana County has been leasing the Route 119 Business Park in the Coral-Graceton area. Once construction begins, it is expected to create 300-400 temporary jobs and potentially 50 permanent positions.       
 
Transportation Infrastructure
Byron Stauffer, Executive Director of the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development, said he has been working with our state elected officials to allocate more than $700,000 for local road and bridge improvement projects. They are also looking at additional infrastructure improvements including rail lines to create better opportunities for manufacturing.  Upcoming meetings are being planned for the proposed pedestrian bridge over Route 22 and other projects.
 
PennDOT recently held a public meeting for the next phase to widen Route 286 between Walmart and Rustic Lodge Road. There were some concerns with safety and access to several businesses between Aldi and Walmart. Stauffer is working with White Township and PennDOT to address.
 
Efforts are also underway to repurpose funds to extend the Hoodlebug trail.
 
Business Retention
The Indiana County Center for Economic Operations (CEO) will once again serve as the platinum sponsor for the NCDMM (National Center for Defense Machining and Manufacturing) Summit in May at Chestnut Ridge Resort. The Summit brings defense industry and manufacturers from around the country to Indiana County.  The Chamber will also be attending.  Along those same lines, CEO representatives will be attending more trade shows and conferences to attract new businesses to Indiana County.
 
The CEO is also exploring television ads to promote Indiana County and the many opportunities available here.
 
The county is applying for several state grants to help with community improvement projects.  
 
ICDC
Wiley sparked optimism related business development as there are several developers increasingly 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.
 
“There are a lot of good things happening,” Wiley said.
 
Meanwhile, other activities are moving forward to help Indiana County’s economy. The Visiting Angels, Casey Ball Home Care, LLC and Casey Ball Supports Coordination, LLC have moved into the former Bayada (moved to downtown Blairsville) location at the Corporate Campus in Blairsville.
 
Visit www.indianacountyceo.com to learn about the many development opportunities and available commercial properties in Indiana County.     
 
Real Estate
Elizabeth Hutton with K&L Real Estate said despite the perception that the residential real estate market in Indiana County is struggling due to property tax reassessment, the threat of borough schools closing and other factors, the year end sales numbers for 2016 were close to those in 2015.
 
“Everyone is asking me how those things affect the market,” she said. “We finished consistent for the year.”
 
While the number of days homes have been on the market have increased slightly, she emphasized sales remain consistent and have actually increased since 2013.    
 
At the end of 2016, 368 properties had been sold compared to 377 in 2015. In 2013, 325 residential properties exchanged hands (369 in 2014).      
 
Agriculture
Cal Farren with Turner Dairy and the Indiana County Farm Bureau said the PA Farm Bureau recently received a Pinnacle Award from the American Farm Bureau Federation. A Pinnacle Award is the highest award a state farm bureau can earn for program and membership achievement. The PA Farm Bureau received 11 total awards for 2016 at the AFBF’s 98th Annual Meeting.
 
“I’m Farm Bureau proud,” Farren said.         
 
Healthcare
Jim Kinneer with Indiana Regional Medical Center is ready to open the second phase of the ICU (intensive care unit) project. 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.
 
“Thanks to our donors and the community for allowing us to improve,” Kinneer said.
 
In more good news, Kinneer said the hospital will be hiring 20-25 new employees for their IT department. IRMC is implementing a brand new state-of-the-art system for patient records starting in May. The implementation will take about 15 months. Most of the jobs will be long term positions. Kinneer said people interest in applying may do so at http://www.indianarmc.org/careers send resumes to jobs@indianarmc.org.
    
Communities
Rob Walbeck with Walbeck Insurance gave an update on Homer City.
 
“A lot of good things are happening,” he said.
 
Work to complete a $4 million water line project is nearing completion and will culminate with a water tank being constructed at the 119 Business Park. Work on a main street revitalization project is expected to begin in the next couple of weeks.
 
Chamber Young Professionals Organization
Tae Ayers with S&T Bank and chair for the Chamber’s Young Professionals Organization (YPO) said they have several events planned in the coming weeks. Stauffer will be the presenter at a Breakfast and Learn on Feb. 21 at the Park Inn. A St. Patrick’s Day mixer is also planned on March 22 at the Coney.
 
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
Government Relations Committee Chair Robin Gorman said the Chamber is revamping its efforts and focus to provide more activity, benefit and assistance to member businesses. New events are being discussed and the annual Eggs and Issues Breakfast in August will be changed and improved to provide better interaction between attendees and elected officials. A business climate survey of Chamber members will be conducted to help determine what issues the Chamber should support or oppose. More information will be available on the Chamber’s website in the near future.    
 
Membership Events Update
Throughout the coming year, the Chamber will offer its members many opportunities to network, meet new customers, learn and grow and find success. Some of those upcoming events include a Happy Hours at Levity Brewing on Feb. 22; a Chamber Check-in on Feb. 28, a seminar on exporting products on March 14, a speed networking event sponsored by Bayada Home Health on March 30 and Bill Drury Customer Service Training on April 4.  
   
The Chamber Board of Directors will meet next on March 16 at St. Andrew’s Village.


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