The Indiana County Chamber of Commerce held its monthly board of directors meeting on Thursday at the Indiana County Country Club, discussing a number of issues, including strategic planning, future workforce, voting changes and carbon tax.
Chamber of Commerce President Mark Hilliard began his update by discussing the chamber’s new three-year strategic plan. The plan, which will take effect in 2021, focuses on the three key areas of business development, workforce development and chamber development.
“There are a number of challenges right now, especially in the business world,” Hilliard said. “But we cannot take our eyes off of our goals for the future.
“We want to be the premiere resource for starting and growing businesses here in Indiana County, and we feel this plan is the blueprint for that in the coming years.”
Hilliard said the strategic plan will be reviewed by the board before being officially published on the chamber’s website before the end of the year.
The chamber recently launched the second year of the Indiana County Ready program in the county school districts. Although the launch presentation for students did not take place in person this year, Hilliard said the webinars were very successful in reaching the county’s students.
“We are very excited to launch the program again and I feel that the virtual presentation is a good representation of what many of the students are currently going through,” Hilliard said. “It is important for students to learn what essential skills are required in virtual learning or work settings as that is a direction many companies are moving towards.”
Hilliard said the chamber is looking to expand the program to create a Junior Chamber program for students. The program will involve students in the monthly board meetings as well as focus groups that will help provide input for workforce and community development.
“Our University Relations Committee is working on creating a focus group involving college students, but I also see our Junior Chamber members getting involved in it,” Hilliard said. “We are eager to get these students more involved in our community, but we also want to learn what would make our region a more attractive area for these students to either stay or come back to live and work in.”
Finally, Hilliard thanked everyone who was involved in the chamber’s Candidates Night on Thursday, saying he was proud of the event.
Commissioner Robin Gorman began the local report by mentioning that October is domestic violence awareness month, and informing the board that the construction of the Alice Paul House is nearing completion and that she is looking forward to an official ribbon cutting soon.
Gorman also informed the board that the county had a COVID-19 pop-up testing site from Oct. 8 through 12 at the Indiana Mall parking lot. While final numbers have not officially been released, more than 240 tests were reported to be administered.
Voting is another issue that is on the minds of a lot of county residents, and Gorman explained to the board that two local precincts will be changing their voting stations.
“Clymer Borough is being moved from the Clymer Borough Building to the Clymer Fire Hall, and Blairsville Third Ward is being moved from Morewood Towers to the Blairsville Community Center,” she said.
Gorman spoke about the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, James Carroll, visiting White Township on Tuesday. Director Carroll spent time with local officials as well as foster parents, and Gorman said that his feedback on the County’s Children and Youth Services was very positive.
State Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, began the state report by reminding the board that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Environmental Quality Board (EQB) had recently voted on to proceed forward with Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposal for Pennsylvania to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The next step is for the resolution to be published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin followed by a 60-day public comment period.
“We are going to do everything that we can to keep fighting against this,” Pittman said. “I think it is very telling that the EQB refused to have a public hearing here in Indiana County.”
State Rep. Jim Struzzi, R-Indiana, said he will be introducing a resolution next week that he feels will make a bold statement to the governor by the House.
“The resolution would basically say that the House does not agree with moving RGGI forward and that the governor should not have the power to unilaterally make that decision,” Struzzi said.
Pittman continued the state report by stating how pleased he is that the Wyotech campus was recently sold.
“The types of jobs and career opportunities that this campus could offer are exactly what is needed for the jobs of tomorrow,” he said.
Byron Stauffer Jr., executive director of the Indiana County Development Corporation, agreed and said that his office continues to be optimistic as this purchase could lead to opportunities in education, workforce development and manufacturing.
Struzzi concluded the state report by explaining that he is hard at work in the Appropriations Committee as they look at the state’s $3 billion to $4 billion budget shortfall.
“We continue to search for new revenue sources for the commonwealth while looking at ways to roll back regulations that make Pennsylvania unattractive to business development,” Struzzi said.
ARIN Intermediate Unit 28 Executive Director Jim Wagner provided an update to the board on new rapid COVID-19 tests that are currently being distributed across the state.
“Education will not be receiving any of these rapid tests directly because they require a certified individual to administer each one,” Wagner said.
He concluded his report by explaining that all county school districts are continuing to see more and more students coming back to school in person with no district remaining in an all-virtual format.
Stauffer said that although economic development has been a challenge since March, the Indiana County Development Corporation (ICDC) is beginning to see an increased level of activity now.
“We are starting to see real positive movement with a number of projects that we are working on,” Stauffer said.
He said that they are continuing to work with education partners such as Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Westmoreland County Community College and the Indiana County Technology Center to find new ways to provide education and training to the county’s workforce in the near future.
Stauffer mentioned that the Big Idea Contest, offered by the Ben Franklin Technology Partners and in partnership with the Indiana County Center for Economic Operations, has announced its finalists.
“We were very encouraged to see that three out of the six finalists announced in the contest are from Indiana County,” Stauffer stated.
The Big Idea Contest is looking for tech innovators, small manufacturers or entrepreneurs who are developing new products, processes or software applications. Applications were received from a four-county area between mid-July and mid-September. The finalists will make their presentations during an event in November with the winner receiving up to $50,000.
“We plan on working with everyone from Indiana County who submitted an application to try to help them expand and grow from a start-up to a developing company,” Stauffer said.
Upcoming chamber member events include:
• Brains and Grains @ Hilton Garden Inn featuring Government and Civil Employee Services on Oct. 29
• Coffee Talk (Chamber Check-In) on Zoom Oct. 27
The chamber board will meet next on Nov. 12 at the Indiana Country Club.