Business camp turns kids into future CEOs

Megan McConnell had a different kind of summer.

The Altoona Area High School senior spent five weeks at Lycoming College participating in Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week.

PFEW is a summer program that offers incoming high school juniors and seniors a unique and challenging opportunity to see what it is like to run their own business.

Participants make up an “imaginary” management team where they will learn first-hand about the free enterprise system.

They develop their own marketing strategies, design a website and, in essence, make all of the decisions that are demanded of real life company executives.

“Business is not my forte, but I always give things a chance. I thought, ‘What better way to spend my summer than at a business camp?'” McConnell said at the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Club on Thursday at The Casino at Lakemont Park. “This gives kids a piece of reality. Being in the business environment will help me in the future. To be a successful company, you have to be one team. It was a great experience.”

Joe Hurd, chamber president and CEO, said the chamber has participated in the program for a long time.

Dean McKnight, retired senior vice president of M&T Bank, has been speaking to the students for about 36 years.

“Dean McKnight is a treasure. His impact on our program has been immeasurable,” said Scott Lee, PFEW’s vice president of marketing and development.

“I was in banking for 42 years. One thing I learned was the greatest joy is not how much money you earn, it is the number of friends you make,” said McKnight, who enjoys talking to the young people.

PFEW was started in 1979 by a group of businessmen in Erie who were having trouble finding qualified employees.

“Pennsylvania is one of 14 states that doesn’t require any kind of business education to graduate from high school. We need to be able to find good-quality employees,” Lee said. “The purpose of the program is to fill the gap we have here in Pennsylvania. We impart business knowledge by bringing a group of people together to run their own company. They learn how to make the decisions to run a business and make it succeed. It is a real-world experience in the field of business.”

PFEW is entirely funded and supported by the private sector. Volunteers and advisers are always needed.

“Company advisers spend the entire week with the students’ company. It is one of the most rewarding things you can do. You see the energy of these young people and the light bulbs going off,” Lee said.

PFEW has educated more than 42,000 young adults on the American free enterprise system. This year’s class of 2,108 was the largest ever, Lee said.

“The whole purpose of what we do is to educate them on what the business world is all about and what they will need when they enter the workforce. We want to make them better employees for the future,” Lee said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.