Positioning for success

Local economic development officials said 2013 was a good year and hope even better days lie ahead.

“We put 50 funding packages together resulting in more than $130 million in capital investments. We secured funding in the $30 million range,” said Marty Marasco, president and CEO of Altoona-Blair County Development Corp. “It was a very progressive year. It was positive. It looks like the economy is beginning to expand. Companies are making investments. Retention of jobs is not the glitz and glitter, but it is as important as attracting new companies to the area to us.”

Others said they are positioned for the future.

“I would say 2013 showed improvement over the previous year. We are not where we want to be but are positioning ourselves to be prepared when the economy becomes stronger,” said Bette Slayton, president of the Bedford County Development Association.

“In 2013, we did have some positives. We didn’t have any positives in 2012,” said Amy Wise, executive director of Huntingdon County Business and Industry Inc. “We hope 2014 will bring more positives than negatives. We hope we have rounded the corner.”

ABCD Corp. was involved in numerous economic development projects in 2013.

In February, Albemarle Corp. announced plans for a $30 million expansion at its plant in the Tyrone Industrial Park – the single largest expansion project at the plant.

The project, which is expected to be completed and running in the first quarter of 2014, will enable the company to add 20 new jobs with more jobs likely to be added down the road.

In March, Marcellus GTL LLC of Gilberton announced plans to build a plant near Duncansville that would turn natural gas into gasoline and propane. That project is expected to lead to the creation of 30 new jobs.

Company officials hope to begin construction in the second quarter of 2014 and have the plant up and running in the first quarter of 2016.

“That is a substantial project from the standpoint of investment and jobs with what it can do from the standpoint of producing energy to help the country and Pennsylvania,” Marasco said.

In November, plans were announced that Core Label LLC, a leading manufacturer of beverage labels, would expand its current facility in the Robert C. Jubelirer Business Park near Tyrone, adding at least 43 new jobs.

The project was coordinated by the Governor’s Action Team, a group of economic development professionals that works directly with businesses that are considering locating or expanding in Pennsylvania, in collaboration with ABCD Corp.

A major project completed in 2013 was the construction of a terminal and office building for CLI Transport, a Sheetz Inc. subsidiary that transports petroleum products to its convenience store at 269 Theater Drive.

ABCD Corp. loaned $350,000 to PTM, a limited liability partnership formed by the Sheetz Corp., to construct the facility. PTM leases the terminal and office building to CLI Transport.

The project led to the creation of 15 to 20 new jobs and the retention of 75 jobs, Marasco said.

Construction of a $25 million project, a 195,000-square-foot distribution center for Value Drug Co. at 195 Theater Drive is nearing completion, Marasco said.

Other projects of note include:

– A $2.5 million project at Federal Carbide north of Tyrone to upgrade and expand equipment lines and renovation work on the facility. The project preserved some jobs, and the company has made a commitment of 11 jobs over a three-year period, Marasco said.

– A $2.5 million project at Shirley’s Cookies in Claysburg, which involves upgrading its equipment and leading to the creation of eight to 10 new jobs.

– American Eagle Paper Mills in Tyrone recently announced plans for a $3 million project, construction of a 48,000-square-foot warehouse.

Elsewhere, infrastructure work is continuing at the DeGol Industrial Center in Hollidaysburg.

“There are about 40 acres of medium-heavy industrial land. The sewer is finished, and water [projects are] under construction,” Marasco said. “Electrical work will be done in the spring. Access roads will be made. That site also has rail service.”

The federal Economic Development Administration awarded a $1.5-million grant to help ABCD Corp. develop a new business park in Sproul.

The grant will help pay for a 16-inch water main, fire hydrants, an 8-inch sewer main, storm water piping, a storm detention system, roadways, curbing and erosion and sedimentation controls at the South Blair County Business Park.

The grant also will help pay the Claar estate for the 142-acre former farm and sand-quarry property on which the corporation plans to create the park, next to the existing Walter Business Park.

“We are now securing the various permits and finalizing design and hope to start construction in the summer. We will have 85 to 90 developable acres to offer to new companies and others who need to expand,” Marasco said.

Marasco said he expects the year ahead to be busy.

“There are some real opportunities, but it depends on the economy. There are some local companies we are discussing projects with that could happen in 2014,” Marasco said. “We continue to work with Penn State Altoona and UPMC Altoona on adding projects for the future. There will be more announcements in the coming year in regards to advancing their various programs.”

Marasco also said a client has expressed interest in the former Altoona Regional Health System Bon Secours Campus.

“We hope it comes to the stage where an announcement can be made,” Marasco said.

ABCD Corp. also will play a role in the proposed Convention Center Commons project.

“We helped structure financing and secured LERTA for the site. We will work with the developer to achieve construction during the coming year,” Marasco said.

Marasco said his organization faces challenges in the year ahead.

“One of the big issues we will have is the availability of capital at reasonable pricing to assist companies so they can grow and expand,” he said. “We try to piggyback or participate with local lenders to encourage companies to meet the commitment. Interest rates are not as attractive as they once were.”

Huntingdon County

The year 2013 was an “up and down” year for economic development in Huntingdon County.

On the positive side, N.E. Reihart & Sons Inc., which specializes in metal fabrication, constructed a new 52,400-square-foot manufacturing facility in Smithfield Township. The $2.9 million project was expected to create five new jobs and retain 26 employees.

Stonewood Capital Management Inc., a Pittsburgh-based private equity group, completed the acquisition of the assets of AGY Huntingdon LLC in Huntingdon.

Stonewood’s new portfolio company, Huntingdon Fiberglass Products LLC, purchased the continuous filament mat business, as well as the wound product and conductive rovings product lines, which had been manufactured by AGY at its Huntingdon facility. HFP plans to continue these operations at Huntingdon and is looking to expand production quickly to accommodate increasing demand for HFP’s product lines.

“We were afraid of losing them. They have committed to adding 15 to 20 jobs there next year,” Wise said.

Bonney Forge in Mount Union did an expansion project, which eventually will lead to more jobs. The company is also planning a warehouse expansion project for 2014, which will lead to some more jobs at some point, Wise said.

A lot of small businesses were created in 2013.

“We did more loans from our revolving loan fund than we did the previous two years combined. We did seven loans totaling $300,000 this year,” Wise said.

On the negative side, the local Warnaco plant closed with the loss of about 125 jobs and FCI Electronics in Mount Union closed with the loss of another 130 jobs.

HCB&I faces a challenge in trying to fill the vacant Warnaco and FCI buildings.

“Warnaco is about 400,000 square feet, and FCI is about 200,000 square feet,” Wise said. “The problem is there are so many available buildings for businesses and a small pool of companies looking to locate or expand. All are competing for the same ones.”

Bedford County

The completion of the new Bedford County Business Center, Business Center II, a 15,000-square-foot building completed in October, was a 2013 highlight in Bedford County.

“It is a specialty building to position ourselves to accommodate entrepreneurs’ offices, light manufacturing and technology-type businesses,” Slayton said. “It is open space we can lease to one company, or we can break it up. It is ready to move into.”

Meanwhile, state officials recently approved a $2.7 million low-interest loan for a planned Bedford County Business Park. The Commonwealth Financing Authority money will go toward excavation of the

143-acre Bedford Township site.

The park, situated near the Bedford County Airport and the REI clothing distribution center, needs the funding to be pad ready or open to construction. It is located in a Keystone Opportunity Zone.

“This is our project for 2014 to implement that loan and position ourselves with a large tract of land that is pad ready for a tenant,” Slayton said. “We are just starting the engineering now. We hope to go to bid in the first quarter, break ground in the spring and be done in the summer.”

The facility will be suitable for manufacturing or as a distribution center.

“With Walmart and REI in the area, we know we can be successful with distribution. Manufacturing is a true fit for Bedford County,” Slayton said. “We are open and receptive to a high-quality employer. We are going to be proactive now that this is being done.”

A big challenge facing BCDA is to try and fill the vacant Seton Leather Co. building in Saxton.

“It is a 270,000 square-foot facility. … It is one of the largest facilities available in central Pennsylvania,” Slayton said. “We need to be aggressive with our marketing efforts.”

Cambria County

Although not located in Cambria County, perhaps the biggest economic development project benefiting Cambria County was the start of construction of a four-lane limited access Route 219 highway south from Somerset to Meyersdale in Somerset County.

“That is the number-one project on this whole side of the mountain. That project will certainly affect Cambria. It will affect the whole area,” said Linda Thomson, president and CEO of Johnstown Area Regional Industries. “You can’t talk about economic development in the area without it.”

Thomson cited two major projects in Cambria County in 2013.

The first is an expansion project at Environmental Tank and Container – which manufactures portable fluid storage tanks and above-ground water impoundments for oilfield services companies, water-hauling firms, frack tank rental companies and energy companies – which will lead to 100 new jobs over the next five years and the retention of 60 jobs.

The second is an expansion project at Martin Baker America in Richland Township, which manufactures crash-ready helicopter seats and ejector seats. That project led to the creation of 15 new jobs and the retention of 109 jobs.

Several small businesses opened in downtown Johnstown in 2013.

“There is a revitalization within the city’s downtown district. We’ve had some new blood coming into the city,” Thomson said. “It has been a good year for small business in the city.”

Thomson remains optimistic about the future.

“We are working with several companies on plans for expansion. We think 2014 will be a productive year with job creation happening here,” Thomson said. “The economy needs to turn the corner for us. We are still seeing the effects of the recession. We would like to be able to turn the corner.”

Centre County

Vernon Squier, president and CEO of Centre County Chamber of Business and Industry, called 2013 a “recovery year” in the county.

“It was better than 2012. We are seeing movement in the right direction,” Squier said. “We have seen construction activity increase compared to prior years. We are seeing public and private investors supporting the notion of business retention and expansion, entrepreneurship development and also recruitment.”

Squier did not point out any specific projects as highlights of the year.

“When all is said, the highlight has been a great expansion or surge of support for entrepreneurs. People are excited about the prospects, about ways entrepreneurs and [Penn State] University are finding ways for more business to be created,” Squier said. “We have seen companies come through our incubator process and hope to see more. We are forming alliances with others in the region and university to foster that to new heights.”

Squier is optimistic about the year ahead.

“I believe 2014 will be better than 2013. We are seeing partnerships and alliances in and out of the county that will serve us better,” Squier said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.