Area counties report jobs, business investment in 2018

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec / Sheetz’s new Operations Support Center in Claysburg includes 442 work spaces, although only about 340 people currently work in the building. Company officials said there is room to grow, but it “may take decades” to fill the building.

Local economic development officials say 2018 was a good year, and they hope good things will continue in 2019.

Following is a regional rundown:

Blair County

Last year was another very strong year for Blair County.

“The number of projects and overall investment remained robust throughout the year. Private sector investors appear to remain optimistic, and in many cases are demonstrating that by moving their money into real estate development and business expansions,” said Stephen McKnight, president/CEO of Altoona-Blair County Development Corp.

In 2018, ABCD facilitated 24 business financing projects that represented $31.5 million in total capital investment and $9.6 million in program funding.

“We assisted more than 150 clients and have helped to create 201 new jobs while retaining 106. In almost all cases, ABCD partnered with local banks in all of the projects,” McKnight said.

Highlights of the year included the April announcement that St. Louis-based Centene Corp. would be opening a new operation in Blair County, creating almost 300 new jobs, and the grand opening of the new Sheetz Operations Office Complex.

Combined, the two projects represent more than $30 million in new capital investment and the retention of hundreds of jobs.

“While we have not yet seen construction begin on that project (Centene), we hope that will happen in the coming months,” McKnight said.

Other highlights included the announcement that Silk Mill Properties Inc. would redevelop the Puritan Silk Mill building.

That will create needed new class A office space along with 10 to 12 new market rate residential units on the top floor and that Tram Bar Packing LLC will be establishing a new food manufacturing operation here creating 30 new jobs.

“We will be working to see construction on that project begin in early 2019,” McKnight said.

McKnight expects the trend to continue.

“We are currently working with several developers that hopefully will announce several new projects downtown and along key urban corridors,” he said. “They will include a mix of office, retail and housing projects. Housing remains a critical part of our overall economic development efforts.”

ABCD will also focus on expanding its capital loan resources.

McKnight said ABCD “will set out to create a new Economic Growth Revolving Loan Fund. Without a level of patient capital inserted into higher risk projects, it is tough to jump start the market conditions needed for a private investor to take on those risks, especially new housing in the urban center. We will work with key investors in the community to seed that revolving loan fund.”

Cambria County

“Our small business lending portfolio is now over $1.5 million. We trained and placed dozens of people for welding positions and assisted dozens of dislocated workers back into the workforce or into their own businesses. Our small business lending programs are showing an average of seven jobs created per company for the 72 loans in the portfolio,” said President Linda Thomson of Johnstown Area Regional Industries. “Unemployment rates are at an all-time low, job openings are plentiful, small business start-ups are abundant, and new investment grew over the previous year.”

The Startup Alleghenies Entrepreneurial Eco-System, began in 2017 but fully operational in 2018, made many strides in 2018 with over 100 entrepreneurs in the pipeline in Cambria County.

In addition, expansion projects were completed by several companies: Lockheed Martin Aeroparts, Martin-Baker America and Kitron. Most of the employers in the county grew jobs during 2018 and currently have job openings, Thomson said.

Other highlights included the opening of Route 219 between Somerset and Meyersdale in Somerset County and the acquisition of new investment of almost $1 million into the JARI Growth Fund for lending to small businesses, Thomson said.

Thomson said there are several new projects to be announced in 2019.

“Our goal is to significantly increase the number of people employed in our region, including Cambria County,” she said. “This means new and diversified programming to assist small business start-ups, retention and expansion of existing companies, and the recruitment of new investment. Our workforce training and recruitment components are needed more than ever to prepare for the needs of our companies into the future, and our procurement initiatives are striving to bring new market opportunities to companies throughout Cambria and Somerset counties in this time of economic expansion.”

Centre County

It also was a busy year in Centre County, according to officials at The Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County.

“Our Business and Industry Partnership has had 135 visits with 59 companies to date, meeting to address their challenges to and opportunities for growth. We currently are working 13 active retention/expansion projects. The CBICC serves as coordinator of the I-99 Corridor Keystone Innovation Zone, which assists 40 early-stage businesses in three counties. In general, extraordinary things are occurring every day to support the local and regional economy,” said Lesley Kistner, CBICC vice president of communications and marketing.

Centre County’s home-grown technology and advanced manufacturing company sector are particularly promising.

“Over the past year, several companies — among them KCF Technologies Inc., Homeland Manufacturing Services and Sensor Networks Inc. — announced expansion plans that will result in job creation and substantial investment in new equipment and new facilities. For two of those companies alone, expansion plans will amount to more than 200 new jobs over the next 36 months,” said Vern Squier, CBICC president/CEO.

Two major announcements were made during 2018 — I-99/I-80 high-speed interchange grant funding and the launch of the CentreREADY workforce preparedness initiative.

“The awarding of $35 million in federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant funding to PennDOT was huge,” Squier said. “The federal grant will enable a long-sought-after transportation infrastructure project — the eventual construction of a high-speed I-99/I-80 interchange and a local access interchange to replace the Bellefonte exit — to move forward. The INFRA grant funding is leveraging another $150 million from PennDOT to complete the total funding package of $185 million needed to complete the project.”

In September, the CBICC and the leaders of Centre County’s five public school districts and the two career/technical institutions officially launched a collaborative workforce initiative designed to help build a better local workforce.

“CentreREADY represents a community response to local workforce needs, better matching Centre County employers with employees who possess the desired core, or basic, skills and competencies needed to fuel a 21st century workforce,” Squier said.

Another highlight was the opening of the Morgan Advanced Materials Carbon Science Center of Excellence at Innovation Park in November.

“The CoE is the first industrial partnership under Invent Penn State. The CBICC, on behalf of its Centre County Economic Development Partnership investors, represented the collective communities throughout discussions with Penn State and the company. The CoE will employ 25-plus doctorate level staff,” Squier said.

Squier said 2019 will also be a busy year in Centre County.

The CBICC is launching several new initiatives designed to proactively and collaboratively address key issues that are foundational to the quality of life and the economy in Centre County.

Two such areas of focus are commercial air service and agri-tourism, Squier said.

The CBICC and the Central Pennsylvania Convention & Visitors Bureau recently announced the creation of two newly formed joint committees in order to collectively craft a vision and fully capitalize on the opportunities both issues present to Centre Count and the region.

“Agri-tourism efforts will focus on highlighting our proud agricultural heritage, including providing more unique opportunities to attract visitors,” Squier said. “The committee will explore ways to solidify existing successful agri-tourism ventures like the Central Pennsylvania Tasting Trail, while searching for fresh approaches.”

The Air Service Committee will focus on retaining and promoting existing services, in addition to working to add air travel options. The ability to easily and efficiently travel to and from Centre County directly affects business, education, and tourism.

“With the I-99/I-80 high-speed interchange ‘Drive Forward’ initiative, we’ve seen what can result from partnerships and collaboration. Adding a dedicated air service-focused committee to the transportation infrastructure conversation is a natural extension of this effort,” Squier said.

Huntingdon County

Jobs were added or retained in Huntingdon County over the past

12 months, according to Robert Reitman.

Reitman serves as the exec­utive director of Huntin­gdon County Business & Industry.

“A wide range of companies in the county have added staff throughout the year. We’ve had a couple of particular advances with newer companies as well,” Reitman said. “Our combined investment with our bank and other partners is well over a million dollars, with a high number of jobs retained or added from our projects. The multiplier effect for this is substantial.”

For example, ACPI added 40 to 50 jobs associated with a new line of cabinetry, and Curbs Plus, in the center of Mount Union, relocated and added over 34 jobs in the last two years.

Also in Mount Union, HCBI, along with the Saint Francis Small Business Development Center and Community State Bank, helped Solid Rock Wellness Center with financing and business planning to become a well-run and visible presence.

HCBI, along with Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission, financed ATJ Printing’s transition to an eight-color printing press, retaining 22 jobs, while adding four more jobs. In Alexandria, HCBI and Community State Bank helped Main Street Cafe to reopen as well, bringing back over 20 jobs there, Reitman said.

HCBI helped the Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau, the Planning Department, and the Blueprints Community team in the Jacks Narrows Launch Grand Opening in June. This was a multi-day event camping/canoeing/kayaking event that celebrated the opening of canoe/kayak launches in Mapleton and Mount Union.

Another project that made particular progress in the county was the Main Line Canal Greenway/911 Trail.

This trail stretches over the counties that connect to Huntingdon and is supported across all of the counties, and includes the Jack’s Narrow Gorge. In Huntingdon in particular, it follows the Juniata River Valley and cuts across all our ridges to connect our trails.

“We feel that when the trail is active, it will result in a marked increase in canoeing, kayaking, biking and hiking activity, and will result in new businesses and an increased quality of life through the increased active transportation possibilities,” Reitman said.

Huntingdon was among the counties joining the Startup Alleghenies initiative.

“In Huntingdon, entrepreneurial and expansion activity has already been brisk, but we anticipate that this will step activity up to a higher level,” Reitman said.

Reitman is optimistic about the year ahead.

“I see continued growth in entrepreneurial and expansion from businesses in the county and increased confidence from business owners, in line with the greater trends in the economy outside of Huntingdon,” he said.

Reitman said the focus is on continuing to make Huntingdon County a better place to live in.

“We may see a great deal of movement on this front. We will continue to coordinate our strong demand for entrepreneurial and expansion activity as well. There are gaps in services and expertise that can be filled, and there is an appetite for differentiated and innovative businesses that execute well here,” he said.

Bedford County

The Bedford County economy continued to diversify in 2018.

“We’re seeing a number of major, multi-million dollar expansions underway and entrepreneurialism continues to gain momentum,” said President Bette Slayton of Bedford County Development Association.

The announcement that Green Leaf Medical was approved for a license to be a grower-processor of medical cannabis was tremendous news for Bedford County, especially the Saxton community, Slayton said.

In addition to introducing a new business to the region, Green Leaf will renovate and occupy the former Seton plant in Saxton. The 274,000-square-foot building has been vacant for the past 10 years.

“Green Leaf is making a $13 million investment in the facility and will create over 100 new jobs. The company and community leaders have already formed a strong partnership,” Slayton said.

Meanwhile, CaptiveAire announced an $11 million expansion at its Bedford County facility, including doubling the size of its 84,000-square-foot building. The nation’s leader in commercial kitchen ventilation systems, based in North Carolina, opened its Bedford County facility in 2008.

“Bob Luddy, CaptiveAire CEO, credits the commitment and productivity of our workforce as a major reason for the company’s investment,” Slayton said.

Creative Pultrusions continued to acquire new companies with the acquisition of Composite Advantage in 2018. Additionally, CP built a 40,000-square-foot facility to house Tower Tech, a cooling tower manufacturer which was purchased by CP in 2017. The company has purchased four companies since 2016.

Entrepreneurs Tammy Wiley and her son, Adam, invested $1 million in Bedford Candies’ new 10,000-square-foot manufacturing and distribution facility, and Lampire Biological Laboratories acquired an additional 180 acres adjacent to its existing farm facility, investing about $1 million.

Congressman Bill Shuster announced $2.5 million for continued trail development, linking downtown Bedford with Old Bedford Village.

Slayton is optimistic about the year ahead.

“We are able to offer exciting opportunities with available sites, buildings and financing options. We have a diversified and growing business community. We are united and committed to working together to grow our economy,” Slayton said.

Working collaboratively and cooperatively to market Bedford County’s many assets is a high priority in the new year.

“Quality of life is increasingly important to folks looking to visit or move to our area,” she said. “New employers care about having a safe, beautiful, vibrant community; entrepreneurs want a strong support system; visitors want to enjoy a scenic area with a wide variety of activities.

“We have a lot to offer and by working together, we can maximize our efforts to spread the word about our incredible county,” Slayton added. “We continue to partner with the Governor’s Action Team in the marketing of our 80-acre pad ready, fully permitted, Keystone Opportunity Zone designated lot in Bedford County Business Park II. Our goal is to recruit a new employer to the site in 2019.”

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.

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