Shenango Valley Focuses on Collaboration in 2020

HERMITAGE, Pa. – Collaboration is the keyword for economic development in the Shenango Valley for the coming year, the director of its chamber of commerce said. 

Economic development initiatives, the addition of new tenants at a local shopping center, upgrades at Mercer County educational institutions and initiatives to retain, attract and engage young professionals were among the highlights of the Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 Forecast Breakfast. 

“We aren’t just a chamber here. We’re a movement,” said Sherris Moreira, the chamber’s executive director. “This area is more than what we’ve been told we can be, and we have more power in our collaboration and working together and believing in what we can be than in what we’ve been told we can’t be for years.” 

Among the recurring themes at the event was the development of the area’s young-professional community.

Thrive Shenango Valley, a new chamber initiative, is attempting to identify issues that young professions face and to proactively address areas that the organization might be able to help business owners and community leaders withy, sai Riley Aderholt, the organization’s co-founder and development manager for JCL Development.

The organization’s three focus areas are quality of life, retention of talent and acquisition of talent. 

One area of concern that Atterholt raised was that when a company like FarmaceuticalRX, which opened in Farrell last year, comes to the area, the vast majority of the positions might be filled by individuals who don’t live in the Shenango Valley.

“At the end of the day, if they’re living in Poland [in Ohio] then their resident taxes aren’t going toward the Sharon school district,” he said. He called on business professionals, leaders and owners looking to hire young talent to engage with Thrive to address such concerns. 

One of the goals of the upcoming second annual Shenango Valley Home & Garden Show on Feb. 8 will be to expand youth advocacy in the community, said Brianna Piccirilli, owner of Brianna Piccirilli Designs and one of the show’s organizers.

Students will be paired with vendors to learn about careers, sales pitches and client interaction. 

“We want students to know that they can be an entrepreneur, a business owner, a great tradesman,” Piccirilli said. “When they leave high school, we want them to have those opportunities right here in the Valley.”

Among the topics addressed during the breakfast event was an initiative to capitalize on the federal Opportunity Zone program. Created in 2017, the program is designed to direct capital into distressed neighborhoods by creating a tax incentive to invest unrealized capital gains in eligible projects in disinvested communities. 

James Dignan, former president and CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber and now principal consultant for AMK Professional Services, is working with the local development community and the city of Sharon to prepare a prospectus showcasing opportunities for investment in the two designated tracts in Sharon.

The prospectus will be modeled on one prepared last year by Erie that is considered “one of the top-notch ones in the country,” Dignan said. 

“We’re really behind in the process and this will help get that push forward,” he said. He is working with the city and Mercer County to prepare an asset map of properties in the qualified census tracts.

James Landino, member and manager of JCL Development, provided updates on several of his projects, including his recently launched JCL Energy, which the former owner of Sunbelt Transformer Inc. opened when his five-year noncompete clause expired recently. “I like to think of ourselves as high-voltage guys,” he said. 

Additionally, the five apartments in the old Buhl Armory building are about a month away from completion, and all five already have tenants, he said. Work is also underway on the former Wilson’s building. Anytime Fitness will move into the ground floor space and the developer is looking at putt high-end apartments or condominiums on the building’s third level.   

“We are working hard every day to put our world back together in a way we would like it to be,” he said.  

Frank Gargiulo, a planner with Sharon-based architecture firm HHSDR, discussed the repurposing of The Landing at Westinghouse as commercial and industrial space. A “very small part” of the complex is under construction now for a lobby and meeting room area, he reported. 

“That is going to come to fruition later this year,” he said.   

Robert Irr, vice president of retail leasing for J.J. Gumberg Co., which owns the Hermitage Towne Plaza, reported on efforts to bring new tenants the property. National retailer Gabe’s is going to occupy 50,000 square feet of the former Kmart space while Big Lots moves from its existing space in the plaza to the remaining 40,000-square-foot spot there. Ollie’s Bargain Outlet will open in the space being vacated by Big Lots in the third quarter of 2020.    

Joy Cone Co. in Hermitage recently installed a new wafer line that President David George said he hopes will be up and running in the next few weeks. 

“In line with this, we’re working with Unilever and we are printing on wafers,” he continued. Unilever already sells ice cream sandwiches but wanted a company that could etch drawings such as World Wrestling Entertainment and Nascar stars, he said.

“This is very labor intensive but the customer wanted it right away so we’re doing whatever we can to get to them,” he said. 

The company will also be introducing a pie crust, he said.  

Higher-education institutions in the county provided updates on several upcoming and ongoing projects. Construction is slated to begin in May on a “major renovation” to the science complex in the Forker Building at the Penn State University Shenango, said Jo Anne Carrick, campus director and chief academic officer. Compared to the $1 million renovation that took place in 2014, this project represents a “major overhaul” to the building, she said.

The campus is aligning the five-year strategic plan it is developing to align with a similar process the city of Sharon is working on, she said. She also is interested in hearing more about the developments at The Landing at Westinghouse, where Penn Shenango is exploring the development of an aquaponics facility and entrepreneurship hub.

Westminster College is in the third phase of a four-phase project at its Hoyt Science Center, said President Kathy Richardson. The $11.2 million expansion project will provide six new teaching labs and three new research labs, she said.  

Thiel College’s presentation focused on expanded academic offerings. In May, Thiel will launch its first master’s program, in speech pathology, and in July it will introduce a maser’s in business administration program, its president,. Susan Traverso, reported. 

Thiel is in the midst of a “really dynamic strategic plan” that emphasizes student success, institutional vitality and partnerships with regional organizations, businesses and enterprises, and which has led the college to diversify its programs, Traverso said. 

Pictured: JCL Development’s Jim Landino gave an update on the company’s properties throughout the Shenango Valley.

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