Economic Development

Lawrence Chamber Sees Collaboration as Its Future

NEW CASTLE, Pa. – For an area that’s faced challenges in building business in recent decades, Lawrence County certainly has the tools to rebuild its local economy, observed Gray Swoope Wednesday night.

What will play a major role in that development, he said, is collaboration, something that was on display at the Lawrence County Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner.

“When you look at how to build a vibrant economy, especially in this part of Pennsylvania and over into Youngstown, it starts with bringing intellectual capital to the table,” Swoope said. “That’s bringing in businesses and business partners, understanding the dynamics of what makes the area competitive and then working with elected officials. It all goes hand in hand.”

Swoope, the keynote speaker at the dinner, served as Florida’s secretary of commerce from 2011 to 2015 and founded VisionFirst Advisors after leaving the post. The company’s work is split between helping with site selection and expansion consulting, he said. Among the businesses VisionFirst has worked with are Amazon, Weyerhauser, the Aerospace Alliance and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Although he had spent less than a day in Lawrence County before the dinner, Swoope said he saw several things that bode well for the business community here, including the transportation infrastructure.

“This would be considered a rural county, with a population of about 90,000,” he said. “For a lot of rural counties throughout the country, they can’t say they have the interstate infrastructure, the river infrastructure and the two Class I railroads. That’s a strength to build off of.”

And then there’s the groups like the Lawrence County Regional Chamber and its members, he continued, which have been working to lay a foundation that other businesses – those here and those moving here – can build on.

“You have groups coming together saying, ‘We’re tired of the way things have been going and we want to set a course for the future.’ And you do that by coming together. I’m excited by this business leadership,” Swoope said. “If you’re not working together, you’re starting at a disadvantage.”

The annual dinner marked the chamber’s 115th year and first since a merger with the Lawrence County Economic Development Corp., said President Alex McCoy. The merger has allowed the organizations to increase services to members, including the addition of “more traditional chamber activities” such as mixers, seminars and networking events. The agency has also formed partnerships with Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Westminster College in New Wilmington and Youngstown State University.

Lawrence County Regional Chamber CEO Alex McCoy speaks at the group’s annual dinner.

Duquesne will open a branch of its Small Business Development Center in New Castle, with a part-time adviser providing business consultations and conducting SBDC seminars. The chamber is also in talks with Youngstown State to open a Score chapter in the chamber’s offices here. Through the partnership with Westminster, the chamber will launch a leadership program that uses a curriculum developed by the University of Georgia’s Fanning Institute for Leadership Development.

“The thing about community development today is that we’re living in a world where resources are  getting harder and harder to come by,” McCoy said. “Organizations like the chamber of commerce absolutely have to partner with other community development and community-minded businesses to accomplish things. We’re all stronger together.”

The support from local businesses, he said, will play an invaluable role in the county’s economic development.

“When I first started in this profession, a wise fellow told me, ‘The opportunity of a lifetime only lasts for the lifetime of the opportunity,’ ” McCoy said. “In economic development, if the process is this big [his hands a foot apart], what we can control is only about that [his fingers an inch apart]. We must have our partners working together to meet the needs of the businesses that are already here.”

Also at the dinner, the Young Professionals of Lawrence County announced its inaugural 5 Under 40 awards. The group, which formed a little more than two years ago, received more than 20 nominations, said its president, Jessica Seminara-Tomcyzk.

The winners are Katanya Cathcart, New Wilmington councilwoman and innkeeper of The Jacqueline House; Caroline Golmic, Aflac agent and owner of Sweet Caroline’s in Ellwood City; Steve Johnston, owner of the Apple Castle in New Wilmington; Nicole McCombie, teacher at Union Area Middle/High School; and Angie Urban, executive director of New Visions for Lawrence County.

Nicole McCombie, Caroline Golmic, Steve Johnston, Katanya Cathcart and Angie Urban won the Young Professionals of Lawrence County’s inaugural 5 Under 40 award.

“Our nominees ranged from educators, community leaders, a state representative, a councilwoman and a vicar,” Seminar-Tomcyzk said. “They all chose Lawrence County, not just to work but to live. It shows a lot for where we’re going to be going with these young professionals in our area.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.