Penn-Northwest Celebrates Businesses Old and New

HERMITAGE, Pa. – The four new businesses that arrived in Mercer County this year are something to be proud of, said Penn-Northwest Development Corp. President and CEO Randy Seitz, but there’s also good to be found in the projects that didn’t pan out.

Seitz, speaking at the development agency’s annual meeting Thursday, highlighted the commitments of Teichos Energy to build a 166-acre solar-energy farm, SolarJuice to build a data center and IPEG to construct a warehouse in the county. In addition, Ellwood City Forge Group invested $5.5 million to expand into Grove City, earning the company the agency’s New Industry Economic Impact Award.

In total, Penn-Northwest reported $10.2 million in capital investment within the county, creating and retaining 168 jobs. The agency generated 133 leads for new businesses, leading to 26 site tours.

But Seitz also pointed to the efforts that looked at Mercer County before settling on other sites. The agency worked with Las Vegas Sands Corp. to bid for a mini-casino in the county, though the license was eventually given to Mount Airy Casino Resort for one near Pittsburgh. The Government Services Agency, in looking for a new site for the Office of Personnel Management office currently in Boyers, Pa., passed over Mercer County in favor of Butler County, where it already owns a building. And when The TJX Companies faced pushback from residents to bring a distribution center to Lordstown, Ohio, Penn-Northwest offered up a site off Interstate 80 in East Lackawannock Township.

“Because we were so descriptive in why this location was better for TJX than Lordstown, we have now had several other logistics companies interested in the site,” Seitz said. “We’re in talks with a company who’s interested in building a million square feet out there. It was sad we didn’t get these projects, but they’re like free advertising.”

And for those that do commit, Penn-Northwest holds up Thompson Fabricating Inc. as an example of what can happen. Twenty-five years ago, the company received seed money from the agency, as well as other assistance in the start-up process.

“Fast forward to today and you’ve got a company that’s in 50,000 square feet, employs 38 people with a livable wage and the second generation of family is moving from Colorado to take over the company,” Seitz said. “This is a true success story. This is what we exist for.”

The company, which manufactures roll-off, hook-lift and custom containers for waste disposal, was honored for its development over the years at the annual meeting.

“When I went to the Small Business Development Center in Erie to go through the seminars and write the business plan, they told us how two out of five [businesses] make it five years and if you’re a married couple, the odds are against you even more,” said secretary-treasurer Marcia Thompson. “We beat the odds. We were the ones that made it. … Our customer base has grown from a regional to a national one. We ship all over the country, as far as Alaska. That’s been pretty awesome.”

Thompson’s daughter and son-in-law, Amanda and Ryan Iverson, are transitioning into leadership positions within the company.

“It’s about continuing the legacy my parents started. That was part of our decision to come back and be a part of this,” said Amanda Iverson, Thompson Fab’s chief financial officer. “They’ve seen the business through, going from the two of them and two other employees to today with 38. We want to continue to grow the business with new product lines, new customer bases.”

In the coming months, another new arrival to Mercer County will be Rig Fab Energy Services, founded by area native Aubrey Greene. With sites currently in Florida, Louisiana and Texas, the company trains workers for the industrial, construction and energy sectors. Though it hasn’t finalized anything on a building yet, Greene said, the company will be moving its main office to the county.

“There’s a huge skill gap we all deal with as employers, whether it’s with laborers or a welder or a painter. We’re trying to get these kids more involved for jobs that are vacant,” he said. “There’s a wealth of resources here between the schools in Mercer [County], the wealth of businesses that can support this growth. … With Pittsburgh bearing more of the oil and gas load, I think we can give the Houston area a really good run for their money. There are a lot of reasons they’re [Royal Dutch Shell] building that cracker plant in Beaver County.”

One of the next big chances for development in Mercer County is the creation of three Federal Opportunity Zones. The zones allow investors and businesses to defer capital gains taxes through the creation of “opportunity funds,” explained attorney Timothy Wachter of Knox McLaughlin Gornall & Sennett in Erie.

“The beauty is that the investment can grow tax-free if it stays in the zone for 10 years. Think of opportunity zones as encouraging aggressive investment in patient capital,” he said. “If you have a realization of a capital gains event today and put that money into a fund, you’ll defer payment of your capital gains tax until the 2027 tax year and get a step-up in basis at Years 5 and 7. You’ll be paying 15% less tax than otherwise.”

Capital gains must be invested into an opportunity fund within six months.

“They can take the money, put it in a fund, get the tax benefits, invest it in a project, sell and put the appreciation back into the fund,” he said. “You can do that until 2047. How many exits events and opportunities could grow that money in 30 years? And all of it is capital gains tax-free.”

Penn-Northwest also honored two companies, American Cap Co. and Hudson Companies, with its Local Industry Economic Impact Award. American Cap in Wheatland manufacturers compressed-gas cylinder components. The company’s overall capital investment is expected to total $3.4 million and retain 150 employees. Hudson Companies was the recipient of a Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant, used to partially fund the $1.3 million Parker’s Crossing commerce park in Grove City.

Robert Jazwinski, founder of JFS Wealth Advisors in Hermitage, was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award. He also serves as invest committee chairman and trustee at Westminster College and is president of Community Hope Investment Partnership, which opened a spec building at the LindenPointe business park over the summer. He is president and treasurer of the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants, chairman of American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ credential committee, trustee of the Community Foundation of Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio and treasurer of the F.H. Buhl Farm Trust. Jazwinski was also a cofounder of Penn-Northwest Development Corp.

Pictured: Amanda Iverson, Marcia Thompson, Jeff Thompson and Ryan Iverson were presented with an award celebrating Thompson Fabricating Inc.’s 25th anniversary. 

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.