Shenango Chamber to Launch Blight, Workforce Initiatives

WEST MIDDLESEX, Pa. – The Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce will launch several new initiatives over the coming months, including a community-wide effort to combat blight and a workforce development concept that could potentially cross state lines, the chamber’s executive director said at the organization’s annual dinner Wednesday.

The chamber will work with the Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce and similar organizations toward the goal of creating a countywide task force to address “the overarching issues of blight,” said Sherris Moreira. 

The idea grew out of discussions at last month’s Rising Rust Belt Summit, Moreira said. She also acknowledged the mapping initiative in Sharon last year drew interest from beyond the city limits. 

“We realized people really care about this issue,” she said.  “It’s going to start as a conversation.”

The hope is that Mercer County will pay attention and potentially provide funding. “But we also know that when we collaborate, Harrisburg and bigger areas pay attention,” she said.   

In the coming weeks, the chamber also will announce a new workforce development initiative, for which it is working on securing funding. Although the issue was being discussed prior to the summit, talks there “crystallized the importance of it and the need for it,” she said.   

The plan would begin in the Shenango Valley but could expand, potentially crossing the state border, Moreira said. She could not provide further details about the initiative, but said she hoped to make a formal announcement in the next month or so. 

“We’re definitely looking at doing something in a very innovative way,” she said. 

“As we move into 2020, our goal is to be a positive partner with our members and our community, and to promote growth and development in Mercer County,” added Shane Nugent, vice president of the Nugent Group and chairman of the chamber board. 

During the event, the chamber recognized Hermitage city manager Gary Hinkson as Shenango Valley Business Ambassador of the Year and the coaching staff of the Sharon Robotics Teams, led by Dave Tomko, of as Shenango Valley Champion Organization of the Year. 

Since he first put on a police uniform in May 1972, Hinkson has invested countless hours in his community, said Gary Gulla, assistant city manager.  

Hinkson was hired as city manager by Hermitage 25 years ago. During his tenure, he led multiple projects, including development of the eCenter@LindenPointe, Shenango Valley Animal Shelter and the city’s waste-to-food energy facility, Gulla said. The city also began providing police services to neighboring Clark and Wheatland. 

“He understood Hermitage could not be strong without a strong region,” Gulla said.  

Hinkson said he was “humbled” by the recognition and credited his staff for the accolades being directed to him.

“For every time I or somebody like me – whether it’s a CEO of a business or a city manager or the executive director of a nonprofit – is quoted in the paper, there are a lot of people who made that happen,” he said. “I have the people that made things happen in Hermitage working with me.”

Hinkson has seen several changes since he first became involved with city government, among them technological advances and increased unfunded mandates, he acknowledged. 

Another change is that people look outward more, he continued. 

“Before, everybody was pretty siloed in their own communities. Now there is a much wider recognition of the need to work together and to cooperate,” he said. “That’s really a positive change.”

Tomko emphasized the team effort involving the entire community that has contributed to the success of the Sharon Robotics teams, which has competed at the international level, including a second-place finish in a global tournament at Legoland in Carlsbad, Calif., in May. 

Additionally, he stressed the importance of failure, “part of the learning process of getting better,” he said. “Failure often forces us to think differently.” 

Before introducing the Sharon Robotics coaches, board member Laura Ackley referenced recent Business Journal articles about the school robotics teams and Thrive Shenango Valley, a newly formed group that aims to retain and attract young professionals and improve the quality of life, as part of the paper’s new Brain Gain series. 

“I saw that title and several of the articles and thought that was a great way to look at it,” Ackley said. “These young people in the robotics classes and groups are fantastic examples of what we can do when we put our minds to it and don’t completely look a sports as the only thing that is getting accolades in our community.”   

Nugent and Moreira similarly emphasized the need to appeal to youth. 

“One of the things we discuss all the time here is we need to do things in our area to encourage our youth to stay here,” Nugent said.    

Moreira discussed several youth-led and youth-oriented initiatives during the meeting, including upcoming Lattes with a Leader. She also touted the efforts of the chamber-affiliated Thrive Shenango Valley and highlighted the role several of its members are playing in community events such as the upcoming Holiday Extravaganza in Sharon, the home and garden show, and the fitness and wellness expo. 

“One of the promises we made last year was that we weren’t just going to invite our young professionals to the table,” Moreira said. “We were going to give them the table.”

Pictured: Gary Hinkson, Hermitage city manager for 25 years, received the Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Shenango Valley Business Ambassador of the Year from Executive Director Sherris Moreira.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.