HCBI chief reviews ’15, looks ahead

With 2016 firmly underway, Huntingdon County Business and Industry (HCBI) is reflecting on 2015 and looking forward to the new year.

“The good news is, when I was looking back through our projects for 2015, a number of projects came to mind,” Amy Wise, HCBI executive director said. “It was a year of larger projects.”

She said the expansion announcement at the Huntingdon County Career and Technology Center, as well as the completion of the Jobs 1st Grant, which trained over 600 people, were also big projects from 2015. Wise said the expansion of the Mariner East pipeline and related infrastructure improvements were also achievements on the year.Specifically, Wise said the proposed Terrace Mountain Lodge and Hawns Bridge Marina project is “ moving forward.” She added the East Broad Top is “working to put rail in the business park and Mount Union,” and also noted the 9/11 Memorial Trail project.

The number of loans processed by HCBI was also up this year, another positive.

“We hadn’t done any (loans) in (2014),” Wise said. “We did two last year.”

Wise also noted a number of significant anniversaries were celebrated and national rankings were obtained in the county.

The year saw the 150th anniversary of the John B. Brown Funeral Home Inc. in Huntingdon, the 100th anniversary for both the Huntingdon post office and John C. Yenter Inc., the 75th anniversary of Park Furniture and the 50th anniversary of ACCO Brands Blair Facility in Alexandria.

Over the year, Amtrak was featured in a national newspaper, Huntingdon was ranked the seventh best small town for business and the seventh best place to retire and Juniata College was ranked as the 31st best small college for science.

Two HCBI-backed businesses, Huntingdon Fiberglass Products LLC and N.E. Reihart and Sons Inc., were awarded the Governor’s Impact Award.

Wise also said 2015 was “the year of the partnership.”

“We did so many things that we would have never been able to do without having the relationships developed already,” she said.

Wise added the extension of the Keystone Opportunity Zone and the addition of new businesses in the Keystone Innovation Zone were also highlights of the year.

Despite the good news, HCBI did experience some troubles.

“Everything is not all positive,” Wise said. “Bonney Forge did see significant layoffs.”

And, as far as the HCBI board of directors, Wise said 2015 was a year of significant turnover, noting eight board member changes over the year.

And, in 2016, Wise said changes will be coming to the HCBI office.

“We will be laying off in June. The board required that we balance the budget. We tried everything we could think of besides cutting staff,” Wise said.

Wise explained unless something changes related to the budget, HCBI will be losing one position in its three-person office.

“We really started cutting our expenses back in 2010. Most people assume that our budget struggles are related to the state budget, but we got our funding cut back in 2010,” Wise said. “Many of our partner agencies are blessed to have dedicated sources of revenue. We rely heavily on funding that either comes at the expense of the business community or political sources that can wax and wane depending on the priorities of the administration.”

Wise said funding from the county has always been steady.

“The county commissioners have been supportive of HCBI for a very long time and we expect that to continue,” she said.

With the decreased staff, Wise said the latter half of 2016 may be “extremely challenging.”

“There are going to be things we have to say no to,” she said.

Wise said there may be an opportunity to “rescue the budget,” but she’s not optimistic.

“We ended the year with about a $25,000 loss in 2015,” she said, explaining she unsuccessfully attempted to find areas to cut in 2015. “We have the cash reserves to do that for one to two, maybe three years before we go absolutely broke.”

But Wise expects good to come with the bad in 2016.

“There are a lot of good things in the hopper that I can’t talk about,” she said.

Candy can be reached at cprice@huntingdondailynews.com.