By Kayla Handy, Daily News Staff Writer
The beginning of the New Year marked Bob Reitman’s one-year anniversary as executive director for the Huntingdon County Business and Industry (HCBI).
As he reflects on the past year, he is proud of the leaps and bounds the organization has made.
Due to the departure of HCBI’s previous executive director, Amy Wise, in August 2016, several title changes and department programs within HCBI were reactivated to ensure that administration could still operate their necessary programs.
“I officially came into the door on Jan. 1,” he said. “My transition into the position was a big effort on all of us in the early part of the year.”
Reitman wasn’t the only new hire this year, hiring Debra Clark in late September as HCBI’s new operations manager after the departure of Chelcee Kyle.
“We re-staffed quite well,” added Reitman. “We have been fortunate to work with such a great group of partners. We have had a tremendous amount of start-up inflow and potential contacts for expansions. I think we are really fortunate and part of that is because people feel comfortable working us.”
New faces in staff wasn’t the only big change HCBI endured this year. New building faces and business ownership brought a buzz to the county, an achievement that Reitman hopes to transpire into the new year.
“I hope the trend continues as we get to the end of the year and as we outpace for another couple months,” he said. “We had a lot of big changes this year.”
Of those big changes, Reitman refers to the introduction of Struck Properties as one of the biggest achievements of the year.
“They are setting up their staff now and hope to be in full production in early 2018,” he said. “They also have 100,000 square feet in that building that they are advertising on their website to sell or lease.”
Struck Properties’ website, huntingdonbusinesscenter.com, note how they will be revitalizing the former sneaker factory into a cutting-edge technology center. The 100,000 square feet for lease or sale is listed as being two stories across, containing 14 to 24 feet ceilings, 200 parking spaces, outdoor storage rental for RVs, trailers and heavy equipment, loading docks, three-phase electric and can be sub-divided.
“There is a lot of potential to fill that space,” added Reitman. “They have made substantial improvements to the building already since they have come in.”
Struck lists potential uses for building including manufacturing businesses, industrial businesses, makerspace, fitness studio, trade shows, textiles, 3D Archery/gun range, entertainment complex and several other options.
In Shirley Township, the Riverview Business Center is home to several vacant buildings and was the second biggest focus this year. In April 2016, ACPI, a kitchen and bath cabinet manufacturing company, purchased the former FCI USA Inc. building, one of the larger buildings in the park. Reitman noted how the park itself will be undergoing development in order to properly market the properties for sale.
“There is a bright future for the business center as well as every vacant building that we have. There are active conversations going on in several places,” said Reitman.
As for buildings that are still on the market, some of the larger scale buildings include the large three story store front located on Washington Street in Huntingdon, formerly the location of Grove’s Office Supplies. The former Kopp Drug Store, located on Moore Street in Huntingdon is also listed, located half a mile from Juniata College.
Other larger buildings that HCBI were able to place back on the tax role include Curbs Plus in Mount Union and Save-A-Lot in Smithfield. With fewer larger buildings empty, Reitman noticed that more people are turning to renovate other buildings in the area.
“Save-A-Lot was a really good effort,” said Reitman. “Each time that we put a business in an empty building we take an under utilized asset and turn it into a productive asset. We have other buildings out there, and our larger ones are in really good shape to come back into productive use.”
Overall, it was a successful year in Reitman’s eyes, and one of the elements of HCBI’s success was guiding the right people to the right places, a future goal Reitman hopes to enforce.
“We want to continue to use our financial tools to contribute to the county’s overall growth and economic health, and I think a really big part of that is youth retention,” he said. “If we can get people to see how great of a place this is to live, if we can get economic multiplier agents to stay in the county, then we can turn around the commuting situation. I think some niche restaurants are part of that or other high end retail stores that you don’t find in other towns.”
Reitman believes that the next year will bring much movement, despite any challenges that may come their way.
“There were and are a lot of challenges,” he said. “The biggest one that we surmounted is how we worked together as a team and there is no one who is blocking the way. Now we need to focus on leading businesses through the startup phase and keeping them going whenever they hit a bump in the road.”
Making Huntingdon a great place to live is key to gaining new businesses, an ideology that HCBI will carry on into the New Year. “Whenever we talk about an empty building, I am very optimistic that we will change the bulk of the building stock we have available. If we show people that this is a great place to live, they will want to stay,” Reitman concluded.
“Many people want to stay and just can’t, and that goes to reflect back on youth retention. We need the right people to start the right business here and we need to be there to help them and make sure that they succeed. Overall, I think next year will bring great things.”
Kayla can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.