Taken from PA Business Central
By Spencer Myers
To gauge how Huntingdon County will continue to develop it’s recreational and industrial assets, Pennsylvania Business Central interviewed Amy Wise, executive director of Huntingdon County Business & Industry.
PBC: How long have you had your position at Huntingdon County Business & Industry and how has the experience been?
Wise: I joined HCBI in November of 2007 as the director of business development. In January of 2011, I was promoted into my current position, executive director. Overall the experience has been incredible. One of the key parts of my job that makes it fantastic is the ability to help others realize their dreams. The best days here are those when everything comes together and a project launches. I did join the organization at the beginning of the great recession so there has certainly been very challenging times. We have had significant job loss in the manufacturing and construction sectors, mostly during 2009 to 2012. During that time there were increases in our professional sector, primarily education and medicine, but they have not been sufficient to make up the losses in the blue collar sectors; this remains a focus of our organization today.
PBC: What sets your region apart as a place to live and a place to start your business?Wise: Huntingdon County is a geographically large location (850 square miles) that provides a diversity of living styles from the county seat of Huntingdon (small town life) to rural settings where your closest neighbor could be up to a mile away. Additionally we are centrally located between larger metropolitan areas (Altoona, State College, Chambersburg). You are in the middle of nowhere, yet in the middle of everything. We have a growing arts and culture sector which provides opportunities for artisans and lovers of the arts to come together. Recreational assets abound from the Allegrippis Mountain biking trails to state parks to community parks. The openness of county residents has resulted in neighborly communities that support each other in times of crisis and celebrate with each other in times of triumph. Celebrations include festivals in every season and in nearly every community, celebrations of local history, art, outdoor recreation and competition. The fiber of community in Huntingdon County is not limited by proximity – there are communities of artistic, recreational and intellectual pursuits; communities of faith, giving, activism and more.
PBC: Has the Terrace Mountain Lodge and Hawns BridgeMarina project continued to develop at a steady pace? What major hurdles still lay ahead before construction can begin?Wise: Any project of this magnitude will ebb and flow in the pace at which it develops. The resort development is dependent on the ability of the developer to gain access to the federal land at Hawn’s Bridge. This access could be a marina built by developer Rod Roberts or another entity could win the bid to develop a marina that would complement the resort. One of the current hurdles is that the project is not in the current master plan for Raystown Lake, which means the marina cannot be put out for public bid for development. The Hawn’s Bridge area of Raystown Lake was removed from the master plan in 1994 due to the fact that infrastructure did not exist to support the development of this portion of the lake. There are two options for moving the project towards a public bid process - reinstatement of the Hawn’s Bridge area for recreational use in the master plan, or for a master plan update that would add the site to the plan.
PBC: The public seems to widely support the project. Has there been push back from any organizations or individuals?
Wise: For the most part, the public is very supportive of exploring the economic viability of a project of this size. There is excitement for the job creation potential as well as for the additional recreational opportunities that will be available to residents on the Trough Creek Valley side of the lake. As with any project of this size, there is certainly concern and even a few people who are opposed to any development on the Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula. Concerns we have so far have been related to environmental disturbances, boat density on the lake and resistance to the idea that the resort could be profitable year round. We believe that all of these concerns are valid. However the developer is committed to creating an environmentally sensitive project that blends into the existing landscape. Currently only 4 percent of the shores of Raystown’s 118 miles of shoreline are developed. This project would increase that to 6 percent. The project would also stretch the density of the boat traffic to the northern portion of the lake. Most of the traffic now is concentrated around the two fueling points which are in the middle and the southern end of the lake. Additionally the project only calls for 150 slips. The lake currently has about 1600 seasonal slips. The economic viability of the project does depend on the resorts ability to generate business group travel throughout the winter months which we believe is attainable.
PBC: In your 2015 year in review, you stated that “2015 was “the year of the partnership.” What partnerships have been crucial to the development of Huntingdon County?
Wise: With a staff of only three people, we depend greatly on our partnerships. In 2015, we created a working group of the directors of the county visitor’s bureau, the Sill Business Incubator, the Chamber of Commerce, the Planning Department and our organization called the Strategic Alliance for Economic Growth. This group has increased communication between our organizations and ensured that we are working collaboratively towards advancing the county. We are also blessed to have fantastic relationships with our elected and appointed officials at all levels from township supervisors to ourf ederal legislators. Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission, the county CareerLink, JC Blair Health Systems, just to name a few - we all work collaboratively towards the same mission: Advancing the county economically. For a small county we are also blessed to have a number of institutions of higher education - Huntingdon Career and Tech Center, Penn Highlands Community College, Dubois Business College, and Juniata College. We also have a number of nontraditional education sources like Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center, the Raystown Field Station, McCann School of Art and much more!
PBC: What major new businesses have moved into Huntingdon County over the past year?
Wise: Our newest large company is AC Products Inc., a cabinet manufacturer headquartered in The Colony, Texas. They currently have a facility in Thompsontown, Pa. that employs nearly 600 people. The facility in Mount Union will be 200 - 400 new jobs over the next three years. We are very excited to welcome them to the business park. We also have a number of local companies that have announced expansion projects like Juniata College, Thompson’s Candle Company and J.C. Blair Health Systems. We have a few leads in the hopper that could also result in new companies moving to the county. It’s a great time to be here!
PBC: What steps has the county made to retain the talent coming from Juniata College?
Wise: Juniata has made a concerted effort over the past few years to recruit students who value the rural setting of the college. This has made it easier for our organization to court these students in to working for companies that are here in the county and the region. We have also made a concerted effort to educate students at all of our schools (high school through post secondary) about the companies that are here and the types of positions that are available or will be coming available. Workforce development will continue to be a focus of HCBI for many years to come.
PBC: What major opportunities and challenges will face both Huntingdon County and HCBI in the coming year?
Wise: Infrastructure development is an issue. We are one of just a handful of counties in the Commonwealth that does not have four lane highway access. To overcome this we have focused on development of the assets we do have, such as rail, broadband and recreational assets. Telecom is a great opportunity for us; as we advance access and quality of the infrastructure, we open the door to many economic opportunities. We have the mainline of Norfolk Southern running through the middle of the county so we are working to make shortlines to our industrial areas to provide the manufacturers with additional shipping options. We are a fantastic place to live work and play. The focus now is on making people aware of our existence! .