By Candy E. Price
Daily News Staff Writer
Huntingdon County planning director Mark Colussy shared the history of the county’s Partnership for Economic Progress (PEP) with members of Huntingdon County Business and Industry during the agency’s monthly meeting at the Huntingdon Country Club Monday.
“PEP started off by a commissioners’ resolution,” Colussy said.
He explained that in April 2000, the county commissioners resolved to create an economic development task force that included, at the time, HCBI, the Huntingdon and Mount Union chambers of commerce, the Huntingdon Area Merchants Association, the Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau, the county planning department and a list of specific county business leaders.
“The vision being ... to improve the economic health and quality of life of Huntingdon County residents ...” Colussy said.
He explained within the task force were seven smaller committees that focused on meeting the needs and minimizing the duplication of services, supporting and building leadership in the county, developing a comprehensive economic analysis, targeting markets for recruitment, developing a marketing plan for the county, a committee focusing on transportation and a task force for encouraging employers to continue to offer job training.
“I think the reason this was successful is because they designed individuals to be in charge of each (committee),” he said. “Between (the seven committees), I don’t think we could necessarily argue that none of these things are relevant anymore.”
Colussy said the groups were able to identify all of the major things that are a component of economic development.
As a result of the components and partners that drive economic development in the county, he said PEPdeveloped a matrix to connect agencies and business needs.
“This is still something we can use today,” he said. “None of us use this anymore. Why? I don’t have a good answer for that question. It could be updated, but there is a lot of good work that went into this.”
He said, in 2003, the task force became PEP in name and the committees were updated. In that year, Colussy said, PEP grew following some success. The goals also changed that year.
Seven years later, in 2009, the vision of PEP changed slightly. That 2009 vision remains in place. In 2009, there were eight priorities identified, including creating a third prison or rebuilding SCI Huntingdon, creating a capital fund drive for businesses, seeking cellphone and broadband improvements, creating secondary education programs to address business needs, marketing the county outside the area, growing crossover businesses, improving the visibility of the county regionally and lobbying for roadway improvements.
“The way we look at is, if anybody is doing anything to promote the vision of the county, we want you involved,” Colussy said.
Colussy also listed a number of PEP’s accomplishments, including Leadership Huntingdon County, community college growth, enterprise zone formations, partnerships between agencies, transportation improvements and outdoor recreation improvements.
“PEP as a whole, we decided it’s important to go through the strategic planning process again,” Colussy said.
After bringing local professionals together, Colussy said the planning process is underway.
“We had a lot of inherent professional knowledge in that room, but we weren’t talking about the specific data,” he said. “We don’t have our current strategic plan updated, but it’s always a good opportunity to go over the past to know where we want to go in the future.”
Colussy also talked about the importance of including partner agencies in the strategic planning process.
“Just because ... HCBI has a committee ... do we need to be highlighting transportation and high speed Internet as much in PEP?” he said. “We all need to know what we’re doing to figure out ways we can work together.”
HCBI executive director Amy Wise said it’s important to note “there is no dedicated staff person for PEPother than the members and a lot of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of (planning employees and partners).”
“Looking at that list of things and the list of accomplishments is pretty impressive considering we have no staff and no money,” she said. “That has been one of our focuses moving forward.”
Huntingdon County Commissioner Jeff Thomas said he supports PEP and thinks a small change is a good idea, but said PEP has “served Huntingdon County well over the years.”
Candy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.