Setting the Stage for Change

Somerset County Economic Development Council
Written by Pauline Muller

What do you get when you take an exquisite, unspoiled county and add a whole lot of creativity and technology? The result is a vibrant, exciting community where the twenty-first century and the good life meet, of course.
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While many counties are trying to hang on to millennials, Pennsylvania’s Somerset County has it all worked out. This verdant beauty is not only retaining its millennial generation, but it is also welcoming young people and families from across the country. With its broadband offering about to be radically improved, online business transacting will continue to soar even further in this pristine part of Pennsylvania.

Somerset County offers an awesome, affordable lifestyle full of adventure with abundant work opportunities in an environment that fully embraces technology in all its guises. This makes the area a rather unique rural gem on the East Coast. Locals can go skiing, hiking, biking or swimming and enjoy its natural bounty any and every day of the week while leaving the office in time to make great memories with their families or to pursue other favorite activities.

Moreover, the county’s business owners and entrepreneurs get support from the Somerset County Economic Development Council and its partners. The team attracts new business to the area while ensuring that local businesses receive whatever help they may need to run a successful operation.

The organization also plays a significant role in preparing the county’s industries and businesses for the future by encouraging everyone to keep up with the latest technological trends. It closely focuses on how manufacturing is evolving, how the younger generation sees employment on the whole, and how to assist the business community in embracing these changes. “The world is changing, and we are changing and adapting with it in order to remain relevant and economically viable,” says Executive Director Joshua E. Boland.

One of the area’s strongest draws is that life here is definitely not all work. Playtime is as important, and while those in urban areas rarely get to go skiing, hiking, or swimming in a lake, locals appreciate that they are lucky enough to live in western Pennsylvania’s recreational hotspot – only one hour away from Pittsburgh. The area is so famous for its ski resorts that are known nationally, for its world class terrain parks and for producing some of America’s top skiers and snowboarders.

While its charms are apparent, Somerset County is best known for the wealth of natural resources that drive its industries. Its metallurgical coal deposits are very sought after internationally for use in steel fabrication. Thanks to this, the county has become an industrial hub with numerous well-established manufacturers that contribute to its economic strength and growth. A few of these include steel fabricator Riggs Industries, a fleet management specialist Wheeler Bros, Swedish metal manufacturer Hoganas, Global SFC Valve Corporation, local bank Somerset Trust which is highly acclaimed for its technological advancements.

The area stretches across both the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations, giving it access to massive natural gas resources that hold great economic promise for the county’s economic growth. To add to its diversity and self-sufficiency, windmill farms were installed under the Obama administration and have been providing the area with an alternative energy resource for the past several years.

Getting here is easy. Visitors and transportation companies alike benefit from its perfect location at the intersection of I-70 and I76 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which extends across the United States. Once fully complete, US Route 219 will make it even more convenient when it connects with Route 68.

The county has managed to keep its rural character, with rolling farmlands, mountains, and a state park system second to none all begging to be explored. Its natural beauty brings many visitors each year as it also contains Mount Davis, Pennsylvania’s highest peak. Wildlife abounds in its vast expanses of protected natural habitat.

The Seven Springs and Hidden Valley resorts, owned by Bob Nutting, who also owns baseball team Pittsburgh Pirates – the famous Pennsylvania baseball team – offer a plethora of exciting all-year-round activities. The resorts offer a fun respite from everyday life. “Mr. Nutting has done incredible things for the community by solidifying these resorts and opening up numerous recreational activities,” Joshua adds.

Whitewater rafting is another local favorite with Ohiopyle, the East Coast’s whitewater rafting paradise, attracting droves of enthusiasts every year. Somerset County is also home to a large section of the Allegheny Passage, a 150-mile bike trail between Washington D.C. and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This route was built along an old railway line and is a bucket list favorite of innumerable cyclists and adventurers who visit from around the world.

And there is more than just recreation. Visionary initiatives allow businesses and its workforce to meet the future ready and prepared for the challenge of change. To ease the process, the Somerset County Economic Development Council has numerous development projects underway further to increase prosperity and the local economy.

“We offer multiple tax-free zones where new companies can come and establish themselves. We also work with a host of other organizations and the state and federal government, to attract more business into the area,” says Joshua. Locally, it offers entrepreneurial support programs complete with an Entrepreneurial coach who guides and mentors young businesses in operational fundamentals, helping these outfits establish themselves, prosper, and enjoy longevity.

Micro-loan programs at low-interest rates ensure that small businesses have the cash flow needed to become sufficiently settled on fixed terms. The focus is not only on smaller businesses, but the council is also currently in negotiations with a number of large regional firms looking to settle in the area, and this bodes particularly well for local earning prospects.

To ensure that its workforce is up to speed, the Somerset County Economic Development Council takes great pride in working with various countywide educational organizations to better equip the next generation with the necessary skills to actively contribute back to the local economy. This includes a community action partnership where young adults without existing workplace skills and other promising candidates are matched with local businesses in the fields for which they display an aptitude.

This includes Recovery to Work, a wonderful program recently launched at Somerset’s Twin Lakes Recovery Centre that works to support patients suffering from substance dependency. The program offers training and support to those who would like to enter the job market by matching employers with candidates and easing the process of reentering the market and giving survivors a better future.

It is only natural that the quality of life people enjoy here is unsurpassed. Safe, quiet neighborhoods and a strong sense of community make the county a place one can easily call home. With plentiful job opportunities and a well-respected education system, families looking to exchange their city lifestyle for life on their own terms and affordable property are spoiled for choice when it comes to finding a lovely home and a pace of life conducive to wholesome living.

Tertiary learning institutions include Somerset County Technology Centre, and Penn Highlands Community College. Clarion University recently announced an Associates of Science in the Nursing Program, with classes to begin in 2019. “The manufacturing industry is changing rapidly, and we are making sure that our younger generations and future workforce have the opportunity to keep their skills up to date,” says Joshua.

And it is not just industry that is booming. The new co-working trend has hit the county with Uptown Works, a modern, shared office space that has brought a flurry of excitement to the county as hip and happening entrepreneurs and other professionals in need of an appropriate, shared environment can now congregate in a communal workspace.

Entrepreneurial coaching programs in collaboration with the Ben Franklin Technology Institute and St Francis University in the north further galvanize the business learning experience. “We help people who may not fully grasp the importance of a business plan, marketing and other elements of starting a business to put it all together and to understand what is required. Then we help to finance them and to get them established,” says Joshua.

The council is by no means a one-man-band, either. It works very closely with the Somerset Redevelopment Authority, Somerset Inc., Somerset Chamber of Commerce, the Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission, and JARI, a not-for-profit economic development initiative that helps breathe new life into rural areas through diversification and visionary support.

Somerset County Economic Development Council has clear goals set to keep the county’s growth on track, and Joshua is proud to share its plans. “We will definitely continue supporting existing companies in Somerset as well as continue attracting new businesses, especially those in need of the county’s natural resources,” he says. While it may be hard for some to imagine a place where the economy shares equal importance with a fulfilling life, Somerset County is no doubt every bit as healthy as the lifestyle it offers.

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