Sign up to receive breaking news and new edition alerts:
2017-09-22 / Community (County Spotlight)

Cambria County works towards boosting regional recreational opportunities

Spotlight on Cambria County

Cambria County continues to grow as a destination for those looking for a mix of outdoor recreation, affordability and professional opportunities.

Pennsylvania Business Central spoke with Mike Artim, president and CEO of the Greater Johnstown Cambria County Chamber of Commerce to find out what the area’s plans are to boost transportation infrastructure and encourage entrepreneurship. Having only been appointed January 2017, Artrim is relatively new to the position.

PBC: What do you think sets Cambria County apart as a place to live and a place to start your business?

Artim: Looking at the county as a whole, I think we have assets that are really attractive to the young generation. Our outdoor recreation opportunities are some of the best in Pennsylvania. People like to say, “this is where adventure lives.” We have everything from biking and hiking to trails to streams to whitewater rapids, you name it.

Planning and development meetings like the riverwall charette are bringing outside perspectives to Cambria County. 
Photo courtesy of Real Design Inc. Planning and development meetings like the riverwall charette are bringing outside perspectives to Cambria County. Photo courtesy of Real Design Inc. We had Rich Fitzgerald, an Allegheny County executive, and he came out to ride our trails and he came back again later with his family to ride them again. There is a really quality asset there.

We have some great opportunities for businesses all around the county with available spaces at our industrial parks and downtown buildings. I think there’s an opportunity for people to get in at the right price and be very successful at what they do.

PBC: Have you seen much growth or promise of growth in those industrial parks? Have there been any expansions or any move ins?

Artim: There’s a company that recently moved into one of the old warehouse buildings along Iron Street that is just now launching their business plan. We’ve seen Convergys Technologies come in starting with a couple hundred jobs. Hopefully they will expand to 500 jobs. We’ve definitely seen the economy picking up locally.

PBC: Have you seen many small business success stories in the county’s downtown areas?

Artim: Yes, a couple weeks ago I was with Paracoat Technologies. They moved into a building next to our People’s Natural Gas park because they’ve expanded their operation. They are a husband and wife team that expanded from working in their garage to the large building they’re in now. They are definitely a success. I think they’re story is one we need to encourage and create even more of in Cambria County.

PBC: Cambria County is selling itself as the energy county and specifically has a wind turbine in its logo. Do you know of any new clean-energy projects that are in the works?

Artim: I don’t know of any new projects. I believe the county adopted that tagline when Gamesa was here and producing the windmills, although they did just get a new gas-fired power plant. I think they have three generation plants in Cambria County now.

I think the county’s even moved past that since that tagline came out and really has a lot of other opportunities. The county’s done a great job with the Bridge to Pittsburgh Project and connecting resources from the city to Cambria County through a number of events, and I think that will be a focus moving forward.

PBC: What kind of events?

Artim: They had the Pittsburgh Technical Council come in with a bus load of people into Cambria County to look at the assets and opportunities we have here and meet local businesspeople in a mixer-type event. We’ve had Rich Fitzgerald speaking here as well as Audrey Russo who is the president of the Pittsburgh Technical Council. We also had another bus tour of Pittsburgh people who may be looking to invest in the area that came in.

It’s a real concerted effort to link our area with Pittsburgh because there are opportunities there to fulfill both of our needs. They have a lot of workforce needs. We have a lot of amenities that millennials and younger people like. So we think there’s an opportunity there to build satellites to what they have in Pittsburgh and attract the kind of talent they’re looking for with perks like affordable housing, great outdoor recreation and good jobs linked to Pittsburgh.

PBC: So has there been a lot of development in transportation infrastructure to make that more feasible?

Artim: There are a couple of projects going on. There’s been a lot of discussion about a train service to Pittsburgh. Right now we only have one train that goes through that doesn’t really make sense time-wise for commuting. That is a longer term project.

In the shorter term, we’re working on bus transportation to Pittsburgh in a couple different ways. One is connecting to their port authority so that we can streamline the assets between our bus authority and their authority to get people in and out of the city quicker.

We’re also working on getting a wi- fi enabled bus, which is a concept that is being used in a lot of other places. The bus would be able to leave Cambria County and take people into Pittsburgh.

People would clock in when they got on the bus, so the travel time into Pittsburgh could count as work time and the same coming home. The chamber is definitely interested in working with a number of partners to try to make that happen as a test case to see if we can get one or two buses of people that we can work with. If it does work, I think it could offer the best of both worlds.

PBC: Do you know about the status of the 814 WORX incubator. Is that officially open yet?

Artim: The office space is open. The incubator is beginning. That’s Ethan Stewart’s project. He’s a great guy with great ideas and a lot of energy. The 814

WORX is a great place that’s connecting people working in the freelance community. I think thats probably going to be an economic driver moving forward. He’s building his incubator next to the office space. It fits right into the ecosystem where we’re trying to build ways of getting these people with these ideas into places where we can support them and allow those ideas to grow and then get them out of incubators and into larger office spaces available in the city.

We’re holding an event at WORX in October to kind of highlight the work 9that he is doing because we really want to support his efforts.

PBC: Have you worked with University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown or any other local universities on their connections to incubators or fostering entrepreneurship there?

Artim: We’re working on a project at UPJ with John McGrath and Skip Glenn, who are two great guys. We’re working with them on a couple different projects focused on building our community of entrepreneurs. They’re working on research comparing Johnstown to other mountain cities. What we’ve found out is that Johnstown compares much more favorably than we thought. In other words, we have a lower opinion of ourselves than what we are. We’re working on a project to get our story out there because I think we kind of undersell what we are.

PBC: So the city kind of has a self- esteem issue?

Artim: Yeah. You can’t always see the forest for the trees. We don’t realize what we have until these people from the outside come in and say “hey you guys have a lot going on here.”

We’re actually bringing in a gentleman from Roanoke to speak at our events because Roanoke has done the mountain city idea really well and when we compare ourselves to them, we’re right there, we just don’t realize it.

This is an issue that is very important to the chamber right now. We hired a digital content and social media person and we’ve moved someone into a communication role so that we can start doing a better job at telling our story because we’re realizing that that’s one of the things that we’ve not done well: letting our story be told [by us] instead of letting others tell our story.

PBC: You’ve had many outside perspectives come in on the Riverwall Project in Johnstown. How closely do you work with Vision 2025 on that project and what is its status?

Artim: We partner with Vision on a lot of different projects and know the Riverwall project very well. We work with Wally and Ryan on that. We had people from Harvard here for a day and it’s really interesting when you bring those outside people in and you get to see the wheels turning on what our potential is. For too long, we have turned our backs on our rivers when most communities would embrace them. There was a reason for that. It was a flood control effort. But what we’ve found out since the 1930’s, is that there are ways to control the floodplain that don’t involve concrete walls.

So what we’re trying to do now is find out how to increase access to the rivers and how to take the steps necessary so that flooding is not an issue. What we found out is that those things are done upstream, not here. What we realized is we can do both. We can have a safe floodplain and access to our rivers at the same time. That’s a new concept for people. The riverwalls were always looked at as a protection to keep the flood from coming back. Now we realize that that’s unnecessary and that’s a hard thing for people to understand at first because you’re so used to that.

What a beautiful city this would be if we could embrace our rivers again. I think that’s the real ultimate goal of Vision 2025 is how do we get that kind of outdoor recreation in the city. It would be a really cool place if you can imagine kayaking or tubing down the river and coming out in the city and having those assets right here.

PBC: I saw that someone related to the Riverwall Project was giving a talk on what’s called “tactical urbanism.” How would you define that term?

Artim: I have not heard about that, but it definitely sounds interesting. We’ve had a number of people giving talks. I attended a talk by a gentleman that came out of Texas that specializes in a developing a pop-up culture where you can just create things relatively cheaply to dramatically change an urban landscape. It had a lot of great examples of other communities that have done this. We tend to think so traditional in economic development, but there are so many more things that you can do now that i think it’s good to have these people coming in and giving us these ideas because we’re realizing that there is more than one way we can go about recreating what Johnstown is.

PBC: What do you believe is the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity facing Cambria County moving forward?

Artim: I think in a lot of ways outdoor recreation is both. It’s a challenge because people don’t see it’s economic value because it’s not a traditional way of building an economy, but it’s a tremendous opportunity because it’s the new way people recreate an the new way that people spend their money. It’s an opportunity that we’re losing because we don’t see the value. What’s really interesting is that outdoor recreation is throughout the county. We have everything from Rock Run to Prince Galitzin to the Ghost Trail. Up and down the county we have assets that bring people in. We just had an event where 400 mountain bikers came down. There are things like this happening all of the time and we aren’t realizing the economic benefit of it. It’s both a challenge and an opportunity. .

Return to top

Sign up for Biz Alerts

Email Marketing You Can Trust