Blair County, Pennsylvania is located in the Central Allegheny Mountain Highlands. Our mountains and river valleys are where early American families set up camp, villages and towns. The push to deliver goods and people over the Front spurred new innovations. Today, these same mountains and valleys are once again attracting next generation pioneers, inventors and investors. This being driven by people seeking authentic mountain main-street communities and an active four season outdoor lifestyle. Fewer ties, more flannel. We like it that way.
2017 was a very strong year overall. Many businesses executed on their capital expansion plans and many more prepared to initiate projects in 2018. There is a cautious optimism in most markets. The Altoona Blair County Development (ABCD) Corporation’s main mission is to help our existing businesses expand and grow. In 2017 ABCD took part in 30 business expansion and start-up projects resulting in a total capital investment of more than $35 million. Combined these projects resulted in 180 new jobs committed and more than 600 retained. This impact is above what we projected. Last year we finished several major development projects. We celebrated three new hotel openings to include the Wingate by Wyndham which opened in Downtown Altoona - the first downtown in several decades. We also welcomed the first dual-branded lodging facility in the state with the Fairfield Inn & TownePlace Suites. These lodging properties are a direct response to a steady business and tourist demand locally coupled with changing consumer tastes.
Metal roof manufacturer Central States Manufacturing began operations in the Marasco Business Park located in Southern Blair County. They expect to employ more than 50 people as the business advances. The new Sheetz Office complex there is also nearing completion which will help to consolidate many of their finance, marketing and administration services. A new coffee shop, brewery and several boutique retailers have also opened in Altoona’s Central Business district within the last several months. A new 20 room market rate housing development at the Elizabeth Apartment building is expected to come online in 2018. Several other development projects are in the planning stages. There is a growing interest and optimism in smaller urban settings that is fueling these investments.In 2017 ABCD launched a new social media branding and communications strategy called the First Frontier – Blair County. The business of economic development is increasingly all about talent attraction. There are many people and investors who love places like ours; a mountain town lifestyle. We must appreciate where we live and celebrate its uniqueness. You can visit www.abcdcorp.org to learn more about that effort.
Every day we are meeting new people who are either joining up with one of our existing business operations or starting up their own. There is an optimism about our region that is growing and now through social media we are able to collect these stories and share them directly to people who want to join in. Many people are recognizing the significant potential here and are seeking the quality work-life balance our region offers. We all are thinking big and taking charge of the change that is underway.
Stephen McKnight is president and CEO of The Altoona Blair County Development Corporation.