Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read August 2021 — Indiana County has been attracting major attention from businesses looking to expand their operations, primarily due to the county’s superb workforce development initiatives. In an interview with Invest:, Mark Hilliard, president of the Indiana County Chamber, discusses these workforce development initiatives, the current strength of the local business community and his outlook for the county.
How is Indiana County fostering workforce development?
We want people to see that there is a pipeline of talent here and that we are trying to build a quality workforce right here in Indiana County. One of the things that separates Indiana County from other areas is our relationship with our school districts. Workforce development starts with the local school districts and the initiatives currently in place are always evolving to meet the needs of our future workforce. Our school districts are valuable partners in the career readiness, workforce development initiative. We actually have a workforce development program that is being implemented in every one of our school districts: Indiana County Ready. We are one of the few counties that actually has a workforce development initiative developed in partnership with local businesses and educators. Workforce development is our primary focus and we’re excited about the great relationships we have with our school districts.
What differentiates Indiana County from other counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania?
We have a low cost of living and a high quality of life. We’re strategically located near Pittsburgh, Altoona and other big areas and we’re an area where people can live comfortably and safely. We’re a college town with a state-owned university here, the University of Pennsylvania, and we like to work closely with the college. In addition to the college, we have two major banks that are headquartered here, a privately owned hospital and more, all right here in town, and yet we have maintained that small-town feel.
What are the most exciting economic developments in Indiana County?
One of the biggest recent developments was an Urban Outfitters distribution center that was built here. It’s a nearly 1-million-square-foot facility that is a fulfillment center for Urban Outfitters and its companies. Any large items that you might purchase online get shipped from this facility. This development has created a few hundred full-time jobs, with more on the way. This is a great facility in one of our areas that is growing, Windy Ridge. The Windy Ridge area is a business and technology park with pad ready sites that is going to be developing even more thanks to this Urban Outfitters facility.
Even during COVID, there has been a lot of interest in the area. In agriculture and manufacturing, I think we’re going to start to see even more growth going forward.
What is the health of the local business community?
Resilient is the best word to use. Even last year, we saw our community rally around our local businesses and help get them through this difficult time. That’s even more so the case now with restrictions lifted. We did not see a lot of businesses shut down for good. Truthfully, the main issues right now that are preventing businesses from opening up as they were prior to the pandemic is workforce and the disruption to the supply chain. Other than workforce and supply chain issues, businesses are feeling as if things are on an upward trajectory and are heading closer to normal. Provided that the supply chain starts to come around, by the end of this year we may start to see things get back to normal from a local economy standpoint.
What is your outlook for the next two to three years?
I’m excited about where we’re heading and I’m anxious to see what the next steps are going to be. In the beginning of 2020, we were feeling a lot of this same anticipation and excitement, feeling that 2020 was going to be a big year for Indiana County. Obviously, we were wrong as no one could have foreseen the pandemic, but that positive and encouraging outlook that we had at the beginning of 2020 is returning right now. I truly feel that once we start to round the corner at the end of this year and get back on track, 2022 is poised to be a big year for us and that’s going to set the stage for big things to come.
For more information, visit: https://www.indianacountychamber.us/