Blair’s development is strong, according to ABCD Corp. | News, Sports, Jobs
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, economic development remains strong in Blair County as local businesses continue to rebound and move forward.
That was the message Friday at the Altoona Blair County Development Corp annual meeting. at the Blair County Convention Center.
Friday marked the first time in three years that the organization held the event.
Over the past three years, ABCD Corp. directly supported and financed 146 business expansion projects, resulting in a total capital investment of over $140 million. Of this total, funding for the ABCD program accounted for more than $32 million. These projects have created 245 new jobs and more than 860 have been retained, said Chairman and CEO Stephen McKnight.
Among these projects was the expansion of DelGrosso Foods, which included the acquisition of a building and a major production expansion. The $70 million project represented the largest capital investment and manufacturing expansion ever in Blair County, McKnight said.
Another major redevelopment was the former 60-acre WATCO site in Hollidaysburg, now home to Curry Rail Services.
“This project has breathed new life into an otherwise vacant industrial site and greatly enhanced the visual appeal of the area in the process. In total, the projects represented a wide range of industrial sectors including healthcare, transportation, l warehousing, hospitality and retail, McKnight said.
ABCD Corp. sees significant strategic and financial commitments.
“It’s the busiest I’ve ever seen in our organization and that’s good news. We are confident Blair County businesses are well positioned to bypass well-placed speed bumps,” said Board Chairman Ron McConnell.
Labor demand also remained strong. This was particularly significant when Appvion, citing the pandemic itself, permanently ceased operations in 2021. This sudden closure displaced more than 290 highly skilled workers. Fortunately, high skills were in demand, allowing many of these workers to quickly land new opportunities within the regional economy, McKnight said.
As for the empty Appvion plant, efforts to reallocate the site are underway, he said.
“We continue to work with the current owners group, the Roaring Spring Borough, and our state and federal officials to chart a course forward for the site,” McKnight said.
He said that since March 2020, the vast majority of local businesses are moving forward.
“They’re doing what they need to to not only keep the lights on, but in many cases they’re finding new ways to do things even better. It reaffirmed what we already knew about our community – about our businesses, our economy and the people who live here. And it is that we are resilient. We are determined. We are ingenious, McKnight said.
Last year, ABCD partnered with the Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission to sponsor a study to quantify the emerging hybrid workforce.
“This study concluded that over the next three years, the population of remote workers in our region will exceed 12,000 people, primarily from Virginia, Maryland and the Pittsburgh area. He also cited a Harris poll showing that 38% of respondents currently living in urban areas are likely to move to more rural towns and mountain areas. This study affirmed that the steps we were taking long before 2020 were the right steps to take, and we must continue to take them,” McKnight said.
He said connecting all parts of Blair County with better broadband service remains a priority.
“We need to better connect all areas of the county and close the gaps that hinder home-based businesses, schooling, and our overall competitiveness,” McKnight said.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 814-946-7467.