I know a lot of business people. If that was not the case, I’d have some explaining to do. Some of these business people I see at our Chamber programs and events and some I see at the grocery store. Next to the frustration of recognizing that not all businesses are willing to join their local chamber of commerce is the hard reality that nearly half of those who do join, seldom take advantage of the many benefits and opportunities that membership affords.
Rather than cultivate a miserable disposition, which I’m postponing until retirement, I’m back on the warpath to explain just exactly how business success is intrinsically tied to the networking, education and professional development that are the bread-and-butter of organizations like ours.
I have come to understand the impediments to greater participation. For small businesses in particular, there’s little time available to do anything beyond handling the normal duties that make it possible to keep the lights on. Larger businesses have so many groups and associations competing for their time (and their dollars), that it’s hard to accommodate everyone.
So on goes my salesman hat. Please do your best to treat everything I say as if it’s coming from someone with complete objectivity. Get ready to be dazzled as I describe all the incredible things that are taking place within the remainder of May that will take your business to a place where other businesses can only hope to go.
Want to hear about how higher education is helping to prepare young people for the future workforce? The Chamber’s Breakfast Club on May 10th features Dr. Jim Troha, President of Juniata College as keynote speaker. Troha’s presentation will provide insight into how you as an employer can access the best and the brightest before they begin to take their talents elsewhere.
Feel awkward at social events where networking opportunities exist? The Chamber’s WE-LEaD (Women Encouraging: Leadership, Education and Development) Committee is hosting an Etiquette Luncheon on May 15th. Later that same day, the Young Professionals of Blair County, another Chamber program, will help you learn what you need to know about LinkedIn. They’ll even take your photo. If your social media skills aren’t what they need to be, it may be wise to check this out.
The very next day, the Chamber’s Small Business Partners roll-out the second part of a two-part series on brand building. Colleen Devorris of BrandDemon will help you better understand the importance of your brand and what it’s saying to your clients and customers. If you like who you are and what you’re doing, show-up anyway. It won’t be long until your business will need a facelift.
Remember that future workforce presentation from earlier in the month? On May 22nd, you’ll have a chance to learn about the importance of impacting the workforce of the distant future which, by the way, will be knocking at your door before you know it. The Early Childhood Summit, put together by the Chamber’s BASICS Subcommittee on Early Childhood Education, will take place at the Blair County Convention Center. It will be an eye-opening event and you’ll be interested to hear why the business community is an essential component of the effort to get our young people off to a great start.
Tired yet? We’re just beginning. The day following the Early Childhood Summit is the Home Run for Safety, scheduled at Peoples Natural Gas Field. You know how important safety is in protecting your employees and your property. This event will show you hands-on examples of ways to make certain that you leave nothing to chance in how you preserve the things most important to you.
After a few days of recuperation, we take you to Homewood Retirement Community for a “Business Before Hours” event so that you can witness some of the significant things that local businesses are doing to promote their services and build a stronger economic base. They may also make you consume a stack of bananas foster French toast for attending. That’s the price you sometimes pay for utilizing your Chamber Membership.
Are you comfortable with your understanding of the new federal tax law that is now in effect? On May 31st, you’ll have an opportunity to hear from a local tax law expert as well as a representative from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at a seminar specifically for the business community. And you can end the day, as well as the month, with a Business After Hours at the Comfort Inn in Duncansville.
See what you’ve been missing? We’d love to help you find a way to make your investment in Chamber Membership as worthwhile as possible. Start slowly. We’ll help you catch-up.
On April 25th, exactly four months after Christmas Day, nearly 1,200 high school sophomores from our area will open four presents and hope that at least one of them isn’t a lump of coal.
The BASICS/Rotary Career Fair will invade the Blair County Convention Center on that day and representatives from eighty-six viable careers will be on-hand to help unravel the mysteries of gainful employment. From that number, each student was permitted to select four. There are few indications that those selections were based on advanced research, consideration of personal skills and abilities or the job market. Most student comments were of the “that looks like fun” variety. Who can blame them?
Whenever a parent or a teacher expresses concern that young people don’t understand the urgency of finding a consistent sense of direction on the career path, I tell them a story that leaves them shaking their head. It is about what happens when you’re waiting for your ship to come in and a bus shows-up instead. It is the story of my career path and it’s too ridiculous not to be true.
It began innocently enough. I had an interest in writing, I earned a degree in Journalism and my first job was with a newspaper. More specifically I was hired three days after my college graduation as Advertising Manager of The Catholic Register, the official publication of the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese.
Within a year I was promoted to managing editor when the staff was downsized from eight people to three. My responsibilities were merely to write all the stories, take all the photos, sell all the advertising and do all the layouts. It was the perfect job for a young, single person who loved the flexibility of being able to produce my own newspaper without the burden of a high salary. That is to say, it was almost the perfect job.
I was employed at the Catholic Register for nine years when a rather unusual incident took place. I was one feature story short as a publication deadline approached so I made arrangements to walk from my office to Garvey Manor Nursing Home, a hike of about thirty yards, to interview Garvey’s Finance Director, Dick Carnicella. Dick was marking a significant anniversary of being hired and agreed to pretend that my interest in featuring him wasn’t the result of time-induced desperation.
While seated in the lobby at Garvey Manor, waiting for Dick to return from lunch, I noticed that the facility’s administrator was beckoning me back to her office. Sister Serafino Besozzi, a Carmelite nun, was someone that I had heard about but had never met. Her reputation of being a sweet person with a heart-of-gold was something I was able to verify almost from our first meeting.
As I entered Sister Serafino’s office, she offered me a seat. She then got right to the point.
“What makes you think you can be my Personnel Director?” she wanted to know. After a few seconds of awkward silence, I said the first thing that came to my mind.
“Nothing. Nothing makes me think I can be your Personnel Director.”
She looked confused. “Aren’t you here to interview for the Personnel Director’s job?”
“No sister,” I responded, my good Catholic school upbringing rising to the occasion. “I’m here to interview Dick Carnicella for a feature story in the Catholic Register.”
We had a good laugh, yet the conversation wasn’t over. She explained that Garvey Manor had just undergone a union organizing effort and to appease the employees, the Personnel Director and the Director of Nursing had been let-go. Sister Serafino was looking for someone to calm the situation. She evidently had no intention of wasting any more time, even if it meant hiring the wrong person.
“What about you?” she asked me, flashing a nervous smile.
I laughed out loud. Surely she was kidding.
“Sister, I know nothing about personnel administration. Correction. I know less than nothing.” She was not deterred.
“Sister Catherine can teach you whatever you need to know.” Her resolve was unbelievable. I felt like I was talking to God.
“I will give it some thought,” was all I could say.
Since I have a space limitation with this column, I will wrap up by saying that my story interview with Dick Carnicella was my last as an employee of the Catholic Register. I started my employment at Garvey Manor, fittingly so, on April 1, 1986. It was that same day that Sister Catherine confided in me that she also knew nothing about personnel administration.
“I don’t know why Serafino thinks that,” she admitted. “I really don’t have a clue.”
I stayed at Garvey Manor eight years, flew-by-the-seat-of-my pants an incredible number of times on HR matters, was actually asked to speak at a national HR conference, and only left Garvey to accept a Nursing Home Administrator’s position with ALSM.
How did I get to the Chamber? A story for another time. In many ways it’s every bit as unbelievable. Worrying about choosing the wrong career path as a tenth grader? Stop worrying. Someday, if you’re lucky, you’ll find your nun.
A few weeks ago in the workout room at the Hollidaysburg Area YMCA, I noticed that the person next to me on the treadmill was wearing a t-shirt bearing the following message:
“Try being informed instead of just opinionated.”
I recognize good advice when I see it, even at 5:30 in the morning, despite the fact that my penchant for being opinionated far exceeds my desire to be informed. And I know quite a few people just like me. Perhaps I’ve been hanging with the wrong crowd.
One of the crowds I hang with as part of my job is the Chamber’s Public Policy Committee. That committee is the advocacy arm of the organization and has been effective in helping to support legislation at the federal and state levels, mostly initiated by the U.S. Chamber and the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business & Industry. We appreciate that those two heavyweights provide guidance and resources. It allows us, as the t-shirt at the “Y” recommends, to expand our listening skills.
Advocacy would truly be a walk-in-the-park if it wasn’t for the governmental entities closest to home. I would exclude county government from that group since I’m convinced that their challenges are so overwhelming that it’s unfair to ask them to participate in anything that has a financial component to it.
The County Commissioners dutifully answer questions each January at our Breakfast Club and they try to put a positive spin on whatever they can. Creativity, unfortunately, only goes so far. In a perfect world – or at least somewhere other than Pennsylvania –county government would rule the roost. While states like Maryland, New Jersey and Connecticut are finding new and innovative ways to put county government at the forefront of economic development efforts, Pennsylvania continues to flounder under a system that hasn’t worked in a long, long time.
No, our Public Policy puzzle is, was, and likely will continue to be the twenty-four municipal governments that make up our county. Long before I came to the Chamber – and I’ve been here twenty-one years – a committee known as Government Affairs was attempting to get its arms around municipal issues. That group of well-meaning business leaders later gave way to the Legislative Action Committee. New name, same messy dilemmas.
The Public Policy Committee is looking to take its turn in the barrel. They’ve placed municipal cooperation at the top of the Priorities List and have scheduled a Legislative Summit in April with government affairs representatives from seven countywide chambers in the region.
It sounds like a workable plan. But there are skeptics. One of those is a municipal official who, at one point, was a member of the Legislative Action Committee. Blair Township Supervisor Ed Silvetti has observed the situation from several vantage points. As former director of Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission, Silvetti endured the consequences of a fragmented government and upon retirement, set out to change whatever he could.
He spoke to our Public Policy Committee in February along with Williamsburg Mayor Ted Hyle. If all municipal officials were like Silvetti and Hyle, a lot of significant things would already have been accomplished. Silvetti, in particular, didn’t mince words when asked how the committee should go about creating an atmosphere for cooperation.
“I don’t want to paint a negative picture,” he admitted, “but too many efforts aimed at cooperation are nothing more than committees like this one chasing its tail.”
Can it really be that bad? With elections coming up, the political terrain will change dramatically, at least in Washington and Harrisburg. At the borough and township levels, much is expected to remain the same. The Public Policy Committee, on behalf of the business community, will be looking for ways to get closer to the action.
Business provides the dollars that keep municipalities viable. It’s time that message resonated to those who need to be reminded of it. And that’s more than just an opinion.