Sadly, COVID-19 is still in business and impacting businesses globally and locally. The impact of the pandemic is less far-reaching now, but it is still part of a mix of factors casting a financial shadow over the U.S. and other countries.This collection of puzzles led Observer’s The top 10 business stories of the year.
1. Money matters
Consumers have had to deal with soaring inflation, supply chain issues, high commodity prices, reduced home buying options, Russian invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing Great Resignations. The Federal Reserve has been raising interest rates to fight a recession and may continue to do so in 2023.
However, there have been some positive financial signs recently. wall street journal Reports last week said inflation was cooling; consumer spending rose modestly in November; and supply chains were functioning normally. Hiring and wage increases.
Food and restaurant prices are still rising, and many businesses continue to issue “help signals,” but gasoline prices fell to an 18-month low nationwide after rising to record highs.
2. The way the Mon Valley Alliance continues its progress
It’s been a big year for the Mon Valley Union.
A new chief executive has been appointed, as Jamie Colecchi was named head of the agency in April. Colecchi becomes Community Bank’s new Director of Customer Experience and Innovation, succeeding Ben Brown, who stepped down as CEO.
At the time, Mary Stollar was named the organization’s new director of real estate and economic development.
Additionally, Colecchi and three of his employees moved into the former Community Bank branch building in the heart of the Monongahela business district in September.
The MVA launched the Economic Handbook in April. The playbook is a coordinated and collaborative marketing and promotional strategy to promote economic development and continued investment in the city.
The MVA also received a $2 million state grant to continue construction of the Donora Industrial Park and expansion of chocolate and confectionery maker Barchemy.
The organization also announced that it will establish the first Neighborhood Partnership Program in the middle of the Mon Valley. The NPP is a six-year program to dedicate $1.5 million to Charleroi for community improvement projects and social services.
3. Washington’s health system endures
Originally a small hospital in 1897, it eventually merged with another medical facility in the city and began to flourish in spacious new homes built on farmland donated by local families.
Throughout the 125 years since its founding, Washington Hospital has grown from strength to strength. It has expanded into the Washington Health System with more than 20 locations and an estimated 2,000 full-time and part-time employees, 300 medical staff and 300 volunteers. It is the largest employer in Washington County and one of Greene’s top employers, according to the state Department of Labor and Industries.
Being a standalone health system is fraught with challenges, but WHS has dealt with two global pandemics, two world wars, polio, economic recession, staggering inflation and other contemporary issues.
“The lessons I have learned from our ancestors,” said President and CEO Brook Ward, “they had less technology, less science and less knowledge than we do today, but they survived that era. If they could, We will too.”
4. Meals come and go
One of downtown Washington’s most popular restaurants closed in late August when spouses Michael and George Tower Williamson retired and closed Solomon’s Seafood and Grille after 33 years in business. “It’s sad, but now is the time,” Michael said after the close.
The owners and fellow students of Washington High School in the early 70’s were committed to providing customers with a great dining experience through a diverse menu, efficient service and smiles for miles. They opened a small shop on Henderson Street in 1989, selling fresh fish and fulfilling takeaway orders, before moving four years later to Michael’s larger establishment on Hall Street.
After their success in Washington, the owners of Chicco Baccello decided to open a second café-bakery-deli in downtown Canonsburg. Chicco launched last winter at a street location on West Park Street.
Two other Washington hotspots, operating together for more than 130 years, continue. For nearly 90 years, Shorty’s Lunch has been grilling its signature hot dogs on West Chestnut Street, and Joe Vucic Jr. is preparing dessert for his 42nd birthday at Joe’s Bakery.
5. The first anniversary of the business incubator
Ignite Business Incubator celebrated its one-year anniversary on June 1 at its location at 57 Chestnut Street in Washington.
In the first year, Ignite provided more than 700 hours of consulting support.
Another service offered by Ignite is the Ideas 2 Enterprise (I2E) Business Planning Workshop Cohorts, which provide local entrepreneurs with courses to assist in developing a formal business plan. The next cohort is scheduled for February.
Through these services, some businesses have been able to expand, while others, who may be new to mobile operations, have been able to open brick-and-mortar facilities.
“Seeing businesses succeed and expand their business models or open brick-and-mortar stores is yet another proof that something special is happening in Washington County,” said Ignite Manager Lauren LaGreca. A continued path forward. We’re continuing to grow and do well, and it’s a testament to what we’ve got here in Washington with these entrepreneurs and these small business owners.”
Ignite grew out of a business incubator in the Greater Washington area. It connects, supports, educates and empowers entrepreneurs and small businesses by providing services such as consulting, advising or networking.
6. Economic development picks up
Economic development picked up in 10 counties.
That’s a very important takeaway from the 15th annual Pittsburgh Area Business Investment Scorecard released in June by the Allegheny Community Development Conference and its affiliate, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance.
The scorecard details announced business investment activity for 2021 – including capital investment and new and retained jobs,
Washington, Greene and Fayette counties all reported decent numbers on the scorecard.
Washington County lists 18 investment projects, including Innovative Electronics, which is developing a 50,000-square-foot building in Burgetstown’s Starpointe Business Park. The county’s scorecard also lists 10 development projects.
Greene County lists three investment projects and one development project. Fayette County has two developments listed.
“Washington always tends to be one of the more active counties,” said Jim Futrell, vice president of market research for the Allegheny Conference. “Green tends to be a little quieter, though announcements there went from two to four, while Fayette stayed steady at two. It’s a nice bounce in those three counties.”
7. Broadband continues to expand
Extending broadband to underserved and unserved areas remains a major priority.
Washington County launched its broadband program in January, delivering high-speed Internet to 50 homes in Meadowcroft and Jefferson Townships through a pilot program near Avella in partnership with Hickory Telephone.
Multiple other projects were approved using federal American Rescue Act funds, with telcos sharing the cost. County officials also announced a multiyear agreement in October to provide broadband service to 6,500 customers in 10 areas of Washington County at an estimated cost of $50 million.
Greene County officials announced in December that they had received a $1 million donation from the CNX Foundation to work with Kinetic by Windstream to install fiber optic cable in the county’s northwest. The project dovetails with other phases that include installing broadband in the southwest corner of Greene County and upgrading service in population centers around Waynesburg, Carmichaels and Mt. Morris.
Fayette County received $1.1 million in state grants to expand broadband service to some underserved areas of the county. That helped the county spend $5.3 million on its VITALink program, using federal CARES Act stimulus funds to install 29 internet “hotspots” across the county by the end of 2020.
Broadband also has broad support from proponents of the McGuffey Regional Revitalization Initiative, which focuses on economic development and revitalization through the Interstate 70 to Route 40 corridor that stretches from Washington to the West Virginia Panhandle.
8. Cracker operation
The petrochemical complex officially began commercial operations in November, six years after Royal Dutch Shell announced it would indeed build an ethylene cracker in Beaver County.
The $6 billion project in the town of Porter, along the Ohio River, is running full steam — and in trouble. This fall, Shell exceeded its air permit limits for two consecutive months during the start-up campaign and received a violation notice from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Plastic manufacturing is expected to be a major outcome of the initiative. Cracking plants “crack” ethane molecules into petrochemical building blocks that can be refined into polyethylene, a plastic used in everything from food packaging to auto parts.
Pennsylvania is offering Shell $1.6 billion in tax incentives to build the complex in Beaver County in exchange for 600 ongoing jobs.
9. Claysville Area Project
An ambitious economic development/revitalization project along the Interstate 70 to Route 40 corridor stretching from Washington to the West Virginia Panhandle is a long way off. But it is making progress.
Revitalizing Main Street (Route 40) is the primary goal of the Claysville Area Conservation and Revitalization Initiative (CAPRI). While the borough’s retail strip is quite active, the only commercial area within the expansive McGuffey School District needs improvement.
Local officials have received $116,250 in tax credits from the state for the acquisition and possible restoration of the Sprowls Hardware complex at 234-238 Main Street, a dilapidated complex that has been vacant since 2013. Local entrepreneur Rick Newton called it “an iconic building in the heart of the community.”
10. Roller skating returns to Donora with the Roll ‘R’ Way
Roll ‘R’ Way Skate Center opens in November. 4 The first two nights there was a long queue to greet. The steady crowd continues to come to the rink at 590 Galiffa Drive.
“It’s good,” says Roll ‘R’ Way owner Frank Quintin. “Things are changing.”
Quentin purchased the former Valley Skate Center, built by the Shoup family in 1983 and open until August of this year. The facility’s owner, Linda Shoup Miner, said none of her descendants were interested in running the business, so it was sold.
While the early days of the Skate Center featured mostly skating and a playground, there were big plans. Pickleball is expected to start the new year and two concerts are already scheduled.