Article Published: May 4, 2017
Article Published: May 4, 2017
See how long it takes you to guess the name of the city being described here.
At the place where two rivers meet, a site known as “the point” can be found. Along a nearby steep hillside, an incline slowly, methodically, and reliably shuttles riders up and down. Traces of the town’s once-mighty legacy of steelmaking still can be spotted, as former manufacturing mills find new life as spaces to develop and test new technologies. And, most striking of all, the people of this place take great pride in their community, and bring their best effort to their jobs every day.
Figured it out yet? Does this scenario sound too easy? Too obvious? It’s Pittsburgh, right?
Wrong. The town in question is Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
Yes, Johnstown. Its description sounds so much like Pittsburgh, and for good reason. The two cities have had similar histories, to go along with their comparable geographies and amenities. The biggest difference might be that, while Pittsburgh has become known nationally for its ongoing successful transition from a heavy manufacturing center to a global mecca for technological research and development, outstanding colleges and universities, and breakthrough medical advances, Johnstown’s conversion – while underway – has taken a bit longer.
And that’s part of the thinking behind an initiative, sup- ported in part by the Pittsburgh Technology Council, called “Bridge to Pittsburgh.” This effort focuses on fostering and expanding the many logical, practical, and cost-effective connections between Pittsburgh and the greater Johnstown region, which covers Cambria County and the northern parts of Somerset County.
“The Cambria County economy has evolved,” explained John Dubnansky, Cambria County Grants Facilitator, and one of the organizers of the Bridge to Pittsburgh program. “It was a coal magnet first, then a steelmaker until the 1980s when we needed to find a new economy. Congressman John Murtha got us into defense contracting through the late 1990s, and we had attracted more than 40 defense-related companies in the early 2000s.”
When Jack Murtha passed away in 2010, though, the region lost its champion in Congress and was left asking where did it need to go from that point, and how would it get there?
“A lot of those Department of Defense-related companies – more than half – either disappeared or quietly were reduced,” Dubnansky said. “The DoD funded a study to examine how our local economy could become more diversified. It came up with six strategies, one of which was the Bridge to Pittsburgh.”
Over the first few months of 2017, the PTC has hosted a number of events to bring tech leaders and other key influencers from Pittsburgh and Johnstown together, to learn about how each community can help the other. The next major event will occur on June 7, when interested individuals and organizations from Pittsburgh will travel to Johnstown for a special event and a first-hand glimpse of what that region offers.
“I’ve been a big proponent of our area tightening its ties to Pittsburgh,” noted Mark Pasquerilla, a local investor whose family has long been a presence in the greater Johnstown region. “Pittsburgh is one of the greatest turnaround stories, a great example for us. We want to recreate our future here, just as Pittsburgh has done. What happened in Pittsburgh is scalable to other cities.
“Due to the infrastructure built by Murtha, we still have a lot of underutilized talent here,” Pasquerilla continued. “We want to put out the welcome mat, because good things are happening here that Pittsburgh-based companies can benefit from.”
“The Bridge to Pittsburgh is all about discovering how best to partner with the business community there,” said Dubnansky. “What parts of their operations can be moved here?
We have more than a million square feet of available office space, plus former manufacturing buildings, all ripe for development and expansions at a fraction of the cost. Companies can get up and running a lot faster here, since government agencies are eager to offer their support.
“Pittsburgh is telling us that IT companies are hiring, they need people,” he continued. “We have some great universities here, but students are leaving to find work. We have well-educated professionals available for the hiring. We’re just a little over an hour’s drive down Route 22, plus people can telecommute, live here and work for Pittsburgh companies. There’s a very good quality of life here, a lower cost of living. Johnstown has been rated among the top markets in the U.S. for young people to buy an affordable home.
“We don’t want to take anything from Pittsburgh, we want to support and help Pittsburgh companies grow and expand using one of the most economical options available to them – Johnstown and the surrounding region.”
“The people of Pittsburgh have helped us in the past, including numerous foundations,” Pasquerilla concluded. “We want to learn from the Pittsburgh transition to replicate it here. We want to be a part of the Pittsburgh conversion from rust belt to brain belt.”
Destination Cambira Event Set for June 7
Spend a day touring Cambria County's top manufacturers and tech companies while connecting with their top executives and project managers. After the tours, a special networking reception will follow. This is a free event with transportation provided. It is open to both members and nonmembers of the PTC.
In partnership with the Pittsburgh Technology Council (PTC), join the Cambria County Bridge to Pittsburgh initiative on a day-long road trip to Johnstown, Pennsylvania on Wednesday, June 7, 2017. The day will be filled with company tours, demonstrations, lunch, and local attractions. End the day meeting local talent and networking with decision-makers all while enjoying local cuisine, beer, wine and a live band.
Coach buses will leave from the Pittsburgh Technology Council at 2000 Technology Drive at 8:00 a.m. and travel the short 65 miles to Johnstown’s Richland neighborhood to explore Department of Defense contractors Concurrent Technology Corporation and Problem Solutions starting at 10:00 a.m. Walk through technology development test beds for additive manufacturing, water re-use and learning technologies. Tours will continue along with lunch at Martin-Baker America, birthplace of the Most Advanced Ejection Seat In The World.
Afternoon activities include guided tours of downtown Johnstown to view city rejuvenation activities, opportunities for new development and showcase business expansion opportunities. At JWF Industries, the area’s top-employing metals manufacturer, meet with CEO Bill Polacek to see the services they have been providing to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and Defense Contractors for 30 years.
Complete the bus trip with a networking event in a former mill building to meet local decision-makers and mingle with the region’s top talent. Enjoy a live band and taste local cuisine while also browsing industry booths from more of Cambria County’s leading businesses.
The social event will conclude at 6:00 p.m. and the bus will return to the PTC for 8:00 p.m. Register at www.pghtech.org.