Centre County Commissioner Michael Pipe compared the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County to Penn State football coach Bill O’Brien, saying its leader is just as committed to helping the community move forward.
The chamber held a members-only meeting Thursday morning aimed at community perceptions in light of the NCAA sanctions against Penn State that include a $60 million penalty and bowl game ban for four years. The sanctions follow the Louis Freeh report that Penn State administrators tried to conceal child sex abuse by Jerry Sandusky.
Pipe said while county leaders can work with local business owners, “CBICC has a bigger punch.”
CBICC President Vern Squier said the main focus was community unity and bringing to Centre County residents a positive story, healing message and a united front.
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“It would be beneficial to have a story to tell,” he said. “The community will rally around the purpose of moving forward.”
The meeting was held in a packed conference room at Hoag’s Celebration Hall, and Squier said he was happy with the turnout and the engaging discussion.
Paul Silvis, SilcoTek head coach and a Penn State trustee, agreed that unity is the most important trait that can be presented by the chamber.
“Companies destroy themselves from the inside out,” he said. “Now is the time to run together.”
Silvis said the message is that the community is wounded, but not beaten, and that residents will embrace a “warrior spirit” to help get the county back on track.
He added that the situation may provide an avenue for doing things that have never been done before, such as having concerts in Beaver Stadium to draw more tourism to the area or having free parking in downtown State College to make the town “more inviting.”
Chamber members also handed out signs that read, “Proud to support Penn State football” in an effort to show that the community is rallying around the team.
State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, said the packed parking lot when he arrived at the meeting demonstrated the feelings of business leaders.
“When I drove up here, it’s already reflective that the community does care,” he said.
And though football weekends create the most foot traffic for the Centre Region, state Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, said, he wants it to be clear that the county has more to offer. He said that includes the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, the hospitality industry and small businesses.
“We have the pieces in place,” Conklin said. “We’re going to pull together and work harder.”
Squier said he and the CBICC have had some conversations with Penn State already and will continue to work with them even more closely to move the ideas forward. The meeting was the first of what will be several on the subject, he said. The next one has yet to be scheduled.
Matt Morgan can be reached at 235-3928. Follow him on Twitter @MetroMattMorgan