Business, talent retention vital for local economy

Much has been written about Centre County’s changing economy over the years, most notably the imbalance that exists due to a decline in private industry and the subsequent growth of government and quasi-government sectors. As a result, considerable energy is being directed toward making a difference for the better.

In particular, the collective community and the university have embraced the role of entrepreneurship in restoring balance to the local economy and creating growth from within. Centre County boasts vast resources to support early-stage, homegrown companies. The Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County itself has a long, proud history of fostering entrepreneurship. Numerous well-known companies got their starts in CBICC incubators. The chamber played a role in helping innovative initiatives such as New Leaf get off the ground. Now, the CBICC is fulfilling the expectations contained in the historic economic development memorandum of agreement with Penn State that was signed nearly one year ago.

With a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem in place, it’s time to expand the narrative. Efforts to strengthen the private sector economy would be incomplete without a focus on retention — both in terms of established businesses and talent. Two new CBICC initiatives are bringing the importance of retention efforts fully into the collective conversation.

In the economic development world, where one community’s retention project could very well be another community’s or state’s recruitment project, growing from within also requires taking care of already established companies. The CBICC’s Business and Industry Partnership was launched this year in order to evaluate and address key needs and concerns of these existing businesses, recognizing that Centre County businesses that are competitive and healthy are more apt to remain, expand and thrive here.

To date, partnership teams have already met with nearly a dozen local technology and advanced manufacturing firms and other businesses, which include emerging companies, those poised for growth and well-established companies. The diverse expertise of the partnership — teams are composed of chamber members from the business, financial, academic and local government sectors — means that it is well-prepared to address a broad range of business needs and connect companies with the appropriate resources.

Those individual needs and concerns truly run the gamut — from challenges that arise from running a global operation to industry-specific workforce training requirements to the need for funding in order to bring new products to market. Additional revelations range from traffic safety concerns and difficulty accessing traditional capital for building expansion and equipment purchases to limited facility options to accommodate growth, as well as difficulty maneuvering through local government bureaucracy. Some companies merely seek opportunities, such as new partnerships and collaborations with other local/regional companies or the university.

It is evident from the conversations that local companies that have successfully made it through the difficult early years face an entirely new set of obstacles and opportunities as established businesses — reinforcing the value of the partnership’s retention efforts.

Growing from within also requires retaining talent — both young professionals and students graduating from Penn State.

By 2030, millennials will make up the majority of the workforce. It’s important for the health of the local economy to better understand this demographic and make proactive efforts to incorporate them into CBICC programming, as well as into other places within the community.

CBICC Connect — the young professionals arm of the chamber — was formed to connect the business community with the next generation of leaders to create a vibrant local economy.

The Connect mission is to unite and engage new college graduates and young professionals; provide young professionals with a road map to easily navigate the many business and community networks Centre County offers; and identify actionable opportunities to improve Live, Work and Play pillars, making Centre County a great destination where young professionals want to live and thrive.

With its strong entrepreneurial ecosystem; university leadership with a desire for working relationships with measurable results; organizations and individuals focused on collaboration and partnership; and an eye toward keeping the best and brightest companies and talent, Centre County’s private sector economy is ready for a promising new chapter. The CBICC and its many community and regional partners, engaged membership and dedicated investors are committed to helping rewrite the narrative.

Lesley Kistner is vice president of communications for the Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County.