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Fighting for The Future: The Economic Climate in Cambria County

Johnstown and the Cambria County region has a rich history of creating manufacturing jobs, but the landscape of the local economy has changed greatly in the last 20 years.
JOHNSTOWN, CAMBRIA COUNTY -- Business leaders want  to keep folks living and working here as they "Fight for the Future".

The Economic Summit 2013  is Cambria County Chamber's "peek" into the future.

Dr. John Mc Grath and UPJ colleague Ron Vickroy have taken a pulse of the economic climate here for 20 years.

According to these researchers, "We've seen a major flip-flop in this area. Manufacturing once led this area with jobs and now it's healthcare."

Long gone are the mega employers Bethlehem and U.S. Steel. Defense contracts have slowed greatly.

63,000 people do work here, but unemployment's at over 9%.  That's higher than the state's 7.7%  and nation's 7.4%.

There are also those who have exhausted their unemployment benefits.

As Vickroy explains, "They're no longer included in the employment database as looking for a job, but they are unemployed technically, so really the numbers higher than that. It's probably closer to 14 to 15%."

Phyllis Bandstra has been at the helm of Goodwill Industries of Conemaugh Valley for 15 years and sees firsthand how hard it is to find a job here.
Last year, this non-profit served over 32,000 people.

Bandstra is blunt. "It's grim if we don't start to work with our kids, if we don't start to look at how do we alleviate poverty, how to we move toward folks building their assets."

Goodwill Industries'  Youth Build is an example of a "hand up" - not a "hand out".

"Give them a work experience, give them a GED, give them the tools that they need in order to go further into their career," Bandstra explains.

They found a major problem is finding a workforce that is trained to fill the jobs needed now.

McGrath and Vickroy found in the study that, "smaller firms are the ones who are going to be doing most of the hiring and services industries are going to be doing most of the hiring."

The survey also shows economic growth in the Flood City region will come from those with ideas.

"I think it's entrepreneurial activity and I think the assistance of other businesses that have that sort of experience can help a lot."

UPJ, Goodwill and groups like "Lift Johnstown" recently began "Entrepreneurial Alchemy".
They want to align educational, financial, expert and business resources to catalyze opportunities for entrepreneurs.

The Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Chamber of Commerce's 2013 Economic Summit will be held this Friday beginning at 7:30am.  Congressman Keith Rothfus will deliver the opening address.



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