2021 Impact Numbers Are In – Strong Year Despite the Challenges

by | Jan 18, 2022 | News

Well, that was weird. 2021 was fickle for sure. Flying high out of the gate with lots of optimism, the year ended reminiscent of 2020’s charm (no charm at all). Despite the relentless pandemic driven challenges and amped up case counting, our local economy held strong with several major expansions, investments, and a strong pipeline for 2022.

Last year, ABCD Corporation managed 56 projects resulting in more than $97 million in total investment and $16 million in program funding. Those investments helped create more than 124 new jobs and over 320 retained.

In addition, ABCD secured more than $750,000 in Enterprise Zone Tax Credits that helped defer costs for three redevelopment projects in Blair County. The ABCD Team also assisted the County of Blair in managing the County-wide CHIRP program, a COVID relief program that helped more than 55, mostly small, hospitality businesses. Those grants totaled more than $1,350,000.

Overall, Blair County added net new 400 new jobs as the unemployment rate fell to about 5 percent to end the year. The pandemic inspired job market remained tight with more jobs than people to fill them. This was a small silver lining for the 290 highly skilled workers displaced following the closure of the Appvion Paper Mill. Last February, Mill management suddenly closed the Blair County legacy operation citing pandemic market conditions. Much of the year was dedicated to matching those workers with available jobs and working with a new ownership to market the shuttered operation. Unfortunately, the process of selling off the assets continues as I write.

While Appvion represented one of the largest and most painful business closures, DelGrosso Foods committed to the largest single business expansion in Blair County’s history. The Blair County based family business purchased two buildings, new manufacturing equipment and expanded their warehousing infrastructure as part of a $70 million investment. That project created 50 new jobs and retained 90.

Another big positive project was the purchase and renovation of the former WATCO industrial site in Hollidaysburg. That 60-acre rail served manufacturing site has been improved and repurposed to support new manufacturing and assembly activities at Curry Rail Services.

Downtown Altoona’s renaissance also continued in full force. The purchase and renovation of the former Vipond Building by the Curry family of businesses moved forward with an opening expected in March of 2022. The Penn Central and Columns buildings were purchased by local business owner and developer Chris Cook. Chris plans to open the Columns building again as an event venue in March of 2022. With the renovation of the Penn Central up next.

The Gable’s building secured a new ownership group who are now evaluating their redevelopment plans. Our 11th Avenue Mountain Main Street also welcomed Levity Brewing Company bringing a new downtown gathering spot. JJ. Hadley’s across the street expanded into the neighboring building with more plans in the works for late 2022. A new and now permanent heritage park pavilion was also dedicated in honor of the late business leader Don Devorris.

2022 is starting out riddled with threats. Variant chasing, inflation, supply chain, workforce shortages and overall monetary and public policy could derail a fragile recovery that started out strong in 2021. There is much to be optimistic about, but even more requiring our diligence.

On Friday, May 27, 2022, ABCD and the community will gather once again for our in person annual meeting. This has not happened since 2018. It will be an important time to convene, take stock of where we are at that time and plan for the second half of whatever the year will bring. We are all looking forward to that.

None of our progress would be possible without the help of our great ABCD team, Board, elected officials, County Commissioners, advocates and partners at the PA Department of Community and Economic Development, City Officials and of course or private sector businesses. In the end, without the investment, commitment and vision from our local, homegrown businesses and the people who run them, there would be no economic development. So, we thank you all. And our message to 2022, please don’t mess this up.

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