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Susquehanna Life

Central Susquehanna Valley: A Better Place to Work

Mar 19, 2018 06:08PM ● By Melanie Heisinger

YPs volunteering with Habitat for Humanity

By Phil Yacuboski

To say the Central Susquehanna Valley is going through a major infrastructure renaissance isn’t an understatement–it’s reality. And components are in place to attract and keep the people needed to staff it.

A number of innovations and long-awaited projects are coming to fruition in the Susquehanna Valley, moving the region toward a period of growth and creating a demand for both experienced professionals and recent college graduates.

More than 30 years in the making, the Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway has finally attracted the funding required for a 13-mile bypass connecting PA 147 in Northumberland County just south of the PA 45 interchange, to U.S. 11/15 in Snyder County just north of Selingsgrove.  The project, which has been talked about for decades, is now moving ahead. PennDOT expects the $670 million project to be completed by 2024. 

Hummel Station coal-to-natural-gas power plant recently went online

And Panda Power’s Hummel Station recently went online in Shamokin Dam.  The coal-to-natural gas conversion plant is one of the largest in the United States and already has 900 people working on the project. It provides natural gas power to one million people in the northeast and the mid-Atlantic. 

Art Thomas, president of Meck-Tech Engineering, is in the middle of much of this—physically with offices close to both projects—and knee-deep in planning and designing much of the infrastructure connected to both projects.

“All of a sudden, it’s been growth,” said the 53 year-old Thomas, who describes himself at the ‘tail end’ of the baby boomer generation.   

Another business Thomas owns does home modifications.  Between the two, he said they see more than $1 million in revenue each year.

“After 40 years of being in the middle of nowhere, all of a sudden I feel like there’s going to be enough work here to see me through to retirement without too much problem whatsoever,” he said. 

The implications are startling

Art Thomas

Thomas, a Penn State graduate who grew up in Northumberland, recently hired a civil engineer from the region to work for his company as a result of the growth. 

“This region is drawing professionals,” Thomas said.  “We’re still getting the infrastructure going, but there’s a lot of potential here.”

With both projects moving forward, many are watching the area do a complete 180-degree turn.

“We’ve gone from a brain-drain area to a brain-gain area,” said Bob Garrett, president and CEO of the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce.  “For possibly an entire generation, we produced some great people and we sent them off to places like Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.  Now, what we are seeing, with all of the growth here—we’ve turned that corner.”

Growing need for professionals

Those watching the growth of the region argue it will need all kinds of professions in the future.  One of the many goals will be attracting talent and keeping native talent in the workforce. 

“We very much abide by the philosophy that if we show kids the world to some degree before they even start school, it’s going to open up so many possibilities for them,” said Joanne Troutman, president and CEO of the Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way. GSVUW programs focus on schools throughout the region. “Everyone has their own specific strength and if we tap into that at a younger age, the better we will be as a community,” she said.

Troutman said the GSVUW supports many programs for young people like YES to the Future, which direct young people to life-sustaining careers.

“We’re trying to provide of continuum of support for these kids along their life path,” she said.  “If a child gets to 15 and they don’t feel like they are following their right path, there are options for them.”

Troutman said while the region needs doctors, lawyers and other white-collar jobs, professions such as plumbers and electricians shouldn’t be overlooked. 

“Those are highly-skilled trades that require very specific skillsets that may not fit into to the box,” she said. “We can show kids at any age those options and that they have a role and they have a place in the community and they can be successful.”

And the higher education component is in place to fulfill that responsibility. “I think what we’re doing is making sure these students have a very solid foundation to build their future tower own,” said Dave Cotner, dean of industrial, computing and engineering technologies at Penn College, in Williamsport. “Dirty jobs certainly aren’t the case necessarily anymore. With technology and advancements in most of these area, so many of these welding, machining and other still have a lot of hands on components to them, but there’s a lot of technology that’s been introduced into those trade areas.”

Hummel Station power plant under construction.   Courtesy of Shamokin Dam Construction LLC.


A great place to live and work

But it’s not just jobs that will keep the region a great to place work, it’s also the communities they will call home that are a close companion to that, says Chris Berleth, relationship manager for the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce.

“What we are trying to do is drive home the point that our community thrives when people get involved in planning commissions and school boards,” said Berleth, who grew up in Rhode Island and was attracted to the region while attending Gettysburg College.

“We simply need more workers to do the good work of the community,” he said.

The GSVYP Jingle Mingle

He said the chamber’s ‘Career Street’ program is also important for helping to identify what careers and positions are needed for the region. 

“It identifies where we have needs,” he said.  “In order to improve the region, we need data and we need to figure out where the jobs are needed.”

Berleth also said once young professionals do relocate or remain here, it’s important to keep them engaged, which includes a series aimed at millennials called ‘Adulting 101.’

“They talk about things like how to buying a home and things you don’t typically learn in a formal setting,” he said.  

Another group addressing the needs of millennials is the Young Professionals committee of the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce.

“We strive to connect like-minded professionals for networking, professional development, recreation, lifestyle and volunteer opportunities,” explained Phillip DeRose, a clinical systems specialist at Evangelical Community Hospital in Lewisburg and a member of the Young Professionals. “We represent the future of area businesses.”

One of the group’s goals is to create and promote community. “We exist to show YPs what the region has to offer, and how to get involved,” stressed DeRose.

Young Professionals host and attend variety of events, including a monthly social. The Wellness Committee coordinates a year of get-healthy activities. Volunteer opportunities include serving food at Milton’s Community Harvest; cleaning up community gardens; and working with Habitat for Humanity, The Buffalo Valley Recreation Authority and the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail.

“Historically, the Susquehanna Valley has struggled to attract and keep young professionals,” added DeRosa. “Young professionals without a strong tie to the area leave as quickly as they arrive. By providing them with a community and the resources they need to live, work and play, we give them reasons to stick around.”

Phil Yacuboski was born and raised in Mocanaqua, PA, and enjoys writing about the region.

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