Vision 2018 | ‘We’re making things happen’ as efforts gains momentum in region

 In Cambria County, entrepreneur, News
Originally published in Tribune Democrat, Feb. 24, 2018 by Dave Sutor

Dozens of signs – each promoting a different project under the Vision 2025 umbrella – were on display inside Ace’s during a January celebration party.

They were as diverse as the Cambria City cultural mural, Startup Alleghenies, Central Park Square and Center for Metal Arts at Cambria Iron Works. All have played roles in the Vision 2025 movement that started three years ago with a goal of reinventing the Johnstown region.

And, together, they expect to continue their development in 2018.

“Instead of letting things happen, we’re making things happen,” said JWF Industries owner Bill Polacek, a leading figure in the project. “We’re deciding what that vision is.”

Mark Williams, (from left), Event Guru Software, chief operating officer; Justin Capouellez, Ben Franklin Technology Partners’ Big Idea Contest finalist; Mike Artim, president and CEO of Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Chamber of Commerce; and Jose Otero, Startup Alleghenies’ entrepreneur coach and procurement specialist for Cambria County, chat during a workshop for entrepreneurs and other groups on Thursday at Stone Bridge Brewing Co. in Johnstown.

More than 1,000 individuals have participated in Vision 2025 in some way, ranging from getting email updates about events to being heavily involved in day-to-day activities.

“The whole idea here is engagement, and the engagement is growing,” said Mike Kane, Community Foundation for the Alleghenies’ president and executive director. “That’s what’s most encouraging. The whole Vision 2025 framework is about people getting engaged in what they want to get engaged in and finding the resources and the support to help make things happen.”

Some of the successes of the year included getting a mural painted on the city’s public works building, moving forward with ideas about how to improve usage of the rivers, and developing internal and external marketing.

“It’s amazing some of the things that are getting done, just because some volunteers are coming out to do a lot of the work,” said Brad Clemenson, Lift Johnstown’s coordinator.

“But it’s important to make sure that leaders who are doing the economic development work in the city are all collaborating.”

Starbucks and Lowe’s Home Improvement also got involved as corporate sponsors.

“Throughout the year, from right at the beginning of 2017, one of the trends that we saw was outside entities that weren’t previously involved in Vision come to us and be able to bring some resources to capture teams,” Ryan Kieta, a Vision 2025 facilitator, said.

‘Seeing the evolution’

Central Park Square and 814 Worx were among the most active of the two dozen or so total capture teams in 2017.

814 Worx opened as shared workspace.

“In general, what they have is a safe, reliable, comfortable place to do some work and knock it out,” Ethan Stewart, founder of 814 Worx, said. “We have consistent workshops that we’ve been doing that help to educate the general populous.

“A secondary benefit for those would be that it’s a marketing strategy. But we want to teach different pieces about business.”

Central Park Square brought together business owners and others to discuss ways to improve the area in and around Central Park.

“They’re kind of really taking it as theirs, too,” said Sean McCool, who won last year’s PITTchFEST social entrepreneurship category for his idea about marketing Central Park.

“It’s neat because there’s a small group of us kind of leading a change,” McCool said.

“But then everybody else is stepping up and really grabbing these ideas and wanting to run with them and doing different things. It’s just been cool seeing the evolution of it from day one until where we are now.”

‘Actionable plans’

Many different projects are underway – from first steps to nearing completion – as part of Vision 2025.

Wally Burlack, a facilitator, expects to see advancements in cooperative efforts among multiple organizations, a revision in the approach toward dealing with youth through social media, and the preliminary completion of a study about the rivers in the near future.

“The thing we want to be careful about is everybody always hears about a lot of planning,” Burlack said. “The intent is that these are actually actionable plans. We don’t want to do planning just for the sake of planning. But the fact of the matter is that there is not a collectively agreed to plan regarding most aspects of the city.”

Startup Alleghenies, a group working in conjunction with Johnstown Area Regional Industries, is one of the new organizations expected to continue growing in 2018. Its mission is to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas.

“For 2018, we’re actually going to be having a pretty nice event – Startup Alleghenies Thought Summit,” José Otero, Startup Alleghenies’ entrepreneur coach, said. “It’s going to be in May. We’re going to be showcasing these entrepreneurs that we’ve been working with, as well as bringing some outside-of-the-region entrepreneurs with a high-level keynote speaker as well.”