The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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November 14, 2012

Economic study leaves little to cheer about

— The news coming out of the 2012 Economic Climate Study at the Economic Summit last week in Johnstown wasn’t all that surprising.

Unfortunately, it also wasn’t that encouraging.

The 19th version of the summit revealed that many of the businesses that responded to the questionnaire – only 19 percent of those surveyed responded, thus possibly skewing  the results – had a more negative outlook this year than they did prior to last year’s summit.

For instance:

* Only   28 percent of respondents projected revenue growth of 3 percent or more next year – down from 32 percent in 2011.

* The number of local respondents projecting at least 3 percent revenue growth over the next three years dropped 8 percent – to 39 percent – from last year.

* The percentage of respondents that project at least 3 percent growth in profits over the next three years also fell 8 percent from last year, to 28 percent.

Even the positive numbers – a 0.5 percent increase in employment growth for Cambria County from September 2011 to September 2012 – included a caveat: Our unemployment rate (8.2 percent when not seasonably adjusted) now trails the national (7.6 percent) and state (7.5 percent) numbers.

What we found more disturbing was what local businesses see as the region’s most unattractive attributes. For the 19th year in a row, our business leaders said that poor highway access is setting us back.

Think about that: Every one of the Economic Summits has uncovered the same result, but our region has not been able to do anything about it.

Also discouraging were the next three ugly sides to our region: A weak business climate, lack of technology and a declining downtown.

None of those is an easy fix. And none of the problems cropped up over night.

These are issues that have plagued our area for years. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of local leaders, they continue to be a problem. Perhaps it’s time for new ideas and new leadership to emerge for our area.

We don’t have all of the answers, but we’re confident that with hard work, determination and innovative thinking, there is a brighter future for our local businesses.

Cambria County Chamber of Commerce President Mike Artim found reason for hope in closing the Economic Summit.

“It was not the most uplifting report, but I am optimistic,” said Artim, who also is executive director of Cambria-Rowe Business College.

“To me, optimism is your belief in your ability to create your own future. It is up to us to create the world we want.”

We couldn’t agree more.

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