The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

August 17, 2013

Crime surge hurts one of area’s key selling points

Kathy Mellott
kmellott@tribdem.com

JOHNSTOWN — To say the highways leading to Johnstown are insufficient may be an understatement, but that disadvantage has in the past been overcome by quality of life issues.

The biggest advantage has been the region’s low crime rate, an advantage that is slipping away with no end in sight, economic development experts said.

“Businesses are paying attention,” said John McGrath, a UPJ associate professor of marketing. “To the extent the crime continues to grow, that will tend to undermine that advantage we have.”

McGrath is perhaps best known in the community for the Economic Climate Study, he and now retired colleague Ron Vickroy prepare annually for the Greater Johnstown Cambria County Chamber of Commerce.

“In that survey, every year, two things pop up,” he said.

Lack of modern highways leading to Johnstown, is the No. 1 thing that impacts on a company’s view of the area.

“In the second category, the No. 1 reason companies come here is what the business arena calls  – quality of life, he said.

Wrapped up in that category is the whole notion that crime is low, McGrath said.

The low cost of living in the Johnstown area is a second factor, but safe neighborhoods is tops, he said.

Ronald F. Budash agrees with McGrath.

“The crime rate is one of the main demographics a company looks at,” said Budash, who worked for many years in private industry and retired several years ago as executive director of the Cambria County Industrial Development Authority.

When Budash was working to bring companies into the county, the city boasted of safe streets that were family friendly.

“One of the things we always put forth was that Johnstown had a very low crime rate,” he said.

“One of the things we touted from an economic standpoint was that we had one of the lowest crime rates in the nation.”

While market potential is the first thing any company looks at when considering relocating or starting up a business, the things that add to the welfare of its employees runs a close second, said Edward Silvetti, executive director of the Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission.

“Quality of life is important,” said Silvetti.

Included in the quality chart is housing, schools and a sense of security, he said.

Businessmen ask themselves: “What is it about that area that provides for my business to be successful and my employees to be happy?” Silvetti said.

Cambria County Controller Edward Cernic Jr. worries about the  things no one can put a price tag on, the potentially lost jobs and growth the county may be losing.

“How do you ever begin to make the turn?” he wondered.

“It has to start with good, positive, family sustaining jobs. But what company wants to come in and relocate here?”