Members of the Cambria County Economic Development Authority have been stymied by a lack of executive leadership for months. It’s like a tile puzzle. The still-vacant executive director position is the most important piece and will allow other elements to fall into place, according to authority chairman Rex McQuaide.
But it appears the authority is making headway.
“We’ve interviewed six or seven people,” McQuaide said Wednesday, following the authority’s regular meeting. “Our board decided tonight ... that we’re going to be sending out an offer letter to an interviewee for the executive director position.”
That person has yet to be officially named, although a candidate was present at the Wednesday meeting. The contract would still need to be negotiated and finalized by the authority. The authority is looking to have the candidate in place by July.
On the legal end of the authority’s Wednesday business, the board regretfully relieved Miami-based foreign trade zone specialist attorney Jose Latour of his contract. Latour is reportedly suffering from severe health issues that leave him unable to continue to advise on the project.
McQuaide said Cambria County President Commissioner Doug Lengenfelder has found someone who might fill Latour’s shoes: Sean Lydon, president of ISCM Inc., which specializes in foreign trade zone establishment and supply chain improvement, according to the company’s website.
Lengenfelder said Lydon has domestic and international experience in economic development – building FTZs is just what he does. According to Lydon’s LinkedIn profile, he also served on the board of directors for the National Association of Foreign Trade Zones.
McQuaide said authority members were piqued by a flat quote Lydon gave another county to develop an FTZ, but stressed that Cambria County’s situation could be dramatically different from the county Lydon quoted. It’s too early to talk price, he said.
“We’ve looked at a number of different consultants, law firms; we’ve looked at people that specialize in foreign trade zone applications. They were all more expensive than (Lydon),” McQuaide said, however.
Lengenfelder, who is set to meet with Lydon on Wednesday to discuss the county’s plans, said Lydon comes highly recommended from the current NAFTZ chairman, Dan Griswold.
Griswold had reached out to the authority in recent months, offering to travel to the area – largely on his own dime – and give a presentation to local business and political leaders. Lengenfelder thought it might give the project more direction, or soothe naysayers.
But the authority would want its executive director to meet and work with Griswold, moving forward. The lack of a figurehead and Griswold’s tight schedule could cause the authority to push back Griswold’s visit to much later in the year, something board members Sam Catanese and Glenn Wilson said they want to avoid.
Meanwhile, the authority’s interim executive director, Ed Huttenhower, the 17-year director of the St. Francis Small Business Development Center, has been twiddling his thumbs since his March appointment. When asked to receive Griswold this month, Huttenhower declined, saying he was without his student staff due to summer break.
The board has yet to finalize or approve Huttenhower’s $80,000-a-year salary. As they put it, he hasn’t done anything yet.
“We haven’t decided that there’s no need for Ed yet. We want to talk with him and see what his availability is for some special projects,” said McQuaide – like the Griswold visit.
“Getting an executive director in place is going to be awfully important for our authority, just to coordinate things,” he said.
Justin Dennis is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at @JustinDennis.