Cambria County Commissioner Mark Wissinger said he’s been getting several calls – all the same questions: What’s going on at the county’s new Economic Development Authority? How far along is the proposed foreign trade zone?
Although the authority still has no executive director – nor has it drawn up a budget – the board’s regular meeting at the Johnstown-Cambria County Airport was abuzz Thursday with wide-reaching possibilities and input.
Board members approved a month-to-month consulting contract with St. Francis University, for which the college’s figurehead will be Ed Huttenhower, the 17-year director of the university’s Small Business Development Center.
According to Huttenhower’s LinkedIn profile, he also has served small business development centers in West Virginia and Maine and has been the associate dean of community and economic development at St. Francis since 2009.
President Commissioner Doug Lengenfelder said Huttenhower also has worked internationally with small businesses – specifically, Jamaica.
“Ed has probably one of the best backgrounds of anyone in our region to assist us with (the foreign trade zone),” said authority Chairman Rex McQuaide.
And according to Lengenfelder, Huttenhower’s expertise isn’t just in small business. He recently gained a certification in International Traffic in Arms Regulations as well as other defense contracting qualifications.
“(Those certifications are) one, very hard to get, and two, very needed when you’re talking about defense contracts,” he said. “(We’re) buying much more than an individual who’s going to be answering the phone. We’ve got some real expertise from a recognized institution and they’re right here in Cambria County.”
The authority approved payment of $80,000 a year for the work Huttenhower and his administrative and student team will do. Lengenfelder said the authority would, ostensibly, put some of that money into developing the foreign trade zone’s official website, which has yet to materialize.
Authority member Robert Gleason said he plans to interview five candidates for the executive director position by Tuesday.
The board also discussed the possibility of needing to provide the authority head with the skills required to put the foreign trade zone on the right track.
Lengenfelder offered up a three-day “crash course” of sorts – a conference put on by the National Association of Federal Trade Zones, happening May 4-6 in Seattle. Attendees will be briefed on how to develop foreign business opportunities.
Two authority members were authorized for the trip Thursday.
Lengenfelder also presented a seven-minute video the authority will use to “pitch” foreign investors on the county. The video – for which the tagline is “Expect the Best” – can be found on the sidebar.
Justin Dennis is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/JustinDennis.