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Vision 2013

April 28, 2013

Entrepreneurs vital for region’s future

JOHNSTOWN — Lou Mihalko launched his business with a classified ad in The Tribune-Democrat, some borrowed tools and his mother’s 7-year-old Toyota station wagon with a ladder rack.

For William Polacek, it was his father’s 30-by-30-foot Daisytown garage and some welding equipment.

Christina Davis started in her West End kitchen.

From its beginning in 1979, Mihalko’s General Contracting has grown into one of the largest home remodeling and fire restoration businesses in the region, enabling its founder to expand into real estate and economic development endeavors.

Polacek’s Johnstown Welding and Fabrication is now a major employer and flagship of a handful of companies, including his newest, Environmental Tank and Container, which targets the booming Marcellus Shale natural gas industry.

Davis expanded her cake decorating business last year into a storefront at 139 Franklin St., christening it, A Piece of Cake.

The three local business owners illustrate the challenges faced by entrepreneurs as well as the opportunities for success. defines entrepreneur as “someone who exercises initiative by organizing a venture to take benefit of an opportunity and, as the decision maker, decides what, how, and how much of a good or service will be produced.”

Mihalko and Polacek believe entrepreneurialism will be vital for the region’s future.

“I feel this is the only way the area is going to power back up,” Mihalko said. “We not only have to bring new companies into the area, we have to be able to grow our own from the citizens we already have here.

“We have people with great ideas.”

Polacek agrees that a combination of attracting businesses from other areas and launching new startups will provide the economic fuel.

“You have to look at both,” Polacek said. “We have to create opportunities for both.”

Located across from Central Park in the heart of Johnstown’s business district, A Piece of Cake was hailed last year as a step in revitalizing the downtown. Davis received a low-interest loan through the city’s economic development program.

Investing in downtown Johns-town has paid off, Davis said.

“I was sold out within hours on the first day I was open,” she said. “I’ve been swamped. I think the location is key. That is what keeps me busy. There are a lot of people downtown. They are out walking around, getting lunch and they want a snack.”

Sampling A Piece of Cake’s pastries and cake pops helps customers think of her business when they need a cake for a birthday, wedding or other special event. Those cakes are her forte.

“I put a lot of focus on custom cakes,” she said. “You can order basically any kind of cake that you want.”

Davis has been baking her colorful creations at home, but knew she would have to find a commercial location in order to grow. She contacted the Small Business Development Center at St. Francis University to put together a business plan.

Connecting with expert resources and developing a good business plan are important steps for any new entrepreneur, said Robert Layo, president of Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Chamber of Commerce.

In addition to St. Francis, Layo said the chamber, Johnstown Area Regional Industries, the Small Business Administration and other universities offer help to startups.

“It takes drive,” Layo said. “You have a good idea. As you move through the process you have to have the right information. There are so many organizations out there.”

The business plan is one of the crucial requirements for starting a business, said Ron Aldom, executive director of the Somerset County Chamber of Commerce.

“You have to have a passion to do it,” Aldom said. “You have to have the understanding of what it is going to take to get you there – the hours you put in. Whether you are open eight hours a day Monday through Friday, it is still practically a 24-7 commitment.

“And you have to have a plan. You have to know what products your are selling.”

Owners Jeremy Hoover and his girlfriend, Andrea Hoover, illustrate the passion and commitment in their success at the 2-year-old Morguen Toole Co. hotel, restaurant and events center in Meyersdale, Aldom said.

The two Hoovers, who are not related, have restored a landmark building at 130 Center St. in the heart of the historic business district, Aldom said.

“They took a thing that was kind of a white elephant,” Aldom said.

The idea was to capitalize Meyersdale’s growing tourist traffic related to the Great Allegheny Passage trail, Jeremy Hoover said. A study said those using the trail were looking for entertainment, food and affordable lodging.

Jeremy Hoover, 35, brought his real estate investment experience and Andrea Hoover, 31, brought her background in the hospitality business to realize Jeremy’s dream of opening a business in his hometown of Meyersdale.

And while trail users have embraced Morguen Toole’s accommodations, the business has become an attraction in its own right, Jeremy Hoover said.

“It has been going great,” he said. “We are actually ahead of our original business plan by 15 to 20 percent.”

In fact, Morguen Toole owners are looking to bring more business to Meyersdale, with the purchase of two more commercial properties and plans for a live theater and events space, convenience store and bed and breakfast.

Aldom commended the Hoovers for their success in following their passions.

“It is not an easy process,” Aldom said. “These kids really pulled something off, and it is working.”

In Richland Township, Dave and Kelly Morgan’s decision to put their passion for exercise into action brought them to the former Tile City location in Bel Air Plaza, which was most-recently occupied by Shooter’s Lounge.

“We have been fitness fanatics forever,” Kelly Morgan said from Richland Fitness at 890 Scalp Ave. “He is a personal trainer and I am a nurse.”

Dave also works as a Richland Township police officer.

When the couple decided to follow their entrepreneurial spirit, they rolled out a business plan Kelly put together as part of a health care finance class during her nurse training.

Working through the SBA and Indiana First Bank, the Morgans lined up financing, found the right location and invested in the best workout equipment.

Richland Fitness opened last April and has been booming, Kelly Morgan said.

“We had 500 members the first month,” she said. “It was obviously needed.”

Although similar businesses dot the Greater Johnstown region, Richland Fitness is the complete package, she said.

“We did it right,” Kelly Morgan said.

“Everybody else has the bare minimum to get by.”

Richland Fitness includes child care, clean locker rooms, personal trainers and “owners who actually know fitness,” she said.

“It was a big leap of faith and it panned out,” she said.

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