A Williamsport coffee shop that is more than a gathering spot.
A fabrication specialty industry that offers paid apprenticeships for high school and college students to find the next generation of skilled laborers.
A bicycle designer who put his bikes online and grew his enterprise to operate out of Montgomery Borough.
The recent 136th annual meeting and awards banquet of the Williamsport-Lycoming Chamber of Commerce highlighted winners of the annual awards, presented at the Williamsport Country Club, and much more.
Annual awards were given to Priority Bicycles, winner of the Emerging Business Award; PMF Industries, winner of the Staiman’s Family Large Business Award and Alabaster Coffee, winner of the Phillips/Plankenhorn Small Business Award.
Google bikes and the company name will appear, said Timothy J. Keohane, director of the Penn State Small Business Development Center, as he introduced winners of the Emerging Business of the Year Award, Priority Bicycles, of Montgomery. The award has come to recognize entrepreneurs that are new to establishing a business.
Priority Bicycles, 165 Miller Ave., Montgomery, is an independent bicycle brand, dedicated to making cycling simple for recreational riders and bicycles and accessories that are easy to buy, ride and maintain.
Founded by industry veteran and former software CEO David Weiner, the business was launched as a socially funded company on Kickstarter in 2014.
The goal was to deliver high-quality, low-maintenance bicycles, direct to consumer, backed by “unmatched customer service,” Keohane said.
Since then, the company expanded to models for children, commuters and adventurers, specifically nice with all of the bike trails in the county and region and Pennsylvania Wilds.
Today, the company has become a market leader for custom-branded bicycles with more than 400 fleet partnerships.
Through efforts led by state Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, the business received a state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant that is expected to help them grow local production of bikes and increase employment figures in the borough of Montgomery.
Weiner and Patrick Sparks, representing Priority Bicycles, accepted the award.
They noted how it was their close connection to the chamber and the networking it offers that kept the business growing through the COVID-19 pandemic and will do so in the days ahead.
Machinists sharing their knowledge
For PMF Industries, an employee-owned fabrication company with 20 percent of its employee base being veterans, the pandemic years offered a challenge to continue to produce quality products and components.
After being introduced by Thad Will, vice president, senior relationship manager with M&T Bank, PMF’s John Perrotto and Ken Healy accepted the award but not before Perrotto described the tremendous benefit of connecting with local high schools and the Pennsylvania College of Technology and Lycoming College to find skilled laborers to work for the company.
The company has a major presence at these educational institutions by offering tours, speaking in classrooms, and serving on boards for the Loyalsock Township School District Employment Advancement Committee, Hope Enterprises and Penn College’s Manufacturing Technologies.
In addition, PMF is involved with Lycoming College and the Innovative Manufacturers’ Center, partnering with the PA CareerLink since 2003 and attending many local job fairs and providing on-site tours for teachers and students.
As an example of the success of apprenticeships and in-district investment, while on tour of Williamsport Area High School’s machining classroom in 2018, two students were offered jobs on the spot. One of those positions was a second-shift part-time job that was held until graduation, as well as tuition reimbursement while the students attended Penn College.
PMF Industries officials were credited with continuing to support the district through investing in equipment that provides hands-on learning to students.
Perrotto discussed briefly how appreciative the industry was to have been recognized at the state level for their work with apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs.
Current employees are proud of what they’ve helped build and share their knowledge to carry forward the manufacturing standard of excellence at PMF, they said.
Phillips/Plankenhorn Small Business Award
In a video and afterward, Jason Fink, chamber president and CEO, spoke about how several area banks, which he named, joined together in sponsoring the award presented to Alabaster Coffee Roaster & Tea Co., 400 Pine St.
The business, founded by Karl Fisher, was showcased in a video.
“Alabaster exists for the customer and also for the community,” Joe Tokay, Alabaster manager, said in the video.
Afterwards, Fisher agreed.
“We saw what started as a need,” Fisher said. “We didn’t have a goal … It was like going on a hike on a foggy day.”
Always a coffee hobbyist, when Alabaster was established in 2010, Fisher sought to invest in the downtown business and add something special.
Today Alabaster has become more than a gathering site.
Pete Swift, of Camp Susque, said Alabaster is more than a “watering hole.”
It is a place where one can sit and relax or work on a laptop, a safe location where conversation flows easily, operated by a founder who has changed lives.
Fisher has not only brought to light the importance of getting quality coffee beans and coffee and teas to the customer, he has culled the best of resources by establishing working partnerships with international farmers and he’s introduced his love of coffee to area high schools and colleges.
For example, Alabaster teamed up with Lycoming College for its Warrior Coffee program, in which students travel to the Dominican Republic to help native farmers have a voice in the global coffee market.
He started a franchise development program at Williamsport Area High School, getting students involved in the coffee enterprise and mentoring students who took on the leadership role in hands-on learning about small business ownership through his partnership.
Ronald A. Frick, president of the Lycoming United Way, said Fisher often donates cups, creamers and supplies discounted coffee at events for the United Way.
In February, Alabaster took part in an event to recognize heart health and sponsored a “Cup of Love” for Valentine’s Day. For every cup purchased a percentage of the revenue went to the United Way, which, in turn, is put into good use among its many partnering agencies throughout the county.
In fact, over the years, Alabaster has donated more than $60,000 to local nonprofits and Fisher has served the community in ways unseen and seen.
Throughout the pandemic, Fisher and the staff took coffee to hard-working employees, including teachers, and held Christmas Eve coffee runs for local emergency and public safety workers.
“We love coffee and our community,” he said.
Achievements, struggles, hope
Highlighting business and industry achievements as they emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, many throughout Lycoming County are in a rebounding mode, even as some struggle to find laborers and raw materials.
But their close interaction with the colleges and high schools, to pique student interest in paid apprenticeships, training those that are leading to the next generation of workforce gainfully employed at businesses and industries in Lycoming County, is a hopeful theme moving ahead in the year.
Honoring all of the chamber members’ successes
“We honor the accomplishments of the organization and more importantly, you, our membership,” said Rob Glunk, Chamber of Commerce board chairman.
Glunk also outlined the volunteer effort that allowed the chamber, located at 102 W. Fourth St., to “prosper, grow, and play a vital role in the economic vitality of Lycoming County.”
The awards were special considering the challenge posed by the pandemic and economic forecast following the initial outbreak in 2020.
In closing remarks, Fink touched on the pandemic’s impact on the business community and the chamber itself and said moving ahead it is critical to address the area’s population loss.
“No longer can we say that it is because people don’t want to work,” Fink said.
Unemployment locally at just over 5 percent.
“We need to look at ways to get people to move here and address some of the key hurdles that prohibit people from moving to our community,” he said.
Housing is one of those key factors.
“If we don’t address it now, we’re not only going to see it impact businesses, but also other sectors of our county.
Municipal and school taxes, for example, will continue to rise exponentially due to having to increase them on fewer people living here just to maintain the same level of services currently delivered,” Fink said.
Fortunately, he added, the local elected officials are engaging the business community and the community at large in trying to come up with solutions to these problems, he said.
Fink also thanked outgoing chairman Larry Allison.
“Larry’s drive and vision for bettering Lycoming County has kept us on the path of continued growth and excellence,” he said.
Fink also credited the many volunteers and a “fabulous team” working to achieve “our organization’s goals.”
The team includes: Cindy Robbins, Gina Edwards, Meghan Quinn, Nancy Eischeid, Sharon Jones and Tayrn Mueller.
The chamber offered recognition of outgoing board members (AC Cruz, State Farm Insurance and Mike Reed, Pennsylvania College of Technology, and a welcome of new 2022 board members and recognition of public officials for support of business including state Rep. Joe Hamm, R-Hepburn Township; Frank J. Mazza, Northeast Pennsylvania regional manager for U.S. Sen. Pat Tomey, R-Zionsville.
Williamsport Mayor Derek Slaughter also was in attendance.
Involvement is critical
“I said it before and will continue to say it; if for some reason you have an interest elsewhere and are not already volunteering in the community, please get involved wherever that is,” Fink said.
“We’re just one of many great organizations out here in Lycoming County that you can give your time to in helping to grow our community.”
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