Pipeline Project Expected to Boost Local Economy

Mike Atchie from Williams gives the Chamber Board an update on the status of the Atlantic Sunrise project at last week’s Board meeting.

The Atlantic Sunrise gas pipeline project is expected to begin construction late this summer and be completed by mid-2018. Williams anticipates that the project will support over 1,000 jobs in Columbia County and create an economic impact of $85.5 million. The company seeks to promote local businesses to those who will be in the area working on the project.

While Williams is attempting to work with regional contractors, several workers will be from outside the area, staying in local hotels and campgrounds for up to a year. To help those workers find goods and services, a mobile app is being developed by Williams. Any local business that would like to be included on this app can register, free of charge. 

The long-discussed Atlantic Sunrise project includes construction of 183 miles of new greenfield transmission pipeline, 12 miles of pipeline loop, and two compressor stations in Pennsylvania. To expedite the process, the project will be divided into seven sections, all of which will be constructed simultaneously. A portion of the main pipeline and one of the compressor stations will run through Columbia County. The new pipeline will allow more efficient transmission of natural gas from the existing Transco pipeline to distribution facilities in southeast Pennsylvania.

Members Enjoy Evening at Columbia County Christian School

Chamber members enjoyed an evening of networking, outstanding food and drinks and learning more about the Columbia County Christian School last Wednesday evening at the first of two Business After Hours events in May. Attendees took a tour of the school and learned about all of its offerings for children in grades K-12, as well as its daycare and preschool services. For more information about CCCS and its various opportunities for children of all ages, visit its website or call 570-784-2977. 

Business After Hours provide regular opportunities to build business relationships while learning about the services offered by other Chamber members. Please join us at our next Business After Hours next Wednesday, May 31 at the Members Choice Financial Credit Union main branch in Danville. 

Bashar Hanna Named Bloomsburg University’s 19th President

The Board of Governors of Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education unanimously selected Dr. Bashar W. Hanna to be the next president of Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania on Monday, effective July 1.

Hanna is a professor of biology and former vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty at Delaware Valley University in Doylestown. He previously was associate provost at Ithaca College and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and interim provost at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania.

“Bashar Hanna has a broad range of both teaching and administrative experience, and has worked closely throughout his career with both students and faculty,” said Board of Governors Chair Cynthia D. Shapira. “With his vast array of skills, his knowledge and his experience, we are confident he will be an excellent leader for Bloomsburg University.”

Hanna said he is honored to have been selected to serve as Bloomsburg’s next president and looks forward to returning to the State System.

“I am grateful to the Bloomsburg University family, especially the presidential search committee and Council of Trustees, and to Chancellor Brogan and his team as well as the Board of Governors for selecting me to serve as the 19th president of this wonderful university,” Hanna said. “I look forward to collaborating with Bloomsburg’s highly accomplished faculty, staff and administrators to help our students realize their personal and professional aspirations.”

The Board’s action comes at the conclusion of a national search for a successor to David L. Soltz, who will retire in July after serving for nine and a half years as Bloomsburg University president.

Hanna holds three degrees from Temple University, a Bachelor of Arts in biology, a Master of Arts in developmental biology and a Ph.D. in developmental neurobiology.

Hanna began his academic career at Temple University as assistant director of the Ronald McNair Faculty-in-Training Program, where he mentored McNair scholars, assisting them in gaining admission into doctoral programs at Harvard University and the universities of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Michigan, California-Berkeley and Florida. He later was an instructor in the departments of biology and mathematics at Temple; the founding director of the university’s Math & Science Resource Center; and served as assistant vice provost for research and sponsored projects and associate dean of the College of Science and Technology.

He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Drug Discovery Institute and the American Association of University Administrators, of which he was president for two years. He also has served with a variety of other organizations, including the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center of Bucks County and the National Council on Undergraduate Research.

Dr. Hanna’s comments during Monday’s announcement can be seen on the Chamber’s Facebook page

Legislation to Pay Down Pension Debt Earns Support from IFO

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

It’s been relatively quiet over the last several weeks on lawmakers’ plans to address Pennsylvania’s bloated and unsustainable public pension systems. However, earlier this month the state’s Independent Fiscal Office filed an actuarial note to a bill (H.B. 778) that would tackle the pension crisis in part by paying off the current unfunded liabilities of the State Employees Retirement System ($19.5 billion) and the Public School Employees’ Retirement System ($42.7 billion) within about 20 years.

The actuarial report projects increased costs in the short-term with the potential for “significant” long-term savings. It indicates that under H.B. 778, PSERS contributions would initially increase by 17 percent, and then by approximately 35 percent until the unfunded liability is satisfied. SERS initial contribution would be about $90 million lower for the first five years, after which they would be higher than the estimated contribution rates under current law until the SERS unfunded liability is satisfied. All told, these provisions could save as much as $18 billion.

The IFO notes in its report: “The projections show that the savings over the entire projection period are much more significant on a cash flow basis than when they are measured on a present value basis. This occurs because the bill shifts the timing of employer contributions to pay down the unfunded accrued liabilities, and the savings that occur at the back of the projection period are valued much lower when measured by current dollars.”

In its review of H.B. 778, Milliman – the actuarial firm used by the IFO – voiced support for the bill’s reduction of the amortization period (the length of time it will take to pay down the unfunded liability) because it would help to improve security, protection from adverse experience and intergenerational equity.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle offered some level of praise for the bill, with House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, saying, “I think John [Rep. John McGinnis, R-Blair, who sponsored the legislation] has done an excellent job of putting together half a proposal, on the accelerated payments, but, obviously, we’ve got to see the other half of his proposal of how we would make those additional payments up front.” In a Capitolwire story, House Democratic spokesman Bill Patton praised McGinnis for his focus in paying down the pension debt. “The 2010 law that it’s in place now [Act 120] has a schedule for paying the pension debt, but it could be done faster if larger chunks of taxpayer funds are redirected …. House Democrats are open to workable ideas that use sustainable revenue sources to pay off the pension debt.”

Danville Business Alliance Plans to Request New Round of Facade Grant Funding

In a seven-year period beginning in 2009, the Danville Business Alliance awarded $111,000 in facade grants through its Main Street Program to assist 30 commercial building restoration project in the downtown Main Street District. Overwhelming demand had consumed almost all of the funding when the program expired on June 30, 2016. 

The program’s success was due to its comprehensive yet flexible features, including:

– Liberal eligibility: It was open to all commercial property and business owners in the Main Street District. Commercial tenants were eligible if they obtained the written consent of the building owner.

– Multi-facade application: Improvements to both side and ear business facades were also eligible, if they building had a side or rear business entrance open to the public.

– Significant funding assistance: The grants matched the renovation costs dollar for dollar up to 50 percent of the total project, not to exceed a total reimbursement of $5,000 per business facade.

– Broad range of eligible improvements: Examples which were eligible were signs, awnings, repair and/or restoration of storefront exteriors including facade painting and the cost of professional design services.

– Fee exemption: While an administrative fee was usually charged at the time of application, DBA members were exempt. 

– Local control: A comprehensive set of Facade Design Guidelines was developed and implemented by the DBA Design Committee, comprised of local business owners. The Committee reviewed the applications, determined eligibility, provided design guidance and approved the buildings to receive assistance. Projects were evaluated on the basis of quality, design compatibility and the level of visual and economic impact.

Such improvement made the business district more inviting for current and new shoppers, businesses and residents; stimulated further improvements in the surrounding, largely residential areas; and preserved the historic character and architecture of downtown Danville.

The DBA plans to apply again this summer to the Department of Community and Economic Development for up to $50,000 in additional facade grant funding to address the unmet renovation needs in the Main Street District. If approved, we expect the design guidelines and application process will be similar to those used through 2016. 

In order for our application to be as competitive as possible, we will need to document the demand for facade funding in the Main Street District. This will mean providing names of the interested parties, their addresses, the types of proposed improvements and the estimated project costs. To assist us, we are asking all interested building/business owners and commercial tenants in the Main Street District to contact the DBA office and provide that information by June 16. 

If you have questions or need additional information about the facade grant program, please contact Jim Wilson, DBA Executive Director, at the DBA office at 570-284-4503 or visit them at 346 Mill St., Danville. Normal business hours are 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.