Last updated: February 20. 2013 12:06AM - 771 Views

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New faces, new businesses and the milestone anniversary of the region's largest employer best sum up the 2012 in local business.

But the year was also filled with business closings, a decision by the nation's largest retailer to scrap plans for another local store and another 12 months of this region having the highest unemployment rate of the state's 14 major metro areas.

Two of the area's best known organizations saw new leadership in 2012.

The Greater Wilkes-Bare Chamber of Business and Industry hired Bill Moore to be its new president. Moore, from Connecticut, replaced Todd Vonderheid, who served in that post since 2007 and left in 2011 to become the managing member of Custom Container Solutions LLC, in Lewisburg, Union County.

Bobby Soper, the first president in the history of the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, left to take over the casino's flagship operations in Uncasville, Conn. He was replaced by Mike Bean, who had served as the assistant general manager under Soper since the casino opened.

Before Soper left, he oversaw the groundbreaking of the casino's $50 million, 238-room hotel/events center that is slated to be completed by the end of next year. In addition to the hotel rooms, the facility will include a 20,000-square-foot events center with a banquet room that can handle up to 600 for events and 1,500 for concerts. The hotel also will have a fitness center, indoor pool, ground-floor bistro and meeting rooms.

While Mohegan Sun is expanding its local footprint, the nation's largest retailer is not.

After failing to obtain a highway occupancy permit from the state, Walmart discontinued efforts to develop a store on Wyoming Avenue in Exeter. The issue was hotly contested on the West Side because of concerns about traffic, the impact on small businesses and more.

Shifting gears from the nation's largest retailer to the region's largest employer, The Tobyhanna Army Depot, celebrated 100 years of military presence in the Poconos in 2012. Though there were dozens of layoffs at the depot that specializes in electronics, there was no indication it was in any danger of closing. But votes in Washington that put funding for the facility in danger became a focal point of three congressional campaigns in the region.

Dozens of new businesses sprung up throughout the county, from bakeries to beauty salons. In Wilkes-Barre, the county's largest city, there were plenty of businesses that opened, including many in the city's downtown. The long-anticipated Bottlenecks opened just after Thanksgiving joining other new downtown eateries such as Maers BBQ and Akeno Sushi.

Morristown N.J.-based C3i engineers, services and repairs computers and applications used by companies in the life sciences industry, including pharmaceutical companies, clinical research organizations and health industry software vendors. It employs 75 at the 41,000-square-foot location inside the CenterPoint East Commerce & Trade Park in Jenkins Township. The company already operates a call center in Plains Township that employs 125 and employs 55 at a client site in Swiftwater, Monroe County, bringing its staff in Northeastern Pennsylvania to more than 250.

But there were also plenty of local companies that announced layoffs or closed their doors. Among them were vinyl window maker Dove Industries Inc., which shut down and laid off 106 people at its plant on the Sans Souci Parkway in August; Euro Bistro, on Public Square, which announced this month that it was closing; Penn Refrigeration Services, also in Hanover Township, announced dozens of layoffs in November; Tony & Sons Diner, a community landmark in Kingston known for its tasty Italian dishes and saucy political commentary, shut down in May after 65 years in business; and after nearly 80 years in business, Wilkes-Barre-based janitorial supply company Master Chemical Products closed its doors in December.

Frontier Communications Corp. announced it was relocating 110 employees to its Dallas Township site from a downtown Wilkes-Barre office building where the company leased space on six floors.

Further south along I-81, the county's second largest city, Hazleton, is also seeing changes to its business landscape. It's getting a $20 million makeover thanks to renovations at two historic bank buildings by two local family-run businesses.

A partnership between Neal and Paul DeAngelo of DBi Services and George F. Hayden of Hayden Electric purchased the Traders and Hazleton National bank buildings on Broad Street. DBi will relocate 120 employees from its corporate offices in Hazleton Heights to the Traders Bank building once renovations are complete, but will keep offices at its current building, where a total of 200 currently work, according to Neal DeAngelo III, the company's manager of strategic initiatives. Work on the Traders Bank building will begin in early to mid-2013 and take about a year and a half, and work on the Hazleton National Bank building will begin after work on the first building is completed.

At 9.5 percent, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton metro region's unemployment rate in October – the latest month to have data released -- was the only one of the state's 14 metro regions above 9 percent. That distinction gave the region the highest rate in the state for the 31st consecutive month.

Hoping to play a role in changing that trend, local, state and federal officials stood under a tent during a rainy September press conference and ribbon cutting ceremony to unveil a new $20.5 million air traffic control tower at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport. The tower opening completed the transformation of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport into a 21st century state-of-the-art facility, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said at a dedication ceremony.

LaHood and other speakers, including Airport Board Chairman Corey D. O'Brien, touted the tower and other upgrades, made with more than $136 million in federal, state and county investments, as economic development boosters that will help the region attract new businesses.

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