A RECENT letter to the editor raised questions about the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber that I am glad to answer. Since 1884, the chamber has been a strong and vocal champion for the business community in Greater Wilkes-Barre.
The accomplishments of the chamber are many – too many to list here. I would like to focus on our most recent accomplishments and where we are going in the future.
The task of job creation and retention for our region continues to be one of our top priorities. The 38 jobs recently added by Amcor Rigid Plastics at its new Mountain Top facility are the latest additions to the roster of more than 12,700 people employed in the five business parks directly developed by the chamber and our affiliate organizations. The chamber's five business parks (Crestwood Industrial Park, Hanover Industrial Estates, Hanover Crossing, Corporate Center at East Mountain and Highland Park) comprise approximately 2,637 acres and generate more than $8.7 million annually in county, municipal and school district tax revenues.
In fact, there are more than 18,000 people working today in jobs that can be traced to 210 different chamber-assisted business location or expansion projects from 1985 to 2011. In 2011 alone, chamber-assisted projects resulted in the creation of 562 new jobs in the Wilkes-Barre area.
Our entrepreneurial development efforts are equally robust. An updated economic impact report for the Innovation Center at Wilkes-Barre showed that, during 2010, the facility generated total estimated economic activity of $28.7 million. It accounted for an estimated 230 direct and indirect jobs and an estimated $3.1 million in federal, state and local taxes.
The chamber also has been a key community development partner through catalytic efforts such as the Elevation Lofts project. As a direct result of the chamber's actions, 20 of these 21 downtown lofts were sold and are occupied, bringing new residential activity to downtown Wilkes-Barre. The positive impact of the chamber's center-city investments goes far beyond what's visible on downtown sidewalks. Today, the site of the University Corners project generates $250,000 a year more in annual real estate tax revenue than it did a decade ago – and as Keystone Opportunity Zone tax abatements continue to expire, even more dollars will be added.
In 2011, the chamber led a consortium of regional institutions and organizations examining the feasibility of a collaborative approach to biomedical research in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Partnering colleges and universities are now bringing that study's recommendations to fruition as part of the Regional Bioscience Initiative, a multi-phased strategy to increase the size and breadth of the region's biomedical industry cluster.
Other community development highlights of the past year include:
• Supporting the 2011 program season at the River Common, which attracted more than 4,400 recorded participants to programs on the downtown's riverfront.
• Convening a meeting of regional chambers and economic development organizations to review and discuss implementation of the final Bi-county Comprehensive Plan and Long-Range Transportation Plan for Luzerne and Lackawanna counties.
We will continue to support these and other initiatives that make our region a more attractive place in which to reside and do business.
As a voluntary membership organization, The Chamber of Commerce relies on the dues investments of its members for the overwhelming majority of its income. The Chamber of Business and Industry and its affiliates receive pledges, rental and property management income, and also have received grant revenue to perform specific functions tied to the requirements of the grants, including funds to develop, market and maintain a second business incubator.
Just as other small businesses across the country have been impacted by the recession, so has the chamber. As a result, the chamber's board of directors made difficult decisions to re-direct the efforts of the chamber, including reducing the number of staff to 12 and significantly reducing the salaries of all employees. The result is a chamber that is more nimble – one that is more adaptive to the changes needed in a dynamic organization.
The chamber accomplishes much of its actions through committees, task forces and the dedicated effort of its board of directors. I invite chamber members to become more involved with the work that we are doing. I also invite those businesses that are not members of the chamber to visit its website – at www.wilkes-barre.org – to learn more about what it is doing to better the economy of Greater Wilkes-Barre.
Better yet, call me at 823-2101. I'll be happy to meet with you and explain why I took the opportunity to be a part of this dynamic organization, and why you should, too.
William D. Moore is president and CEO of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry.