Archive for March, 2010

Going W.I.L.D to Network

WILDThis past Friday I had the privilege of attending the 2010 Women in Leadership Development Conference in Erie. While this was my first year to attend, it was the third annual event for the Gannon Small Business Development Center. I could, and just may, write several posts about this wonderful event, but I don’t want to miss the chance to share what a great opportunity this (as with any expo or trade show) provided for me to grow my network. A very nice group of ladies from the Titusville Chamber, lead by director Christa Batton, welcomed me to attend with them. Thank you Christa and friends!

The  conference included an expo featuring nearly 200 businesses, with booths displaying their products and services. It would have been nearly impossible to visit with each exhibitor but I did my best to speak with many.  Each was offering a door prize in exchange for contact information.  Thank goodness I went with a good supply of business cards! I was especially pleased that my recently redesigned cards would likely stand out among all those plain white slips of paper. Not because I hoped to win a prize (but thanks to the Manufacturers & Business Association for the new book!), but rather, the possibility that even one business might now recognize the Venango Chamber the next time they hear of it.

And, I picked up the business cards or brochures of each of the booths I visited.  A quick email or note seems very appropriate to show my gratitude for a great day of food, fun and motivational business speakers. How much did I grow my network in one day?  It’s hard to say, but I’m willing to bet I’ll be learning the answer for months to come.

Take-away: You can grow your network by exhibiting at or attending the Venango Works Trade Show, Friday, April 23rd at the Cranberry  Mall. Get your business cards ready!

And be sure to save the date. WILD 2011, March 25th at the Bayfront Convention Center.

Where’s the Gatekeeper?

gatekeeperFor any membership organization there is no greater asset than our members but a very close second is our member’s contact information.  I’m a bit geeky so I thoroughly enjoy spending hours verifying that I have the most updated address, email and website for our members.  Really, I’m not kidding!

So, while recently reviewing our membership in preparation for the annual printed directory publication, I noticed something I found interesting. In many cases the  gatekeeper is gone!  I used to assume that we would not disclose the direct phone number and email address for the owners, presidents and CEO’s of our largest member businesses and organizations.  They were protected and hard to reach. But to my surprise, this is changing. I think it is one of the more positive signs of the time.  Not only do many of these previously “protected” individuals willingly share their contact information, but they encourage customers to contact them directly. This includes Oil City’s Manager, Ryan Eggleston, UPMC Northwest President David Gibbons and Penelec’s Regional Manager Linda Routzan.

One mystery remains.  Why do many small businesses make it difficult to contact them? I understand that everyone is very busy, but in this day and age we expect to be able to reach the people we do business with by phone, fax email and hopefully cell phone, maybe even facebook and twitter.  Are you making it tough for customers to find you.  What are you afraid of? May I suggest that you take the chance and share your numbers, online, in your chamber listing or on your business card. You just may meet someone that can’t wait to do business with you!

Venango Campus 1st recipient of award

The Venango Area Chamber of Commerce has established a new award called the Partner in Business Award.

It recognizes a non-profit, governmental or educational organization that has developed a close partnership with the business community as a means to achieve its mission.

The chamber has named Clarion University-Venango Campus to be the first recipient.

It will be honored, along with Northwest Savings Bank as Business of the Year, at a chamber gathering at 5 p.m. Thursday, April 22, at the Movies at Cranberry at the Cranberry Mall. It is the kickoff for the annual Venango Works Trade Show the following day.

The Chamber chose Venango Campus using criteria that include reputation, achievement, innovation, business leadership, excellence and support for the community. It also considered participation in private-public partnerships, bringing creative solutions to community challenges, innovative programs, partnerships, fundraising, marketing, regional promotions and improving the quality of life for area residents.

Venango Campus has “a history of being (an) outstanding organization in our region… and continues to seek ways to better serve the community,” said Susan Williams, executive director of the chamber.

Opportunities abound

“Venango Campus has been providing life-changing opportunities for the residents of Venango County and the region for 49 years,” said Christopher M. Reber, executive dean of the campus. “From the very beginning, when community leaders and members of the Oil City Area Chamber of Commerce envisioned the need for a higher education presence in Venango County, to the present, Venango Campus has been the product of community and university working together to advance the needs of the region.”

Recognition via the Partner in Business Award “by the organization that played such an integral role in the creation of the campus is truly an affirmation of our mission for which we are extremely grateful,” Reber said.

Time of growth

Venango Campus has more than doubled its enrollment in recent years due in large part to its growing network of educational partnerships with organizations in business, industry, health care, education and other sectors. Enrollment reached an all-time high in fall 2009, with more than 1,000 students enrolled in campus programs and a growth of almost 10 percent over the previous fall.

“Our partnerships allow us to meet the workforce needs of the region,” Reber said. “By educating future employees who are skilled in their technical fields and have the educational foundation to move into management positions, we help to keep jobs — and the people who need them — here at home.”

The applied technology department was launched in 2003 at the campus in response to a need for a technically skilled workforce with the preparation for career advancement. Utilizing a unique partnership model, students earn a Clarion University associate degree by completing academic courses at the campus and the technical component of the degree through approved technical education providers.

More than 100 students are now enrolled in the campus’ 23 applied technology program concentrations, and graduate job placement exceeds 93 percent.

The design of the program allows for virtually limitless expansion. A new concentration to prepare certified Web designers was recently launched, and concentrations such as agile robotics, wind energy technology and others are being considered.

A respiratory care program was created in 2006 after the critical regional and national shortage of respiratory therapists was brought to the attention of the university by UPMC Northwest.

Both programs earned full national accreditation in 2009.

Financial support

The campus has raised more than $10 million in recent years through gifts and grants to enable the school to add programs, support students through scholarships, renovate facilities and grow enrollment.

In 2009, $3.5 million in construction projects were completed at the campus, including the renovation and restoration of West End Pond, new locker rooms in the Robert W. Rhoades Center and the fourth and fifth buildings of the planned seven-building student apartment complex.

Programs are varied

Many new programs at the certificate, associate and bachelor’s degree levels have been added to the growing array of Venango Campus academic programs in recent years, and additional new bachelor’s and graduate programs are being planned. A Venango Campus Honors Program for students with high academic potential was developed, and the first students in that program graduated in May 2009.

Venango Campus is also a cultural and educational community center and provides an array of programs open free to the public.

The campus supports the community through continuing education and programs to provide enriched educational opportunities for residents of all ages. These programs are supported through a variety of grant funding.

“The community has been an extraordinary partner through Venango Campus’ years of evolution and growth,” Reber said. “The Partner in Business Award is a tribute to the many heroes in the region and at the university who have worked together to make the vision of highquality, higher education in Venango County a reality.”

Chamber honors Northwest Savings

Susan Williams (center), executive director of the Venango Area  Chamber of Commerce stands with Lance Titus (left) of Northwest Savings  Bank in Oil City and Chris Reber, executive dean of Venango Campus,  Wednesday morning in the Chamber offices on Main Street in Oil City.  Both Northwest Savings Bank and Venango Campus were named Venango Area  Chamber of Commerce 2010 businesses of the year. Susan Williams (center), executive director of the Venango Area Chamber of Commerce stands with Lance Titus (left) of Northwest Savings Bank in Oil City and Chris Reber, executive dean of Clarion University-Venango Campus, Wednesday morning in the Chamber offices on Main Street in Oil City. Both Northwest Savings Bank and Venango Campus were named Venango Area Chamber of Commerce 2010 businesses of the year. The Venango Area Chamber of Commerce has named Northwest Savings Bank as its 2010 Business of the Year.

The bank will be recognized at a chamber mixer set for 5 p.m. Thursday, April 22, at the Movies at Cranberry at the Cranberry Mall. It will serve as the kickoff for the annual Venango Works Trade Show the next day.

The chamber selects the Business of the Year based on active membership in the chamber, support for the community, reputation for customer service and reliability, major achievements in a given year, innovation, business leadership and excellence.

Susan Williams, executive director of the chamber, said the winner exemplifies “the traits that lead to success.”

“We’re all elated to be named business of the year,” said Lance Titus, manager of the Oil City North Side office of Northwest Savings. “Northwest has served Venango County for well over a century, and we do our very best to be a full-service, local community bank with personal, friendly service, convenience and fast, modern delivery. We thank our customers for their trust and their support.” By Jerry Sowden

Beth Harman, manager of the bank’s Cranberry office, pointed out that Northwest, a subsidiary of Northwest Bancshares Inc., continued its history of strong financial performance in 2009, a year when many financial institutions struggled.

Another honor

Early in the year, Forbes Magazine named Northwest Savings to its list as one of the 100 Most Trustworthy Companies in the country.

John Stiller, division vice president of commercial lending, said, “Forbes has an independent third party review all 12,000 publicly traded companies in the United States on a wide range of criteria, all linked to financial trust worthiness. Northwest was one of only 11 banks on the list. Also, our bank ranked first among savings banks on the list and we were number one in all geographic markets, which include Pennsylvania and parts of Ohio, New York, Maryland, and Florida.”

Bank expands

Northwest opened five new banking locations during the year, one in Youngsville, three near Rochester, N.Y., and one in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

In addition, the bank merged with Keystone State Savings Bank near Pittsburgh. Northwest now operates 171 banking locations in five states.

Scott Ridgeway, who manages Northwest’s Pleasantville office, pointed out the bank serves Venango County from one location each in Cranberry, Franklin and Pleasantville as well as three in Oil City. It has 25 more bank offices in contiguous counties. He noted Northwest and its predecessors have served Venango County for more than 100 years.

Franchise grows

Northwest sold $688 million of its common stock in a public offering in December to become 100 percent publicly owned. This additional capital will provide Northwest the opportunity to offer additional products and services and to continue to grow its franchise.

As part of its stock offering, Northwest established a charitable foundation to benefit the communities it serves and their residents.

“We’ve always supported our home towns,” said Ray Swacha, Venango County area manager of Northwest Savings Bank and manager of its Franklin office. “The foundation will allow us to do even more.”

‘Well capitalized’

Banks are continuously evaluated for safety and soundness based on the levels of capital that they maintain. Northwest Savings’ capital levels far exceed all state and federal regulatory requirements, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) considers Northwest to be “well capitalized.”

A second test of a bank’s stability is its profitability, especially during trying times. In this regard, Northwest remained profitable during 2009, a year of severe economic crisis in Venango County.

Ed Fennick, senior financial adviser, noted that, in a recent survey of the country’s 100 largest banks by Forbes, Northwest ranked 23rd best based on strength of capital, asset quality and profitability.

Appreciation shown

Titus summed up the award for all the workers at Northwest when he said, “Being noticed and complimented by Forbes is great, and making a profit, selling stock, being successful, well, that’s what business is all about…but to be named Business of the Year by the same folks you live and work beside..that’s an honor. We appreciate being named Business of the Year more than you can know. ”

Persistence & Timing to Get Noticed

How will you get in front of your next customer? Like most of you, our business (the chamber) gets calls and emails everyday from vendors who would like us to look at their products. Some days it can be a real irritation for us and I’m sure it is frustrating for those vendors who are confident that they have something we need to see.

So today I was considering a few of the companies that are currently in my radar and what strategies they have implemented that put them there.  I have received several emails from offering the opportunity to attend a free webinar about there membership software. Their persistence paid off. Today my staff and I took the time to join an excellent online presentation.

Coincidentally, a young lady called our office today to ask a few questions about what software we were using for our member management. Normally I might have not returned the message but today, perfect timing!  I was not only happy answer her question but curious to hear about ChamberAide.

Curt Moss of Weblink has found a great way to keep his company in the forefront by great use of social networking and positioning himself as an industry expert with great blog posts.

My last example for today is the concept of “giving it away”.

I am currently working on a project with Accrisoft, for the Pennsylvania Association of Chamber Professionals. The staff of Accrisoft are amazing at follow-up and exceptional teamwork.

CommunityLink has teamed up with ACCE to offer it’s members free marketing materials and not just any old designs but really good stuff.  This is a win for CommunityLink, ACCE and our chamber.

I may not be in the market for any of these services right now, but these companies have all found a way to get noticed. And, I’m happy to tell others about them.