by Jonathan Weaver
About two dozen Ford City business leaders worked out ways to revitalize the town this upcoming Spring and solve key business issues during a dinner with Economic Development Committee members last night.
Business leaders from various types of businesses and locations – from Chambers Jewelers to Klingensmith’s Drug Store, to 10th Street Station and BelleFlex Technologies – met with Borough Council Economic Committee members Josh Abernathy and Jerry Miklos at the C. U. Club along 6th Avenue for dinner and discussion.
For more than an hour, business leaders heard ideas from the two council members and gave input.
Councilman Josh Abernathy, the Economic Development Committee chair, led off discussions.
“We need change – I don’t see Ford City going back to what it used to be,” Abernathy said. “For us to succeed, I think that we need to change the perception and make Ford City a destination for families to come and also for small businesses.
“The only way this is going to happen is businesses working together and Council working for businesses.”
He said council members have already progressed toward change during his elected term, but it’s on to the next step.
“We can’t have high taxes, we can’t have high water rates, sewage rates, garbage rates, because there’s so many other places that people can go that is cheaper,” Abernathy said. “Council has stuck to that to try and keep taxes low and finances in order, and now my focus is, how can we get businesses into Ford City and how can Economic Development support those businesses?
Council members have also addressed parking issues two weeks ago after voting at a special meeting to advertise for a new part-time employee to enforce the ordinance. About 10 applications have already been submitted.
Interviews might be held as soon as later this week.
Abernathy’s first idea included designating the $150 business tax from each business toward bettering the business environment and promoting the businesses in town. More than 126 business license letters were sent out, translating into about $19,000 being set aside.
“We’re going to do what it takes to get a business here,” Abernathy said.
Information will be presented at the next council work session at the end of the month.
Paul Bergad, of Bergad Specialty Foams, said the biggest problem for him and BelleFlex Technologies owners is a lack of signage directing a customer or shipper to their businesses along Eljer Way
“To give someone directions to get into that park on a GPS is impossible because Eljer Way doesn’t exist,” Bergad said. “Our company brings in five to eight tractor trailers per day, (and) when you’re dealing with new drivers coming from out-of-town, it’s impossible to get them out of there. They’re always on the other side of the tracks.”
BelleFlex is the only other business located along Eljer Way.
Abernathy said officials should first come up with a new name for Eljer Way to help solve the problem.
Business leaders were also receptive to Abernathy’s next idea regarding a weekday night farmers’ market since it will bring people and potential businesses into the town.
They, however, recommended it be held near the Ford City clock tower on 3rd Avenue rather than along Ford Street due to parking concerns.
Inquiries have also been received regarding the farmers’ market, making Abernathy hopeful for the first event this Spring.
“I don’t want to charge for this – the idea is to get the farmers here and draw some people in town to support the businesses,” Abernathy said. “This isn’t a money thing for Ford City.
“I’d love for the farmers’ market to get so big that we have to turn people away.”
Other ideas to bring people into Ford City included movie nights in Ford City Park.
Free sewage, water and garbage collection might also be available – if a new or existing business upgrades their business in the future.
Miklos reminded business leaders about the 10-year LERTA tax abatement program – available to industrial, commercial and residential properties – when improvements that increase the value of property increases over time rather than after completion.
“We need to do better about making this program known and promoting it,” Miklos said.
He also suggested creating a welcoming packet for new businesses available at the Borough office
Valerie Schaeffer co-owns Our Precious Angels daycare with Baer Beauty Owner Kathi Baer – who grew up as neighbors in Ford City.
“When I started 30 years ago, Ford City was thriving,” Baer said. “Now, it’s slowly declining. We’re hoping it gets better.”
Schaeffer, who also used to work for Baer at the beauty spot, said the goal is to expand the business to 27 children. She thought the ideas presented last night were good ideas
An anonymous donation paid for the business meeting last night. Councilwoman Vickie Schaub also helped enable the event to be held at the C.U. Club.
Councilman Gene Banks, who is also on the Economic Development Committee, was on the agenda to attend as well, but was not present.