Swales Discusses Economic Development Projects, Business Outreach and Workforce Trends in Quarterly Update

Rob Swales, Clearly Ahead chief executive officer (Photo by GANT News Editor Jessica Shirey)

 

CLEARFIELD – Clearly Ahead Development, the county’s economic development entity, has been actively involved in five significant projects in 2017.

The projects combine for a total local investment of more than $2.2 million, create 30 jobs and retain 155 jobs in Clearfield County, according to Rob Swales, chief executive officer.

Swales noted there’s actually a much greater local investment taking place throughout the county than what the figure shows.

However, he said numerous companies have opted to use in-house cash and traditional bank financing.

“It would be millions of dollars higher, if those numbers were shown,” he said.

Swales was neither able to identify the companies, nor project specifics due to confidentiality between Clearly Ahead and company officials.

Business Outreach

In 2017, Clearly Ahead has developed a strategic plan with a strong focus on local business outreach efforts.

“We’re meeting with [company officials] personally,” Swales said. “We’re trying to get a barometer of trends – in terms of operations – in Clearfield County.”

According to him, Clearly Ahead is striving to help local businesses overcome challenges as related to workforce, recruitment, special projects and growth plans and financial management.

So far, he said Clearly Ahead has conducted outreach with 124 different businesses throughout the county.

Just this past month, Swales and his staff have met on-site with managers at nine different companies.

“It was extensive,” he said. “We’re talking about spending half the day touring their facilities and speaking with the managers.

“These nine companies represented over 2,200 employees in Clearfield County. These were some of our major companies.”

While focus has been local, Clearly Ahead is still bolstering its marketing efforts to attract new businesses into the area. The entity has plans to hire a marketing manager to promote the county to site selectors and companies.

Clearly Ahead is continuing to target food and beverage manufacturers as well as the petrochemical industries.

Clearly Ahead’s staff has been present at conferences on the petrochemical industry, and Swales said their goal is to develop a network of contacts there.

Next week Swales will be at the Site Selectors Guild in Seattle, Wash., among North America’s most distinguished site selectors to promote the county’s available sites, including the shovel-ready industrial park.

Swales said to date Clearly Ahead’s out-of-area outreach has resulted in 98 different direct company contacts in 19 states and two countries, a number that will only grow with the entity’s representation at special conferences.

On a monthly basis, Clearly Ahead’s staff members are conducting outreach efforts with 16-18 new businesses to become familiar with their operations, products and services and to gauge interest in growth opportunities here.

Clearfield County’s Workforce Trends

Clearfield County has an aging workforce, which is causing “growing pains” for local companies. It’s become their primary concern, according to Swales.

He said company officials are concerned about losing decades of experience due to employee retirements and the knowledge gap among younger workers.

“Local companies are having a difficult time identifying a new workforce,” he said. He added this is consistent with Pennsylvania and U.S. trends, especially in rural areas.

Swales indicated that this trend is affecting jobs in manufacturing, precision machining and engineering, healthcare, management (at larger companies) and even at the entry level.

“The market is there, the growth opportunities are there and the demand is there,” he said. “They’re looking at sustainability and reinvestment locally.

“They’re looking at retaining their workforce but avoiding the knowledge and skills gap is challenging for them.”

Clearly Ahead is advising these companies to connect with CareerLink and workforce groups that help with customized training.

Swales noted that local companies have job openings, but their hiring managers have noticed a significant decline in applications, as well.

He said Clearly Ahead communicates companies’ workforce trends and concerns to local educational institutions and also stays abreast of curriculum and trainings available in the area.

Formerly known as the Clearfield County Economic Development Corp. (CCEDC), Clearly Ahead Development has provided economic development services in Clearfield County since 1999.

 

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