Three Mon Valley Businesses win $10,000 SMAART Grants

Two start-ups and an established business were awarded $10,000 grants Thursday as part of a contest aimed at encouraging business growth in the Valley.

Steel Dog Construction in Fallowfield, Full Armor Fitness in Charleroi and Chaney’s Natural in Monongahela each were awarded grants from the inaugural Mon River Valley Entrepreneurial Business Plan Contest.

The Mon River Valley Coalition, whch sponsored the contest, was launched in 2013 with more than a dozen Monongahela River communities – including Charleroi, Monongahela, Brownsville, West Brownsville, California and Belle Vernon – participating.

It is led by the National Road Heritage Corridor and the River Town Program.

The coalition started the Sustainable Marketplace for Art, Artisans, Recreational and Trending Businesses to actively promote small businesses in those areas.

A part of the SMAART program was the contest, which sought applications from August through Oct. 30.

The SMAART Business Advisory Council judged applications based on relevance to the economic development of River Towns, viability of the business idea, economic impact on the region, presentation quality and attendance at workshops.

Several workshops on various topics impacting small businesses were held throughout the year.

Cathy McCollom, River Town Program director, said the contest was a success and one the group hopes will be repeated in future years.

“We had eight applicants, which we felt was good for the first year,” said McCollom. “We had solid applications and the winners worked closely with the resources we provided them.”

The ultimate goal was to encourage business growth and entrepreneurs, McCollom said.

“We are working hard to attract businesses,” said McCollom. “Business is important if the local communities are to continue to grow. We’re about strengthening business and encouraging entrepreneurs.”

Steel Dog Construction is a full-service general contracting company that focuses on residential and commercial restoration, specializing in carpentry and redesign.

Full Armor Fitness provides a workout facility for young professionals, students, families and seniors.

Chaney’s Natural offers a massages, nail treatments, weight management and herbal supplements.

The grants will be presented Jan. 14, following a meeting of the Mon River Valley Coalition at California University of Pennsylvania, Kara Alumni House, 611 Second Street.

Sam Sokol opened Full Armor Fitness Dec. 5. It is located at 207 Fifth St., Charleroi, site of the former Tri-County Patriots for Independent Living office.

Sokol said he was a customer before he became a business owner.

“I’ve been working out over the past decade,” he said. “I was tired of going to big gyms and noticed there were not a lot of gyms in the Mon Valley.

“I saw an opportunity for opening a smaller, community gym with more personal service.”

Sokol, who is a certified personal trainer, obtained help from the Small Business Administration in Pittsburgh for developing his business plan.

Sokol found a suitable site for the business and funded it out of pocket. He also researched the particular workout and weightlifting equipment he wanted to Full Body Armor.

With plans to soon open around-the-clock, Sokol hopes to use a portion of the grant to install a security system. He also plans to purchase additional cardio and strength equipment.

Area residents who purchase memberships will have access to the site.

Laura and Jason Koon moved to Fallowfield from the Seattle area in January, when he pursued a job in the gas industry. Laura Koon said her husband opted ultimately to go back into self-employment.

He does all of the on-site construction, while Laura Koon handles the business end of the company, which started up in July.

The Koons, who previously operated a construction company in the Pacific Northwest, said they will use the grant to market their firm.

Laura Koon said during the seminars, she and her husband learned about the Small Business Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Entrepreneurial Assistance, which they have been working with to learn about the region and network with people in the area.

“It was an honor to participate and we were absolutely thrilled to win,” Laura Koons said. “We’re very excited for the other winners, too.”

Tanya Chaney started her business in 2001, and moved to Monongahela in 2010.

“I heard about it (the contest) through the Mon Valley Regional Chamber and I was encouraged to participate,” Chaney said.

Chaney said the seminars were refreshers and motivated her to revive her business plan.

“I developed a plan to bring on more staff who are specialized,” Chaney said. “With the grant, I’m going to enhance my web and social media to help recruit staff.”

She also plans to increase inventory with some of the funding.

“I think it was a really good program and wish more people would have participated in it,” Chaney said. “I’m glad they did it.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at cbuckley@tribweb.com or 724-684-2642.

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