Riverlife continues workshops in river towns

Photo by Nina Chase / Riverlife
Photo by Nina Chase / Riverlife

You may have heard that Riverlife is taking our show on the road: we’re sharing the lessons we’ve learned working on Pittsburgh’s riverfronts with neighboring towns looking to revitalize their waterfronts.

Earlier this month Riverlife and our partner the Northern WV Brownfields Assistance Center hosted a workshop in Fairmont, West Virginia to hear from the community about waterfront redevelopment projects. Our goal was to share our past experiences with planning, fundraising, and project implementation, and to help local stakeholders identify and overcome potential obstacles for their riverfront projects. Thank you Fairmont for your hospitality (and the pepperoni rolls), and for sharing your riverfront plans for Marion County.

Riverlife’s outreach program to provide riverfront planning tools to Monongahela River towns is funded through a grant from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. Partners include the Northern WV Brownfields Assistance Center and the Mon River River Towns Program.


fireworksParting Shot

Fireworks from Comcast Light Up Night explode in the sky over “Energy Flow” on the Rachel Carson Bridge last Friday night. Photo by Larry Rippel.

Entrepreneurs finish ‘Planning for Profits’ in Charleroi

pitt-profit-class-article-sbdcBy Pat Cloonan pcloonan@heraldstandard.com

Twenty-three entrepreneurs from as far away as Lawrence County received their certificates Thursday
at the conclusion of the University of Pittsburgh
Small Business Development Center’s “Planning for Profits” program in Charleroi.
“It really is a great day in Washington County,” said county Commissioner Diana Irey Vaughan. “Thank you for choosing t his region to invest in.”

“I learned so much from all of you, from your comments and ideas and struggles,” said Doreen Walters
of Northwood Realty in Pleasant Hills, whose start there came 20 years ago Thursday — on what was her 21st birthday. Twelve of the 23 participants in the six-week program have Washington County roots, while others hail from Fayette, W estmoreland, Allegheny and Butler counties.
“I spent more time driving here than being here,” said Fran Ramsden of Ramsden Elite Fitness. Still, the 26-year-old entr epreneur found the time spent each week at the Charleroi municipal building to be a valuable learning experience.
“I’m actually hiring people who are better than me, who have better talents,” Ramsden said. “I am not a sales guy.” He’ll continue commuting in January, when he has the grand opening of a fitness center in Wexford, Allegheny County. “I was given an opportunity to have a grand opening at a second location (with SBDC support),” said Tanya Chaney of Ch aney’s Natural Spa & Salon in

Monongahela, whose other takeaway from the program was a revelation that “you don’t really get the time … to sit dow n and … focus on what really needs to happen.”
“We hope this is a good investment of your time,” said Ray Vargo, director of the Pitt SBDC program
The “Planning for Profits” series is part of a federal Small Business Administration pilot program, “Lean for Main Street T raining Challenge,” which permits SBA to adapt curriculum assisting Main Street growth in towns like Charleroi.

“So many great things have happened,” said Kelly Hunt, Pittsburgh area SBA district director.
“It is fun to see how you have developed over these six weeks,” said Victoria Hassett, a management consultant who works with the Pitt SBDC in Washington and Greene counties.
“Eighty percent of people who start this program finish this program,” said Vargo, whose center is one of
18 across the state.
Graduates gave two- to three-minute presentations as part of the ceremony.
“We had zero idea about what we were doing, and 100 percent passion for doing it,” said Zach
Benkowitz, co-founder with Randy Keech of Intervention
Fundamentals in the Pittsburgh area. “We appreciate everyone’s support.”
“Entrepreneurs are virtuous and have passion,” said Mary Reis of Authentic Awareness in Washington. “It is not about w hat I want or what I can do, it’s about what the customer wants.”
“You need to find and follow your passion, and you need to be your real and authentic self,” said “Planning for Profits” p articipant Gina C. Lynn, executive director of the Greater Rostraver Chamber of Commerce.
Lynn told fellow participants that she got “a better perspective of your point of view, of the struggles you face every day. ”
“It’s your business,” said Joshua Turkovich of Mon Valley Phone Repair in Monessen. “If you can’t speak on it, who will?” Turkovich said his biggest takeaway from six weeks were lessons about listening to customers. He said it leads him to go further in dealing with customer problems.
“You have a broken device, but what else is wrong with the phone?” Turkovich gave as an example.
Helen Behn of Spand-Ice in Pittsburgh’s Morningside neighborhood said tackling customer feedback has been the hardes t thing for her to do.
Seeing how beneficial it can be, Behn said, “I realized I shouldn’t be fearful of that.”
Walt Bianchi may have offered the most dramatic presentation. He ran Tri-County Cleaners in Charleroi for 20 years —

then took it back after the business collapsed under his successor there.
“I sold it in 2012,” Bianchi later said. “I financed the sale. He defaulted on the loan and kind of ran it into the ground. It cl osed in 2014. I reopened it in May 2015.”
And his customers came back.
“It’s a great customer base from 20 years,” Bianchi said. “When they heard I was back they really supported me.”
Jim Logan of Battery Giant of Pittsburgh, based in Cranberry Township, is hoping that he can maintain his customer base “when the national presence goes away.” For now, the franchise owner is planning his second Pittsburgh area outlet. Barry Piacenza of Climate Change Economics in North Charleroi said assumptions the participants
brought into the program we’re not necessarily the ones they had coming out.
“It has reawakened in me a lot of the aspects I’ve lost due to my disability,” Piacenza said. “It really has been a value-add ed experience.”
Piacenza went on to predict that the Mon Valley “is at the precipice of a reawakening.”
Tara Stottlemyer, a Charleroi native who runs Tara’s Homegrown, thanked Hassett and Michael R.
Wholihan, a fellow management consultant with
Hassett in the Pitt SBDC’s Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, for their kindheartedness and others in the class for th eir input and confidence.
Her business is natural food.

“This is a product you cannot even buy in the stores,” Stottlemyer said. “My birds are moved onto fresh pastures every d ay. It is food that is raised ethically and locally.”
Consultant Barbara Nicholas, who hails from the Fort Cherry area and is a California University of Pennsylvania alumnus, said she gained courage from others to take greater risks —

which she plans to utilize in establishing an “urban dude ranch” in the Penn Hills area, in
part so urban youth may get an economic chance that is not usually available.
Michael Ryan of e-merge inc. in Finleyville said he’s hired an engineer since the six-week series began.
“I have stability, I’ve been around for 11 years, but my growth has been slow,” Ryan said. “It is OK to ask for help. I found

small business owners are really willing to help.”
“The presentations were excellent,” said Regina Abel, SBA deputy district director. “You all took away what you needed f rom this class.”
The class may continue to build on the takeaway. Michelle DeHosse of Sparkles by Shell in Monongahela hailed the “sou nding board” that her fellow
participants became during the six-week course and said she would create a private Facebook group page for her classm ates.
Christian Conroy, state SBDC director, came to hail the graduates as well as a “true champion for small business in Penns ylvania,” retiring state Rep. Peter J. Daley II, D-California, who received a special award at Thursday’s event. “(Representative Daley) has truly been a champion for this region and you will be greatly missed,” Vaughan said. “Thank you,” Daley replied.
“We have wonderful people,” Daley said. “We come from a diverse background, all strivers.”
Some of those strivers couldn’t make it for the ceremony, either because of illness or family
Emergencies or, in at least one case, an emergency on the job.
“It happens in small business,” said Bryan Ghingold of Steel City Movers in Wilkinsburg, who hailed program organizers f or providing not just information but tools to better get that information out to customers.
Other participants in “Planning for Profits” were Ryan Galiotto of Fields Financial Services in Hopwood; Laura and Jason Koon of Steel Dog
Construction in Fallowfield Township; Daneen Troup of Prima Diva Boutique in Charleroi; Victor Maga of Spartan Constru ction in Beaver Falls; and Buddy Rieger of Rieger Music Education in Mt. Lebanon

Gateway Communities

Gateway Communities is a program similar in many ways to the River Town Program.  Community leaders, residents and business owners work collaboratively with nearby public parks and forests officials to improve connections for visitors and residents.  Public lands offer a myriad of great outdoor recreational opportunities and often public programs for the whole family.  In turn communities can be a resource to advocate, sustain and continue to support these nearby lands.

For more information on this program, see the article below.

In early 2015, the R.K. Mellon Foundation supported our idea to explore the “Gateway Community” concept as it would relate to our state parks and forests. (See our fact sheet for additional information.)

Simply put, a gateway community is any community next to public lands. It is a “gateway” to the resource by virtue of its location but a gateway community is also a branding mechanism. Many in a community already recognize the value and the natural mutual goal – parks and forests wants visitors. Town businesses want customers. Residents benefit as a result of having the park and forest nearby and property values increase. Anything that gives a visitor something else to do and see is another reason for him or her to stay a little while longer, spending money and spreading the word about the fun they’re having and the beauty they’re experiencing. The goal of the Gateway Community Initiative is to make sure the state parks and forests and the communities that are the “gateway” to them form an unbreakable partnership for the benefit of both.

Our pilot community is Ligonier, gateway to Forbes State Forest, Linn Run State Park, Laurel Mountain State Park and, indeed, the entirety of the beautiful region known as the Laurel Highlands. A Community Action Team, led by our facilitator and consultant Cathy McCollom of McCollom Development Strategies, with members from the local chamber of commerce, visitors’ bureau, township and borough government, and business, community, and nonprofit leaders came together to assess the connections that exist and those that can be improved.

As a result, the Action Team:

Assessed the community through the eyes of a new visitor * Created and installed new signage * Shared promotion on websites and other marketing pieces * Developed a “rain and shine” walking tour brochure and mobile app * Hosted an open house at Linn Run for business and community leaders and the public *

Ligonier is just the beginning! If you would like to discuss how your community might become the next Gateway, contact Marci and let’s explore the possibilities.