Thinking Really Big: Investment Capital Means Human Capital in First Frontier
April 9, 2018 will go down as the day the City of Altoona realized its largest capital investment for a single building project ever. When the Altoona Area School District (AASD) Board approved an $88 million expenditure for a new state-of-the-art school building, they set that “CapEx” milestone. Most importantly however they shouted to our mountain tops that we are “all in” on our community’s future success, our competitiveness, the smarts and hearts of our kids, and their kids, and our ability to attract new business investment, and talent. Their decision said a lot and none of it was about living the past.
Talent, Education, Quality of Place, the Future Capacity of a Community: these are consistently among the top 5 factors that both people and businesses (they are one in the same) consider when choosing a location to live, buy a home, invest or start up a business. The bold approach for this new school impacts all of these things, while sending a message to Blair County expats and potential newcomers sitting on the D.C. Beltway and beyond that our community, the First Frontier, is further positioning itself for the future – it’s time to come home, invest, and become rooted.
“The new building will give our students the opportunity to build 21st century technology and problem-solving skills that in turn will make them strong employees and innovative thinkers for the current and future businesses in Blair County,” said Dr. Charles Prijatlj, AASD Superintendent.
“I think education is the golden ticket,” said AASD Board Member Wayne Hippo. “It’s the one chance these kids have to achieve, to go beyond some of the cards they were dealt. It has been a long haul,” Hippo said. “Ultimately in my view, this is a long-term win to establish in this community what education and this city is about.”
Last year I ended my remarks at ABCD’s Annual meeting with a simple message – this is the right place, at the right time – let’s all think big. The AASD leadership is thinking big for sure, and they are not alone. This project comes on the heels of other major milestone projects.
Earlier this year ABCD Corporation joined with Silk Mill Properties, Inc. to announce a $14 million adaptive reuse and renovation of the former Puritan Silk Mill Building, the largest public private partnership project of its kind. The Silk Mill investment is adjacent to the Graystone Grand Palazzo project which was announced last year. That senior housing project represents more than a $20 million investment in a site and building that would have otherwise fell into disrepair.
We continue to follow the largest market rate multi-tenant housing development in the works at the historic Elizabeth Apartment Building. That project led by the local private investment team of Glen Brandimarte and Laura Wray will add 20 new class A living spaces in the heart of the City. Earlier this month Governor Wolf announced that Fortune 100 company Centene Corporation has chosen Blair County to construct a $26 million office facility which will create close to 300 skilled professional employment opportunities – the largest outside attraction opportunity we have seen. Later this month Sheetz will dedicate its new $34 million operational and training center. That building is the latest in a series of ongoing expansions for Sheetz in the Walter and Marasco Business Parks firmly positioning Sheetz as Blair County’s largest private sector employer.
These big project firsts are in addition to several new downtown eateries, retailers and office expansions happening in Altoona, Tyrone and throughout Blair County’s mountain main streets. Together these capital projects help to attract and retain our most important currency, Human Capital. They are helping to create new-places, experiences and opportunities for current and future generations to live, work, and celebrate what our community, America’s First Frontier, has to offer. We suspect more to be in the works with all those who are thinking big and making positive change happen right here, right now.