Member Spotlight

BTEBloomsburg Theatre Ensemble (BTE) was founded in 1978 by recent graduates of Northwestern University, who relocated to Bloomsburg during the previous two years for master classes with legendary acting teacher Alvina Krause. Under Krause’s inspiration, they established a resident ensemble of actors, directors, writers, and teachers. Their goal was to create a theatre that would, in Krause’s words, be “as important to its community as schools and churches”. Over the years there have been 37 members; of the current seven, three of them are from the founding years.

BTE provides a season of five or six plays each year on the stage at the Alvina Krause Theatre, a women’s solo performance arts festival, and year round theatre in education programs in schools and also in their facilities in Bloomsburg. They’ve also produced shows in other venues around town (The Exchange and Capitol Bar and Grill) and in other towns (Community Arts Center in Williamsport). BTE produces well-loved community events such as Treefest and The Taming of the Brew. BTE is unique in the region. They are the only professional theatre within fifty miles of Bloomsburg that regularly produces contemporary American plays, along with the classics. From time to time they also present shows from outside producers.

During the past 37 seasons, hallmarks of their Main Stage have been original, company created works on local and regional history: Hard Coal, Life in the Region, Flood Stories, Too; Letters to the Editor, and Susquehanna.

Nationally, BTE is recognized as a leader in the ensemble theatre movement as a co-founder of the Network of Ensemble Theaters. Since 1995, NET has grown into an over 160-member organization to promote ensemble theatre practice and generate interest in ensemble as a sustainable model for community-based work. BTE member Laurie McCants is currently the Chair of NET’s Board of Trustees.

Each year BTE supports hundreds of local and regional charities and fundraisers by donating tickets to their performances. Each year they provide one performance of their holiday show to the Food Bank to collect food. Through Treefest they work with the Columbia County Child Development Center to provide over 100 trees and gifts to needy families. In addition, they have partnered with Big Brothers Big Sisters and Volunteer Partners in Medicine.

As funding for arts programs diminishes BTE supports local and regional schools by providing funds to the schools so that they can book shows. BTE continues to look for ways to make theatre going affordable for everyone in the community through Pay What you Want performances and through their new Group Sales program. For more information, contact Jon White-Spunner at jwhitespunner@bte.org or visit www.bte.org

The subject of each month’s Member Spotlight is selected from attendees of Chamber events.

House Makes Revisions to Background Check Law

To further clarify the types of volunteers and employees who are required to obtain background checks to work with children, the House passed House Bill 1276 last week. The legislation is designed to more clearly define who is and who is not subject to the background check requirements and, where possible, make the requirements less onerous for volunteers, nonprofit organizations, employees and employers.

Under the bill, only those volunteers and employees with direct and routine interaction with a child as part of a child care service, a school, or a program, activity or service would need to obtain the clearances. For example, a Sunday school teacher and Scout leader would need the clearances, while a cook at a youth camp, a parent dropping off baked goods at a school or a guest reader/performer would not. The legislation would also permit employers or organizations to accept non-original copies of the required documents on file, rather than the original copies to be maintained by the employer or organization.

The House had previously amended the bill to waive the two $10 fees that volunteers must pay for background checks associated with the child protection laws. The legislation now heads to the state Senate for consideration. More information is available at www.KeepKidsSafe.pa.gov.

Member Spotlight

Freas Farm-TransparentFreas Farm Winery began producing wine in the fall of 2013 and bottling in spring 2014. Owners Patricia Leighow and Stephanie Rothery learned under their mentor John Crane, of Birdsong Winery. They first opened their doors at 130 Twin Church Road in Berwick in June 2014. The winery is located at a farm owned by Rothery’s great grandparents and her family’s story is still entwined in the house as well as several of the wines they produce. They recently opened their second location at Rohrbach’s Farm Market in Catawissa.

Freas Farm offers PA preferred farm to table wines and Port. They use Minnesota hybrid grapes grown in Sullivan County, which do well since they’re accustomed to being grown in a colder climate.

Their wines have won awards at the 2014 Silver Finger Lakes International Wine Competition in the Sweet Rose category, 2014 Bronze Finger Lakes International Wine Competition in the Frontenac Gris Category, 2015 Silver Finger Lakes International Wine Competition in the Port Category, and 2015 Bronze Finger Lakes International Wine Competition in the Red Blend Non-Vinifera Category.

Their tag line is “Community and Culture in Every Bottle” and they try to operate their business by those words. They work with many non-profits in the area. The Alzheimer’s Foundation is significant to them and they donate a portion of every bottle of Forget Me Not to the Foundation for research. Freas Farm partners with Berwick Theater and Center for the Community Arts as well as the Geisinger-Bloomsburg March of Dimes.  Both of these organizations are having fundraisers at the winery on May 29th and 30th. They also support Beyond Violence, PAWS Crossroads and Stuart Tank Marine Corps League Detachment 1400.  Civic and community organizations are encouraged to hold their meetings at the winery at no cost to them.

Freas Farm Winery can be reached at 570-759-WINE or visit freasfarmwinery.com

The subject of each month’s Member Spotlight is selected from attendees of Chamber events.

A Look At How PPL Electric Utilities Is Improving Its System

From Teri MacBride, PPL Regional Affairs Director

PPL Electric Utilities’ network investments are providing long-term service reliability to help businesses remain competitive, as well as an economic development boost with jobs and contract work for everything from traffic control to line clearing.

Reliable electric delivery for quality, consistent operations helps businesses remain productive and competitive. PPL Electric Utilities is focused on providing a reliable power supply at a reasonable cost and operating more efficiently to make sure electric service remains a good value.

The utility invested $4.7 billion over the past decade to improve its electric delivery system, and will invest another $5.7 billion over the next five years as it continues to renew, strengthen and modernize the network. It’s the largest investment of its kind since the 1960s and ‘70s.

According to the latest reliability statistics, the work and investments have already had a positive effect on the system. Customers are seeing a steady decline in the number of outages, and more improvements are in store.

On average, customers are experiencing 20 percent fewer outages today than in 2007 — when PPL Electric Utilities embarked on one of the largest reliability improvement programs in its history. It expects to have another 20 percent improvement by 2019.

Trees are the biggest cause of storm-related outages, and the company’s expanded trimming and clearing program is also making a difference. As a result, tree-related outages are on the way down — 18 percent fewer in 2014 compared to the average of the previous 10 years.

Strong economic development is powered by a reliable supply of electricity. PPL Electric Utilities’ reliability work also provides job-producing contracts and contractor positions in areas including engineering, tree trimming and traffic control.

Some of the key reliability projects aimed at making the system stronger and more storm-resistant include:

• Installing smart grid equipment, which improves reliability by sensing power outages and rerouting power around the damage — restoring many customers even before repairs are made. In areas where the equipment has been installed, it has reduced outage durations by an average of 30 percent.
• Moving inaccessible lines closer to roadways and dividing some lines into sections to reduce the number of outages customers experience.
• Stepping up removal of trees and tree limbs, to keep them away from power lines. This has reduced the number of customers affected by storms over the past few years.
• Installing stronger, more weather-resistant poles, replacing aging equipment, and installing animal guards to prevent outages caused by squirrels and other animals.

The investments are about making sure the system that serves large and small businesses in central and eastern Pennsylvania is strong well into the future.

Chamber Board Supports 911 Funding Reform

County commissioners from across Pennsylvania have identified 911 services funding reform as their top priority issue for 2015. As state funding sources have not been updated, counties have had to make up the difference in supporting their systems from local tax dollars. This week, the Chamber Board joined with the commissioners in urging the Legislature to update fees to avoid further burdens on local property taxpayers.

Counties assumed responsibility for 911 service with the 1990 adoption of the state Public Safety Emergency Telephone Act. That legislation provided funding in the form of a monthly fee on land lines of $1.00 to $1.50, with a $1 fee on cell phones and VoIP lines implemented later. As the fees have not been updated, and county systems need to be upgraded regularly to work with new communications technologies, the funding covers an average of 70 percent of counties’ cost according to a 2012 report issued by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee. The cell phone fee is also scheduled to sunset at the end of June.

Last Monday, commissioners from Columbia, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder, Union and Juniata counties held a press conference in Selinsgrove to bring attention to this issue. They were joined by Senator John Gordner and Representatives Kurt Masser, Fred Keller and Linda Schlegel Culver. The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania says that an across the board increase to $2 would generate an additional $100 million statewide. The commissioners are also suggesting that reform legislation include a mechanism to account for inflation and new technologies that may use 911 systems, such as OnStar. Additional information is available at www.pacounties.org.

Columbia and Montour County Commissioners have been working with other counties in the region to share 911 infrastructure and manage costs in providing this essential service. However, the lack of adequate funding is resulting in hundreds of thousands being used from local tax revenues to maintain and upgrade systems. At its regularly monthly meeting yesterday, the Chamber Board approved the attached letter calling on our state delegation and the House Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee to update the fee structure. The Chamber is also asking other chambers across the state to contact their legislators as well.