Eye Center of Central PA Celebrates New Location

The Eye Center of Central Pennsylvania is celebrating their Bloomsburg location with a ribbon cutting on Wednesday, July 17th at 4:30 p.m. Join the Chamber and the Eye Center for an evening of networking. Refreshments and light fare provided by O’Donnell Winery and Balzano’s.

The Eye Center of Central PA’s mission is to enhance quality of life by improving sight, preventing blindness and advancing ophthalmic knowledge through compassionate patient care and superior customer satisfaction. They are committed to confidentiality, respect, and high-quality care for all patients.

If you are interested in attending this ribbon cutting and networking event please RSVP with The Eye Center of Central PA at (570) 259-3078 or [email protected] by Monday, July 15th.

Thank You to All Involved with Celebrate Berwick

Celebrate Berwick, held this last weekend was a great success with over 30 businesses and 50 vendors participating. Despite the dreary weather the community came out to support this event and we received a great deal of positive feedback.

The Chamber recognized a need to rejuvenate the Berwick area with the help of the Berwick Task Force. After a long stretch of construction hurting many businesses Celebrate Berwick encouraged people to come back to the Berwick area and stimulate the economy.

This event would not be possible without the help of the volunteers that came to the planning meetings, contacted businesses for their support, and assisted the day of the event. A huge thank you as well to all the businesses and vendors that were involved in creating activities along Front Street! Some the businesses that donated their services for this event include Knorr Hauling, AJ limo Coach and Bodnar Sales and Services. Also an immense amount of gratitude for all of the sponsors who supported this event. Without the help of the local businesses and volunteers this event would not have been possible.

Gold Sponsors

  • Berwick Hospital Center
  • Berwick Industrial Development Association
  • Central Susquehanna Community Foundation
  • First Keystone Community Bank
  • Geisinger
  • Jack Williams Tire and Auto Service Center
  • Wise Snacks

Silver Level Sponsors

  • A&A Auto Store
  • First Columbia Bank and Trust

Bronze Level Sponsors

  • Berwick Dental Arts
  • Berwick Offray
  •  Dermatology Centers of NEPA
  • MetroCast Communications
  • Stuccio’s Pizzeria
  • Walker’s Jewelers

Pictures from this event can be found on the Chamber’s Facebook Page.

Health Care Reform to Impact Employers This Year

Insurance Marketplaces to open for enrollment this fall.

This summer, all employers, regardless of size, will have to inform their employees about the Federal Marketplace for purchasing health insurance. Depending upon the size of the business, employers may have to offer coverage to eligible employees or pay a penalty. Most employees not covered by an employer-sponsored plan will have to purchase their own insurance through a marketplace, formerly known as exchanges, or pay a penalty as well.

The implications of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on businesses were outlined by Christopher Fanning, Vice President of Commercial Sales with Geisinger Health Plan, at a Chamber-sponosred seminar held Tuesday morning at the Danville Elks.

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling last June which upheld the Affordable Care Act. Employers with at least 50 FTEs on an average annual basis will have to offer insurance or pay a penalty. Full-time employees are defined as those working 30 or more hours each calendar month. In order to determine the number of full-time equivalents, an employer should total the number of non-full time employee hours per month and divide that number by 120. Add up the total number of full time employees each month for the calendar year and the total number of full time equivalents each month for the calendar year and divide by 12.

Mr. Fanning’s presentation, which includes the formula for determining the size of your group, is available here.

Employers will be able to offer coverage through a traditional insurance broker relationship or through the Federal or private marketplaces. The Federal Marketplace will open in September for viewing and open enrollment will begin in October for a 1/1/14 effective date. Every employer will be required to provide information about the Federal marketplace to employees once the government finalizes model language for the notification, which is expected in late July or August.

Employers that meet the 50 FTE threshold but do not pay for employee coverage will pay a $2,000 penalty annually for the number of full-time employees minus the first thirty. The employer must provide at least 60% coverage and not require the employee to contribute more than 9-1/2% of their annual wages for coverage.

Small groups  (2-50) will be able to able to access a Small Business Health Options Program as part of the Marketplace. In 2016, the SHOP will be expanded to businesses with up to 100 FTEs. Small group employers will be able to apply for tax credits of up to 50% of the price of the premiums.

Most individuals not covered by employers will be required to have coverage through a private or the Federal Marketplace. The penalty for not purchasing insurance will be 1% of annual wages or $95 annually, whichever is greater. Individuals will be eligible for a subsidy on a sliding scale if their annual wages are up to 400% of the poverty level.

Private health insurance providers have just submitted plans and rates to the Federal government for review. Qualified health plans must include essential health benefits. Coverage will be gauranteed issue with pre-existing conditions covered. Premium adjustments for medical conditions are not allowed but there will also not be credits for younger, healthier individuals. Rates can be adjusted based on geographic region within the state, family size and regular tobacco use. Providers such as GHP will be able to discuss rates for these plans once approved in the next couple of months.

Fanning noted that for businesses that currently provide insurance, the changes take effect upon your next renewal date in 2014. Businesses with a renewal early in the year are considering renewals in late 2013 and should contact their broker to discuss the pros and cons. With more details becoming available and deadlines for implementation approaching, the Chamber will continue working with Geisinger Health Plan to provide relevant information on Health Care Reform to members of all sizes throughout this year.

Route 11 Reconstruction Project Update

The contractor working on Route 11 through Berwick plans to continue the reconstruction of a portion of Front Street through the business district next week.

On Monday, April 29, Barletta Materials and Construction, Inc. will switch lanes and begin excavating the right lane of Front Street from near Dunkin Donuts to Market Street, place sub-base material, and place two of the three new layers of blacktop. This phase is expected to be completed by Wednesday, May 8, weather permitting.

The third and final layer of blacktop will be placed after the Celebrate Berwick Festival, which is scheduled for Saturday, May 11.

Motorists are reminded that there will be no parking on either side of Front Street while this work is being completed but the sidewalks and businesses will remain open. One lane of traffic will be maintained throughout the work.

There will be several days where Mulberry Street will be closed while the excavation and paving work are completed.

Chamber Speaks Out in Support of Flood Protection Projects

 

Last Thursday, SEDA-COG hosted the first public meeting to discuss two projects which will protect major employers in the Town of Bloomsburg. When completed, the Autoneum North America and Windsor Foods facilities will have flood protection systems. Funding for the projects includes $15 million from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and $11.8 million from the PA Commonwealth Financing Authority. The companies are providing the remaining $3.2 million and are responsible for any cost overruns as well as for ongoing maintenance of their flood protection systems.

SEDA-COG will be coordinating the projects on behalf of the Columbia County Commissioners. The next step in the process is to select an engineering firm to design and coordinate construction of the flood protection systems. That selection process is expected to be completed by June. The design and permitting phase is expected to take a year, followed by two years of construction.

A logical question asked by a number of people in attendance at last week’s meeting was how much these structures might raise water levels in adjacent areas during future flooding. Engineering work to be completed will provide that data. SEDA-COG’s Bill Seigel stressed that, if there were to be any significant impact, it would have to be mitigated before construction could proceed. As additional data becomes available, subsequent meetings will be held to keep the public informed. A website has also been developed to provide project updates at: www.sedacog.org/site/BFPP.aspx.

The following comments were offered by Chamber President Fred Gaffney at the meeting.

The notification by the Army Corps of Engineers last June informing that the long-anticipated flood control project for the west end of Bloomsburg was no longer viable was demoralizing to say the least. For decades, the Town and County had been working towards this project and hundreds of residents and dozens of businesses were counting on it to protect their properties and left everyone asking the question, “What’s next?”.

For the two largest employers in this area, the choices were pretty straight forward, develop protection for their Bloomsburg facilities, or move those operations, and the jobs, to other facilities over time. In the flooding of 2011, direct losses to the two Bloomsburg operations were a combined 67 million dollars. As Autoneum provides flooring to a number of major automobile manufacturers, their shutdown had a significant ripple effect across the North American automotive industry. This followed flooding in 2006 and other losses every time the companies have to stop production to prepare for even the risk of flooding.

As these businesses compete in national and global markets, ongoing risk in Bloomsburg would not be an option. Locally, we knew that we had to move quickly to find solutions to keep these businesses, and the jobs they provide, here. If not, they would be lost not only to our area, but to Pennsylvania, and possibly the United States. This risk is recognized by the Commonwealth and Federal governments through their financial support of these projects.

It is important to  illustrate how valuable these two businesses are to our local economy. Autoneum is one of the largest private employers in Columbia County with 730 employees. According to the latest information from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, it is the largest private employer in the county, and second largest overall after Bloomsburg University. Combined, Autoneum and Windsor Foods employ about 880 people, with total payroll of 40 million dollars. More than half of those employees live in Columbia County and about 66% live in Columbia and Montour counties. These jobs have a multiplier effect on our area. For every three new jobs created at Autoneum, one job is created in the community. At Windsor Foods, a new job is created in the community for every two new jobs at the facility. Just as importantly, the opposite is true if those jobs go away.

Whether or not you or an immediate family member works at one of these two businesses, they benefit every taxpayer in Bloomsburg and Columbia County. The employees pay over 45 thousand dollars a year to the Town through the Municipal Services Tax, and the two businesses pay approximately 260 thousand dollars a year combined in property taxes. This does not take into account the local products and services purchased annually by the businesses. Autoneum alone paid over $4.5 million dollars last year just on utilities.

Consider also the support of community organizations and efforts. Autoneum and its employees contributed over 32 thousand dollars to last year’s United Way campaign.

And these companies are not average employers. The Autoneum facility has been in Bloomsburg for generations and won numerous automotive awards and manufacturing trophies over the years. Windsor Foods sells to Nestles, Stouffers, Olive Garden, Applebees and Perkins. Their operations bring national recognition to our area.

Manufacturing provides more jobs in Columbia County than any other industry by a large margin over retail trade and health care. This is even after the loss of 330 jobs in October, 2011 with the closing of R.R. Donnelley and the closing of Bloomsburg Mills in 2009 which resulted in 134 jobs lost. Replacing these higher quality jobs is a struggle. The largest new industry to come to Columbia County in a decade is the Dollar Tree Distribution Center in Briar Creek Township, which currently employs about 350 people.  The Chamber and other economic development groups in the County are constantly working to bring new jobs to our area, but we face competition from not only neighboring counties, but neighboring states.

Thirty million dollars for these two projects is a lot of money, but, this investment will pay off in just one flood. While we all hope that is a long way off, we know it’s only a matter of time.

These two businesses have continually invested in their Bloomsburg facilities. Autoneum has invested over 10 million in just the last three years as their employment has rebounded from the economic downturn in 2009. Windsor Foods capital expenditures in 2011 exceeded 3.1 million. In 2011, these two businesses made a commitment to rebuild in our community after the flooding. It is important that the community remain committed to these companies as well in supporting these projects.