- Associated Press - Saturday, November 22, 2014

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (AP) - The decline of the local steel industry was imminent in the early 1970s.

Johnstown’s leaders realized major changes would accompany the loss of Bethlehem Steel Corp. and U.S. Steel Corp. So, they bonded together: Louis Galliker, Daniel Glosser, Frank Pasquerilla, Walter Krebs, Robert Gleason, Andrew Koban, Charles Kunkle, Howard Picking and others. Their goal was to shape the region’s post-steel identity through the Johnstown Area Regional Industries.

And it was their vision and leadership, along with the work of countless other individuals, that has been remembered during JARI’s 40th anniversary celebration at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown’s Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center.

“I think it’s exciting because the organization has had such tremendous leadership over the years,” JARI President Linda Thomson said. “That’s sort of what we were trying to celebrate as we turn 40 this year. It’s just tremendous community leadership that has really propelled the organization to do the things that it’s done over the years.”

JARI’s party was to be highlighted by the premiere of a film titled “A Thing Called JARI … 40 Years in the Making.”

End of an era

Steel companies, predominately Bethlehem, influenced almost every aspect of life in Johnstown and the surrounding communities.

They provided cradle-to-grave care for their employees and families. At its peak, the industry was estimated to employ approximately 20,000 local workers. Other businesses, such as department stores, bars and diners, thrived in the city thanks to the presence of many well-paid mill workers, who had money to spend. There were good jobs in the coal mines and on the railroads, too, thanks to big steel.

“There was a time when everybody relied on old Uncle Charlie Bethlehem,” state Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont, said.

Realizing the end was coming, JARI, which was officially founded on June 21, 1974, tried to lessen the impact, while diversifying the local economy.

“That was at a time when the community was very apprehensive and in turmoil because Bethlehem was threatening to close their entire operation in Johnstown, so the community leaders got together, worked with Bethlehem to delay that,” Robert Layo, the Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Chamber of Commerce’s president and CEO, said. “Bethlehem agreed to contribute to development funds.”

The collapse did come, though, accompanied by a devastating flood in 1977.

Following the back-to-back hits, unemployment, for part of the 1980s, topped 20 percent.

By then, JARI?had already established a foundation that included working with state and federal officials, especially U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Johnstown, who, through his power and connections, provided an important pipeline to funding in Washington, D.C.

“Mr. Murtha and JARI began to complement each other,” said Edward Sheehan, Jr., president and CEO of Concurrent Technologies Corp., which benefited greatly from the congressman’s close relationship to the defense industry.

‘An important role’

JARI has made numerous important contributions, including creating its own Procurement Technical Assistance Center, Center for Business Development and Workforce Development Program.

The organization attracted Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. to the area and developed the Johnstown Industrial Park, Johnstown Business Park and Quemahoning Industrial Park. JARI administered the Johnstown Renaissance Project that involved renovating the Cambria County War Memorial Arena, along with constructing the Frank J. Pasquerilla Conference Center and Intermodal Transportation Center.

It also helps host the annual Showcase for Commerce, a defense industry and business expo that will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2015.

“They’ve always played an important role in the community,” Mark Pasquerilla, president of the Greater Johnstown Regional Partnership, said.

Evolving mission

Along with those major contributions, JARI has assisted in many behind-the-scenes ways, such as fostering collaborative relationships between businesses, government officials, nonprofits, workers and educators.

“Linda does a great job,” state Rep. Bryan Barbin, D-Johnstown, said. “She does a great job by bringing people together. I attend some of the meetings they have between business and education.

“Those meetings are trying to target our educational resources to make sure that the businesses have what they need so when they’re looking to fill positions they come to us first. That helps everybody in the area.”

JARI’s mission constantly evolves.

Nowadays, the organization is involved in several business opportunities that barely existed locally - if at all - just a decade ago.

“Obviously, JARI is as vital to our region as ever, “Thomson said.

“Today, we are focused on international development, the Marcellus Shale opportunities for growing supply chain and other types of investment in our region, really helping entrepreneurs more so than ever in our past.”

Documentary debuts

Forty years of JARI’s existence has been compressed into a 23-minute film

The documentary, created by Wix Pix Productions, features interviews with 13 individuals, current footage of the region and historical photos.

“If you’re a Johnstown history fan, it’s really something you don’t want to miss. . It’s a pretty extensive look at the 40 years they’ve been together,” said AmeriServ Financial Executive Vice President of Corporate Marketing Dan Hummel, who played an instrumental role in developing the film.

Hummel said the movie is pulled together by what he described as an “intriguing narrator.”

Its debut was to be part of Thursday night’s scheduled activities that include a chairman’s meet and greet, speaker program and reception.

Several organizations, led by the party’s top sponsor, AmeriServ Financial, are collaborating to put on the event.

“We just feel it’s in the community’s best interest - and in our best interest - to help support what JARI does,” said the company’s CEO Glenn Wilson.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1veWy79

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Information from: The Tribune-Democrat, https://www.tribune-democrat.com


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