During a day trip to a hunting store near State College last weekend, my parents, daughter and I stopped at another sportsman’s store in downtown Bedford. If you’ve never been to downtown Bedford, please go. It was so unbelievably refreshing to see a quaint downtown bustling with people and businesses. And even though it was raining, it didn’t stop shoppers from walking up and down the street patronizing the businesses.

There were several clothing stores, a theater, winery, food stores, art gallery, candy store, and bakery. And those were just on one block. Our downtowns in Fayette County could once again be like that. I see that there are several signs in storefronts in downtown Uniontown, and there have been several new businesses opening over the last few months in Connellsville. It’s just a matter of helping to get new businesses off the ground and continuing to support existing locally-owned businesses.

Fay-Penn Economic Development Council, through its partnership with Saint Vincent University’s Small Business Development Center, can help develop business plans as well as show new and existing small business owners what programs Fay-Penn offers to help with site selection, financing and workforce development. In 2013, Fay-Penn made 12 loans totaling $1,718,647 to eight different companies from Fay-Penn’s Rural Microenterprise Assistance Program, Downtown Revitalization Loan Fund, Fayette Capital Loan Fund and the Small Business Loan Fund. These loan projects generated additional private investment of $8,728,377 and resulted in the creation and/or retention of 45 jobs. As of 2013, 168 projects have been financed involving over $62.4 million in private investment.

It’s important to know that there are programs and resources out there to get new businesses off the ground and help sustain existing businesses so that our county’s economy can improve and thrive. Additionally, getting qualified employees into these workplaces is just as crucial as having businesses in Fayette County. That is something that Fay-Penn’s Workforce Development department addresses. Check out the Fay-Penn’s website at www.faypenn.org or call 724-437-7913 for more information on all of these different programs.

Helping to create new and sustaining businesses while employing a qualified workforce is so important, and patronizing our locally owned businesses will only help to strengthen our area, lower crime, provide better infrastructure and make Fayette County a desirable place to live, work and play.

Don’t forget to participate in the Buy Local Holiday Giveaway. Anytime you shop at a Buy Local business between now and Dec. 14, just mail a copy of your receipt with your name and phone number/email address to Fay-Penn, 1040 Eberly Way, Suite 200, Lemont Furnace, PA 15456 and you will be entered to win $500 or $250 in gift cards to Buy Local businesses or a year-long car care package, courtesy of Centennial Chevrolet. You can also post a selfie of you holding your receipt to the Buy Local Facebook page to be entered. We will announce the winner on Dec. 19. Email me at loris@faypenn.org for more information.

Lori Scott is the Sustainable Communities Specialist for Fay-Penn Economic Development Council. She can be reached at loris@faypenn.org or 724-437-7913.

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