Erie Chamber Blog
Wednesday February 12, 2020 

Submitted by Scott T. Lee, Foundation for Free Enterprise Education

We hear it all the time – “I can’t find great employees!” With the improving economy, many of our members are having trouble finding people with the knowledge and skills they need to help their business grow and thrive. We have a solution – Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week (PFEW). This award-winning summer economics education program has benefitted our local students for over 40 years. PFEW immerses rising high school juniors and seniors in the world of business, allowing them to experience firsthand what you face each day. Offered by the Foundation for Free Enterprise Education, PFEW was founded to teach students about the American private enterprise system and help students develop skills that make them the great employees and employers of the future. PFEW annually holds five week-long sessions in July and August on the campuses of Lycoming College and the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, PA, serving nearly 2,100 students and 200 volunteers each year. 

PFEW participants form teams of approximately 18 students and one volunteer adult business mentor. This group becomes the simulated management team of an underperforming manufacturing company in direct competition with other student companies. Each company must determine, through 12 business quarters, their selling price, marketing costs, production levels and budgets, banking needs, R&D costs and more. In addition, teams must develop a marketing strategy, create a print and media campaign, and design a website. Sound familiar? 

The week is highlighted by Speakers delivering inspiring motivational messages geared toward the students’ personal and professional development, including the Relationship between Business and Government, Leadership, Teamwork, Critical Thinking, Effective Communication, and more. Team-building activities, an ethics case study, and other business-related activities are included throughout the week. Informal interaction and discussion between businesspeople and students occur daily. 

PFEW is designed to give every participant an idea of real-world relevant issues facing today’s businesses. But does it work? Consider the following quote from 2019 PFEW graduate Simon Gajewski from Great Valley High School: “I cannot express into words how much I have learned in the last week. However, this camp is not only about teaching business. It is about learning the soft skills in business such as presentation skills, good communication, working as a team, time management, and how to work hard and grow into the business world. Your sponsorship allowed me to develop all of these skills ahead of others my age and it really helped me gain confidence and grow as a person.” 

Simon gets to the heart of PFEW – igniting a passion for business in the next generation and arming them with skills that will drive Pennsylvania forward for years to come. The Chamber has proudly supported PFEW for many years, and we encourage all our local companies and civic organizations to provide sponsorship for our students and, if possible, volunteers for the sessions. Every student attends PFEW on a fully tax-deductible $625 sponsorship (the actual value of which exceeds $1,500) which is provided by a local firm, foundation, civic organization, or individual. PFEW is an approved Educational Improvement Organization through the PA Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program. Sponsorship donors are prominently recognized in several publications circulated throughout the state, and each student wears the name of their sponsor on their photo ID badge throughout the week. Students write their sponsors after graduation to report on what they have learned.

The Foundation for Free Enterprise Education, in cooperation with the SIFMA Foundation, offers another award-winning economics education program called the Stock Market GameTM (SMG). SMG is an exciting, interactive game that teaches students in grades 4-12 about investing, global capital markets, and personal finance, leading to long-term financial freedom. Each school year, this program serves over 8,000 students statewide. 

If you would like to learn more about either award-winning program and how you can get involved, please visit the Foundation’s website,, or contact Scott Lee, vice president of marketing & development for the Foundation for Free Enterprise Education at (814) 833-9576 ext. 8, or


  • pfew
  • pennsylvania free enterprise week
  • students
  • education
  • business
Friday February 7, 2020 

Submitted by Adam Williams, Esq., Williams & Jorden

News outlets are reporting record sales of small businesses in recent years, citing retiring baby boomers, a tight labor market for new employees, and decreased regulation as factors contributing to the boom. 

If you buy or sell a business, it will likely be the largest transaction you will enter into in your entire life.  The values typically exceed what you would spend on a house or a car. 

Beyond the high dollar amounts, business acquisitions can be incredibly complex once you start to consider the impact it will have on employees, vendors, customers, partners, and other stakeholders. 

Below, I will summarize the top three mistakes that occur when buying or selling a business. This is far from an exhaustive list; it’s meant to be more of a warning than a checklist. 

1. Not doing your homework.

You order a home inspection done you purchase a home. You test drive a car before you purchase it. What level of effort is required when purchasing a business? 

We call this process due diligence. It is an opportunity for a buyer to inspect every aspect of the seller’s business.  A buyer will typically request, and inspect the following:

  • Corporate Records, such as bylaws or shareholder agreements,
  • Financial Records,
  • Contracts, leases, loans and other agreements,
  • Employee files and information,
  • Tax returns, licenses and permits, and
  • Many, many other categories

It is important for a buyer to review all of this information so that he can protect himself in the Purchase Agreement.  I can also help a seller get maximum value for his business if these documents are all in good order. 

2. Assuming that everything will go well

At the end of the day, buying a business is done through a Contract. Bad contracts only assume that things will go well. As a buyer, you want to be protected from a large loss of customers, liabilities the seller may not have disclosed, or things that you could not have discovered in due diligence. 

As a seller, you want to make that the buyer won’t hold you responsible for problems that he creates.

No deal gets done without some problems.  The parties need to agree on what types of problems they will each be responsible for, and what kinds (or amounts) of problems they are not willing to assume.  This is why lawyers spend a lot of time drafting indemnification and escrow provisions, and why other lawyers spend a lot of time arguing poorly drafted provisions in court.

3. Not knowing how deals get done

There are two primary ways that people buy and sell businesses. One way is to buy the stock or the LLC membership interest of the seller. Another way is simply to buy the seller’s assets. 

You also need to understand how you will pay for the business. If you’re a cash buyer, you may be more likely to find a willing seller. On the other hand, may want to hold some of the purchase price in escrow for unforeseen issues. 

If the seller will be financing the deal, payment terms need to be spelled out explicitly, including the rights and obligations of the buyer and the seller.  Will the seller have a secured interest (or lien) on the company or its assets of the buyer stops paying? 

If you are going to the bank for financing, the process will take longer than you expect. Banks need to do their due diligence to make sure the deal is a financial fit for them. Banks take on huge risk when they loan money to people, and they need to mitigate as much of that risk as they can. The process may take even longer if the federal government is guaranteeing a portion of that loan through the SBA. 

Talk to the experts

The process of buying or selling a business can be quite time-consuming.  Buyers and sellers are often anxious to get to the closing table.  Accountants, lawyers, and bankers will seem to slow the process down as they do their review. 

If you are thinking of buying a business, or want to have an exit plan, talk to someone who has been there before.

*Adam will be presenting our next workshop, Business Buying and Selling: The Why and How, set for Thursday, February 13th. Click below for details and to register.


  • business
  • buy
  • sell
  • talk to the experts
Tuesday February 11, 2020 

Submitted by Laurie Knoll, NWIRC

The Northwest Contest of What’s So Cool About Manufacturing (WSCM) for middle schools in Erie and Crawford Counties is in full swing. WSCM is a student video contest with the goal to create awareness within the schools and the community about cool manufacturing careers through the eyes of 7th and 8th grade students. The team, guided by their Teacher Coach, conducts research, films at the company, and edits their video for final submission to be eligible for several award categories, including Viewer’s Choice selected by online voting. The program started with Teacher Coach training back in October and culminates with a 3-day online voting period for school videos (March 16-18) for other award categories, and an Awards Ceremony on March 26, 2020. Fifteen middle schools in Erie and Crawford County, paired with a manufacturer partner are competing this year. The community can get involved too by voting to select the Viewer’s Choice award winner at (look for Northwest contest).

NWIRC is producing the program again this year, along with support from Career Street, WQLN, NWPA Job Connect, Erie County Technical School, Crawford County Career and Technical Center (CCCTC) and Precision Machining Institute (PMI) Crawford County K-12 Career Education Alliance, Progress for Industry (PFI), NWPA-NTMA, Haines Printing, Edinboro University, Remedy Intelligent Staffing, and McGill Power Bell.

Participating Schools and their Feature Manufacturer include:

Blessed Sacrament School (GeorgeKo Industries)
Cambridge Springs Jr/Sr High School (Meadville Forging Company/MFC Group)
Cochranton Jr/Sr High School (Acutec Precision Aerospace)
Corry Area Middle School (Great Lakes Manufacturing)
Erie First Christian Academy (Composiflex)
Maplewood Jr/Sr High School (Area Tool & Manufacturing)
Meadville Area Middle School (Mecal by Starn)
North East Middle School (McInnes Rolled Rings)
Rice Avenue Middle School (Micro Mold & Plastikos)
Saegertown Jr/Sr High School (Peter’s Heat Treating)

St Gregory’s Parish School (Electric Materials)
Union City Area Middle School (Corry Manufacturing)
Walnut Creek Middle School (Beaumont Technologies)
Wilson Middle School (American Turned Products)
Westlake Middle School (Modern Industries)

The WSCM student video contest was developed in 2014 by Lehigh Valley’s Manufacturers Resource Center (MRC) to help change perceptions of manufacturing careers. Last year, there were 15 WSCM contests throughout the Commonwealth with 239 schools paired with 239 manufacturers and there were 902,520 online votes case for Viewer’s Choice awards.

Top winners among each of the contests will advance to the Statewide Awards on April 29th in Harrisburg, PA.

  • manufacturing
  • middle school students
  • careers
Monday February 10, 2020 

Submitted by Cathy Szymanski, Szymanski Consulting


Virtual reality (VR) has many benefits. Its immersive sensory experience is being applied in healthcare, gaming and entertainment, fashion, the military, and the media, just to name a few. Small- and mid-sized businesses are no exception, as this technology is changing how they normally do business in wonderful ways.

Create your own VR prototypes

With the help of VR, you’ll no longer have to rely on manufacturing when you want to see what your product physically looks like and how it might work. These virtual products allow you to make any changes before production. Model creation in VR, for example, can save company resources, as these virtual prototypes allow manufacturers to examine a product and make changes without the time and money of building a physical model.

VR for engineers

As with manufacturing, VR is also time- and cost-efficient for engineers, architects, and other professionals who work with building large structures. It replaces traditional approaches, such as rendering small 2D models and offers a more immersive experience that helps in designing structures.

Virtual tours

Let’s say that you’re a real estate agent showing houses to potential buyers. Your buyers may be in a different state or simply don’t want to spend time going from house to house. VR allows customers to see what the property looks like in a three-dimensional setting without them having to actually be there.

Showing all the angles of a product

In order to entice buyers into making a purchase, you must first give them an idea as to what your product actually looks like, and they need to see as many angles as possible. With VR, customers see your product from all angles without touching it. Furthermore, it allows customers to see a product in action. Shoppers can thoroughly examine a product before purchasing it.

Take customers on an adventure

If you are in a tourism or adventure-based business, you can use VR to give customers a taste of what to expect from the attractions. Imagine that you have an amusement park, and you want to attract customer attention. You can offer a short VR simulation of one of your rides so people can see whether or not they’d like it. Or if you own a resort or campground, you’ll also be able to create VR versions of whatever activities you offer.

If done properly, VR has the potential to take your small- and mid-sized business to the next level. If you have any questions about how you can mesh VR with your company, don’t hesitate to send us an email or give us a call. We’ll be more than happy to assist you.

  • virtual reality
  • small business
  • mid-sized business
Wednesday February 5, 2020 

Submitted by Brett Wiler, Vice President of Capital Formation

Flagship Opportunity Zone Development Company


This Wednesday, on February 5, Erie won the Forbes OZ Catalyst Challenge Grand Prize at the Winter Innovation Summit held at the Sorenson Impact Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. Our competition included Opportunity Zones in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Kansas City, and throughout the nation. The judges determined that our plan to invest more than $60M in Erie’s Opportunity Zones placed Erie at the forefront of communities using this policy to attract capital to talented but underserved regions.

The recognition from one of the nation’s premier business publications is a pivotal moment and tremendous accomplishment for this region. For decades, Erie has faced challenges and setbacks that were often beyond our control. That said, we have also neglected to use some of the tools available that other communities use to build a strong local economy.

That era is over.

We are going to use every tool available. The families who call this region home deserve no less.

The Erie of tomorrow—and the Erie of today—has shown an ability to band together, collaborate, and work passionately and quickly toward a better future. Leaders at the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership, the Flagship Opportunity Zone (a division of the Regional Chamber), the Erie Downtown Development Corporation (EDDC), the Erie Innovation District (EID), Mayor Joe Schember’s office, Erie Insurance, and so many others have embraced and championed Opportunity Zones as an important economic development tool.

There is a term for the residents and leaders who’ve continued to believe in Erie, even in our most challenging times. That term is “local patriot.” A few years ago, Atlantic writer James Fallows toured America in a small airplane. Fallows visited communities that seemed to have figured out a way forward in the modern economy. Those visits led Fallows to compile a list of eleven signs a city will succeed.

Second on that list was the presence of “local patriots.”

While they can be patriotic in the traditional sense, what Fallows meant by “local patriot” is a consistent champion for their community. Local patriots climb to the rooftops and tell the world exactly how special their community is.

While Erie still has its challenges, when it comes to local patriots, our region’s rooftops are standing room only.

Our local patriots have helped put Erie at the forefront of the national Opportunity Zone conversation. As a result, Forbes recognized our region as a national leader, a trendsetter, and a community other cities, regions, and even states can learn from.

It’s been a long, long time since Erie received that sort of recognition.

Yet, here we are.

We earned it.

Actually, you earned it.

However, our work has just begun. The coming years will see our region soar to heights it hasn’t seen in decades—but only if you and the rest of Erie’s local patriots continue to roll up their sleeves, climb to the top of any roof they can find, and tell the world just how special this community is.

This award isn’t an epilogue.

It’s a prologue—though it is a prologue we are incredibly proud of.

Now, let’s go write the rest of the story.

  • forbes magazine
  • opportunity zone
  • erie pa
  • local patriots

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