David Grande admitted he almost punched the guy.

Grande, vice president of the Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the man he recently encountered told him that the Shenango Valley was dying.

Grande told this story to the largest crowd to ever attend the chamber’s annual Forecast Breakfast, held Jan. 29 at Avalon Golf and Country Club, Hermitage.

The man was looking to the past at what once was, Grande said. The key to the valley’s survival is looking to the future and what it can become.

“Look us in the face and tell us we’re dying,” he said.

The breakfast was an opportunity for local governments to talk about their projects for 2019 – roads and recreation topped the list – local developers to unveil plans and local organizations to talk about their initiatives.

Sharon City Manager Bob Fiscus said the projects show that the Shenango Valley is looking ahead, and has been for some years.

“We look nothing like we did back then,” Fiscus said of Sharon in 2011, when he was acting city manager.

Noting how some projects, like the bicycle lanes that will be a part of road projects in Sharon and Hermitage, cross borders, Fiscus said: “We can’t accomplish anything if we aren’t working together.”

Sherris Moreira
Sherris Moreira

Private companies also are looking to serve more than one sector with their endeavors.

Jim Landino, who has bought many properties in Sharon, said he is particularly interested in tying into Penn State’s Shenango Campus, including building housing designed for Penn State students, and he looks forward to projects by other developers, such as Valley Shenango Economic Development Corp.’s redevelopment of the former Westinghouse plant, at the other end of Sharpsville Avenue from where Landino has invested in buildings; and the expanded and remodeled Mercer County Community Federal Credit Union, which will reopen soon.

Despite the naysayers such as the man Grande encountered, “We are here,” Landino said.

Philadelphia Candies of Hermitage has been here for 100 years and is celebrating that centenary this year, with its 30th annual factory tour set for April 6.

Laura Ackley, who manages Winner properties such as Donna’s Diner and the Buhl Mansion, gave up an opportunity to talk about those properties so she could tout the arts community, including Chrysalis Stage Advanced Performing Arts Conservatory, which extended “West Side Story” for shows at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 2 and 3:30 p.m. Feb. 3 at the Armory of the Arts, Sharon; Area Community Theater of Sharpsville, which is planning “Brigadoon” for the spring; Greenville Symphony Orchestra; and the individual artists who have settled in downtown Sharon and populate events such as WaterFire Sharon, set for July 27 and Sept. 21; and Arts Alive at Mardi Gras at the Corinthian, in Sharon, which is set for 4 to 10 p.m. Feb. 9.

“We don’t have to drive to Pittsburgh and Cleveland to experience amazing art,” Ackley said.

The chamber trumpeted its own events, including: Shenango Valley Home and Garden Expo, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 9 at Avalon; a seminar on business succession, Feb. 26 at Butler County Community College (BC3), Hermitage; Boost Your Business Conference, March 8 at BC3; and Phoenix Awards 2019, May 16 in the Corinthian.

The chamber serves Brookfield and Hubbard, and individuals and businesses from Ohio figure prominently in some of the chamber’s activities for 2019, said Executive Director Sherris Moreira. The chamber also works with the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber.

“Our chamber crosses borders,” she said. “We look at the region, as a chamber.”