This article was originally published as part of the Grow PA solutions journalism project, published by Technical.ly and underwritten in part by The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia.
Johnstown used to thrive on big defense contracts. Now the seat of Cambria County is hoping to replicate some of Pittsburgh’s tech success.
In a local twist on the trade delegation concept, a group of Pittsburgh business people made the 70-mile trek to Johnstown last week as part of an ongoing effort to foster economic development between the two cities.
Real estate is cheaper and more plentiful in Johnstown, and the competition for software engineers is not as fierce as it is in Pittsburgh, which now hosts Uber, Google and Facebook offices. Smaller manufacturers may be able to find a place in the supply chain of one of Johnstown’s larger contractors.
That’s just part of the pitch that Cambria County Grants Facilitator John Dubnansky and his colleagues in Johnstown economic development are making as part of the ongoing Bridge to Pittsburgh initiative.
“Johnstown has been a distressed community for two decades,” said Dubnansky. “We’re trying to show that to operate here, to do business here, we can do things a little quicker. We’re big enough and have enough resources to help your business, but we’re small enough that we can easily get our hands around problems.”
Johnstown has a lot in common with its neighbor to the west. Its largest employer is healthcare, and it has a University of Pittsburgh campus. Like Pittsburgh, the industries that bolstered Johnstown’s local economy, such as steel, are no longer the economic drivers they once were.
Perhaps the biggest blow to Johnstown’s economy in recent years has been the scaling back of its defense contracts. The late Congressman John Murtha, who died in 2010, is credited with bringing billions of dollars in defense and military research contracts to