Effort to help determine business climate, community issues

The Williamsport Business Association is seeking to gain a better idea of the business and community climate in the city.

Toward that end, the organization is sending out surveys to businesses to learn strengths, weaknesses and challenges with regard to such key components as the economy, community and the workforce.

Williamsport Business Association Board member Patrick Cummings said the surveys will be used to come up with a strategy to “prevent against any downturns by capitalizing on Williamsport’s most dynamic growth opportunities while also seeking to address competitive challenges that risk derailing our region’s strong business growth trajectory.”

“We are going to do a qualitative review. You will actually hear what people think,” he said.

Survey data is to be collected over a two-month period.

Eventually, the results will be scrutinized and hopefully reviewed with business officials.

“We will look at the top issues and concerns,” he said. “The idea is to bring businesses together and decide how we fix these things.”

Williamsport Business Association President Bernie Katz said too often surveys are conducted but dismissed.

“We hope to accomplish the most current and up-to-date survey of businesses,” he said.

The intent is to eventually focus on trying to improve in areas that raise the biggest concerns or challenges rather than a whole array of things.

Otherwise, the two agreed, the process gets diluted.

“We don’t want this to be something that will be forgotten,” Cummings said.

The survey includes a number of questions that glean background information from businesses such as type of enterprise, numbers of employees, years in existence and operating hours.

The survey also targets in on the strengths and weaknesses of the local market with respect to education and training, housing, quality of life, workforce skills, transportation and other resources and services.

More general questions attempt to glean business officials’ perceptions of the city of Williamsport.

Cummings said each section of the survey has its own theme.

He referred to one survey question that asks respondents to rate top business challenges in the city. The question relates to 21 issues, including everything from employment recruitment and retention to crime, parking and quality of life.

“This really gets to the heart and soul of the process,” Cummings said.

Katz said a better community can mean an improved business climate.

But Katz is quick to noted that Williamsport already has a lot going for it.

Katz, owner of Le Chocolate, 420 Pine St., referred to the downtown commercial resurgence.

In addition to the hotels built in recent years in center city, he said many people would be surprised to know that there exist three dozen restaurants in the downtown.

He said out-of-town visitors to his store often remark on the unique and aesthetic appeal of center city.

The Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce is helping get out the surveys.

The estimated time for completing a survey is 20 minutes.

And the goal of the survey is pretty simple.

“We hope to learn where to go from here,” Cummings said.

The survey can be found online at www.williamsportpa.org.