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Problem Solutions Partners with Local Higher Education Institutions to Create New Economic Opportunities

This article originally appeared in The Tribune Democrat

Cambria County has five colleges within its borders that serve as major players in the local economy, preparing thousands of career- readu students each year.

"Imagine what they could do working together." - Problem Solutions President/ CEO, Mike Hruska.

Through an $80,000 grant, his company will soon find out – by working with Cambria-Rowe Business College, Mount Aloysius College, Pennsylvania Highlands Community College, the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown and St. Francis University to find ways they can collaborate, with each other and businesses to create new economic opportunities – and then get to work on making them happen, he said.

 

Hruska said the partnership will allow the schools to partner program strengths and "powerful talent pipelines" with businesses at the local and international levels to further diversify the Johnstown area's economy.

The way Hruska sees it, the region has the resources to compete with growing, seemingly thriving hubs – but the bridges to connect Johnstown's innovators and graduating talent pool aren't always there. That means missed opportunities.

And too often, bright young minds trained for well-paying jobs end up finding work inside Washington, D.C.'s beltway or other regions, St. Francis University's business school dean Randy Frye said.

He's witnessed it over and over again with St. Francis students in degree programs that offer cyber security as a minor.

"The kids graduating in that program ...  it's a 100 percent placement rate," he said, noting his own son pursued that path.

And like others since, Frye's son ended up finding work down south.

Hruska and Good Future Innovation's Donald Bonk said that doesn't have to be a trend.

Hruska said his research and software development company already has in-roads in the industry, providing cyber security services to government agencies from Johnstown.

"With some creativity, collaboration and some sweat, we have the potential to both produce and place students immediately into jobs right here," he said. "And with the creation of a talent pipeline like this, many companies could consider an office presence in our region."

Cambria County can prime itself to better capitalize on the combined pool of diverse graduates local schools send into the world, county grant facilitator John Dubnansky said.

Taking a deeper, regional look at local school graduation output, programs and other resources to identify local strengths will allow Cambria County to brand and market itself to regional, national and international companies looking for what the region has to offer, he said.

 

While Pitt-Johnstown might annually offer 300 engineering graduates, that figure might be doubled from a county-wide perspective – and that might appeal to companies looking for young talent at time Johnstown is striving to diversify, Dubnansky said.

It was actually the region's defense industry losses that lead to the Department of Defense dollars that will fund the multi-group effort, he said.

The $80,000 grant is part of more than $500,000 in the agency's Economic Adjustment Office funds awarded to the county to help the area cope with defense contract losses through industry diversification efforts.

"Coal and steel served us well, but now we're in a transition," UPJ President Jem Spectar said. "At this point, ideas will matter a lot more. Innovation will equalize the playing field – and collaboration will be a difference-maker."

He described Problem Solutions as a prime example, noting that the company has become a more-than-40-employee entity by diversifying since it's founding as a defense upstart 12 years ago. 

Hruska said there are plenty more opportunities for others to carve a niche here, too – and higher education can play a major role.

"We have something other places want," he said of the area's talent pipeline. "We have something that could be a reason for business to build here."

 
 

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him