Mon Valley Alliance opens business resource center

Paul Paterra

A former Community Bank branch office in Monongahela has a new use.

A partnership was announced last week between Community Bank and the Mon Valley Alliance for the creation of the Mon Valley Business Resource Center. The center is seen as a hub for business development, training, support and incubation for new and growing businesses in the Mon Valley region.

The Mon Valley Business Center will be located at the former Community Bank branch office at 235 W. Main St. in Monongahela. It will provide a space for businesses to engage with nonprofits, educational and government services, as well as serve as headquarters for the Mon Valley Alliance (MVA) and the Mon Valley Alliance Foundation.

Ben Brown, CEO of Mon Valley Alliance, said the MVA was to start operations in the facility Friday. Renovation over the next couple months will include conference and training rooms, a hotel-style lobby for business meetings, a media room for video and audio production, electronic meeting areas and business support services.

Brown called Thursday’s announcement partnership a “historic day in the Valley.”

“Fifty-six years ago a steel facility in Donora closed, a couple thousand people were unemployed and our predecessor organizations to the Mon Valley Alliance were formed,” Brown said. “We worked for the next couple of decades on brownfield remediation, industrial park development, infrastructure development and programs to bring large businesses into our area for jobs.”

Brown said in recent years, MVA challenged itself to do more.

“We specifically wanted to add on community development, nonprofit support, small business lending and getting involved in physical projects in our historic downtowns,” he said.

Brown said that included in a new riverfront park in Charleroi and an investment of more than $650,000 in blight remediation.

He further said the MVA has supported more than 20 nonprofit and community groups through grant funding and committed more than $200,000 in low interest loans to small and start-up businesses that are not bankable.

“Those are budding entrepreneurs right here in our Valley keeping our talent here at home and getting them started, creating new businesses and hiring workers and investing in their space,” Brown said.

The MVA also helped more than 50 local businesses during the pandemic with loan and grant applications and partnered with Washington County and various state agencies to provide a little more than $2.3 million to the hospitality and restaurant industry.

“As part of all that work, we’ve come to realize that a critical piece that was missing in the Valley was a space such as this,” Brown said. “A space where businesses, government officials, nonprofit institutions and foundations can come together, can collaborate, can innovate, can train, can support and pull together to achieve all of our common goals.”

Community Bank made a $230,000 contribution to the Mon Valley Alliance Foundation by selling the building, which has an appraised value of $280,000, for $50,000.

“As we need to innovate in the real world, other businesses need to innovate, they need to collaborate, they need to come together with new ideas so they can grow jobs, have the jobs local, continue the quality of life for everybody in the Valley so our communities can be strong and everybody in our Valley can have an opportunity and be successful in their lives,” said John Montgomery, president and CEO of Community Bank.

A number of community leaders were on hand for Thursday’s announcement.

This included state Sen Camera Bartolotta, R-Carroll, who said Monongahela has been her hometown for many years.

“I’m thrilled not to just see something in this space, but you folks in this space,” she said of the Mon Valley Alliance. “It’s great to have you right here in my hometown, and I’m excited to see what it is you can do and to spread your wings in Monongahela. I couldn’t be more proud to have you here.

State Rep. Bud Cook, R-Daisytown, reiterated his stance of the importance of creating enough job opportunities to keep people from leaving the area for work.

“It’s way past time that our young people have to leave the Valley in order to go get jobs,” Cook said. “We need them to come home. We need them to stay home. It’s way past time to quit talking about what we don’t have and start promoting what we do have.”

Monongahela Mayor Greg Garry said this resource center can only be helpful to the city and the Valley.

“I think it’s going to help the city and the surrounding areas tremendously,” Garry said. “(It can help to) grow future businesses and things like that.”

Future plans for the building call for a renovated outdoor meeting and networking space to further enhance the usability and Streetscape of the property.