WCCED

Richard White, left, and Dean Helfer were a Halloween treat on the kazoo.

Shortly after 12 p.m. on Halloween, Richard White and Dean Helfer scared up a distinctive treat.

Holding kazoos, made at Helfer's toy manufacturing facility, the two adults lifted them to their lips and belted out "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow." The musical interlude was a testimony to Dan Reitz, current executive director of the Washington County Council on Economic Development.

But it also could have been a salute to WCCED, a jolly good agency in the view of many of the guests seated before them.

WCCED celebrated its 30th anniversary Thursday with a luncheon at Hilton Garden Inn at Southpointe. An audience of 120, a few dressed appropriately for the happy holiday, were on hand to honor an economic development agency that was formed three decades ago, as a public-private partnership, to help re-mediate a county reeling from the downfall of glass, steel and other industries.

White, WCCED's chair, said the agency had an immediate impact. He said the late Max Morgan, the initial executive director, "organized the first fundraising campaign and set a goal of $250,000. Well, $300,000 was raised."

That was a rapid start for a nonprofit that, three decades later, is identified primarily as being the owner and caretaker of Starpointe Business Park, a 1,153-acre brownfield in Hanover Township that was transformed into a viable park that is two-thirds developed.

But WCCED also is a major microlender through the Small Business Administration. Reitz said 30 companies pay $10,000 a year for small startup and early startup businesses.

The agency works at securing microloans for six counties in Western Pennsylvania: Washington, Greene, Fayette, Westmoreland, Allegheny and Beaver. But it also serves 38 counties in West Virginia and five in Ohio, through the assistance of satellite offices in Wheeling and Charleston, W.Va.

Reitz, hobbled a bit by recent knee surgery, attended Thursday's event, but did not address the audience. His office, in the renovated train station in downtown Washington, did provide impressive figures that guests could savor along with their lunches:

* Since 1989, the agency has lent more than $20.26 million in 542 loans, leading to the creation of 3,655 jobs.

* Over the past year, WCCED's Loan Review Committee has approved 49 new loans totaling $1,747,095. A total of 36 loans were closed by the end of the fiscal year (June 30), totaling $1,289,095.

* WCCED, assisted by Belmont Savings, expanded into five Ohio counties.

The efficiently paced program Thursday included videos of three businesses that have benefited from WCCED loans: Angelo's Restaurant in North Franklin Township; Channel Craft, the North Charleroi toy manufacturer owned by Helfer; and Hormann Flexon LLC, a garage door supplier in Starpointe.

Angelo's owner Michael Passalacqua said a $100,000 loan from WCCED enabled him to relocate his business from West Chestnut Street in Washington to its roomier digs near Wild Things Park.

"We wouldn't be here without the work they did," Passalacqua said.

Helfer, a toy mogul for 36 years, likewise said a loan brokered by the agency enabled him to move his business to a more strategic location in 1991.

Mark Haley, president of Hormann High Performance Doors, said WCCED facilitated the Germany-based company's entry to the business park in 2012 and continued development there. Hormann initially built a 68,000-square-foot structure, and later added a 160,000-square foot extension.

All in all, it was a sweet Halloween - and anniversary get-together - for the council.

Business Writer

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won eight individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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