Although the memory of Showcase for Commerce founder and champion John Murtha permeated Wednesday’s opening reception conversation, the exposition’s growing diversity and continued success are a tribute to the community and region, leaders said.
“I see a can-do spirit,” Boeing Corporate Vice President David Morrison said during the executive reception at the Pasquerilla Conference Center.
“This is a manifestation of that spirit and sending a message to Washington and beyond that the can-do spirit is alive in Johnstown and in America, by the way.”
Showcase Chairman Edward J. Sheehan Jr., president and CEO of Concurrent Technologies Corp., said 110 companies have set up 130 displays in the annual defense industry exhibition.
Total participation in the three days of business-related events is expected to
top 1,500, with another 2,000 visitors attending today’s public exhibit from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
Dick Bosserman, president of the Cambria County Association for the Blind and Handicapped, was among those recalling the late Murtha’s efforts to develop a local trade show for defense.
The first workshops were confined to a few tables at the Holiday Inn – Downtown.
Now in its 22nd year, Bosserman said Showcase has allowed local companies and organizations to make connections that create jobs. The Blind Association has a division that manufactures equipment for the mining industry.
It employs about 400 people, including 300 with severe disabilities.
Another contract to supply Navy ships has just been extended three years Bosserman said.
But Showcase has come out of Murtha’s shadow and become a premier national and international attraction, his successor, U.S. Rep. Mark Critz of Johnstown, said to open Wednesday’s reception in the War Memorial.
“The tenacity of this area cannot be denied,” Critz said. “We are out there doing business and we are going to continue doing business.”
Helping local businesses compete on a national level has always been the goal of Showcase, Critz said. Since Murtha’s death, organizers have challenged themselves to bring in more sectors of the industry, he said, citing Wednesday afternoon’s Program Executive Officer Briefings.
The event allowed business managers to meet with military leaders overseeing major defense systems.
Gaining information, networking and developing partnerships with others can help local companies grow and become among those receiving government contracts such as those to be announced during a press conference this morning.
“It is putting those building blocks in place,” Critz said. “It is making those connections. What we announce next year is the result of what happens this year.”
Although the overall number of exhibitors this year is down slightly, several new companies are participating.
Ebensburg-based viLogics provides “virtual infrastructure” for offsite data storage, said Paul Forcellini, business development director.
The company decided to bring its message to Showcase to develop new contacts, he said.
“We hope to be a subcontractor to larger companies,” Forcellini said, noting that viLogics already does subcontracting for IBM Global Services.
JWF Industries’ growth from its beginnings as Johnstown Welding and Fabrication has paralleled the growth of Showcase. Contacts made through Showcase have been a part of that growth, Chief Operating Officer Tom Polacek said.
“We still expect a lot of good networking with companies from out of town,” Polacek said at the JWF hospitality room in the War Memorial. “On the defense side, we rely on those relationships.”
It isn’t just business that benefits from the Showcase exposure, Chief Clerk Bob Knepper said at the Cambria County booth. The booth promotes Cambria as a good place to do business.
“We are reinventing ourselves,” Knepper said. “It’s about energy. It’s about health care. It’s about our superb schools. What we are trying to do is say: Look at us.”
Although Showcase has always been geared toward businesses in the 12th Congressional District, reapportionment-forced changes in that district have not deterred some companies.
Boeing subsidiary Argon ST’s main manufacturing facility is in Smithfield, Fayette County.
In January, it won’t be part of Critz’s district. But that didn’t deter local managers from setting up in the War Memorial this week.
“We are here to show our support for the warfighter and interact with a lot of vendors,” Senior Manager Karen Stiles said.
Murtha’s widow called this year’s event a “wonderful legacy for my husband.”
“People are building on the foundation of what Jack made,” Joyce Murtha said in the War Memorial.
“Look at what it has grown into. I think it is wonderful. There is so much support. People could have just thrown up their hands.”
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