5/4/11 - Program Supplies Business Expertise

Program supplies business expertise, helps to save jobs
Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Norman Thompson is never short of ideas, and he's hoping good business advice from a Pittsburgh organization will help him develop his latest idea to capitalize on the region's booming natural gas exploration.

Thompson thinks he could both expand his Fayette County wood pellet-making company, Tri-State BioFuels LLC in Lemont Furnace, and help dispose of fracking water used to extract gas.

His plan is to build a power plant and a pipeline repair shop on the acreage he owns, where he could burn his company's pellets using natural gas and convert fracking wastewater into steam, to generate electricity.

The Steel Valley Authority's Strategic Early Warning Network program in Regent Square is helping him develop a business plan.

"They've suggested ways to manufacture income," Thompson said. His company, started in fall 2009, suffered when the recession lowered the price for competing energy sources and reduced the raw material supply for wood pellets because lumber mills slowed production.

He turned to the Steel Valley Authority's program to help avoid laying off any of his eight workers. Instead, he'd like to increase his work force to 35 or 40, if the expansion comes about.

Tri-State BioFuels is one of about 30 companies receiving advice from the Strategic Early Warning Network program, said Robert Value, the organization's deputy director of finance and investment.

The program, designed to save jobs by averting layoffs and plant closings, has provided business expertise to help stabilize 15,800 jobs in Pennsylvania since 1993, said Thomas Croft, the authority's executive director.

"We help companies reinvent themselves," Croft said.

The program began by addressing manufacturing jobs in Western Pennsylvania and expanded eastward six years ago. Its staff of 14, five of them in Pittsburgh, and three consultants develop cost-management plans and strategies for business restructurings. Sometimes they try to attract buyers for small or mid-sized companies.

Typically, a review of a company's financial statements discloses problems and leads to development of a business plan, said James Crawford, manufacturing director for the program in Western Pennsylvania.

Thompson sought assistance after the Fay-Penn Economic Development Council in Uniontown told him about the layoff aversion program. Banks or other government agencies often refer companies in distress, and the staff monitors pending plant closing or layoff lists and petitions for Trade Adjustment Assistance benefits, Croft said.  Read entire article