The Upper Perkiomen Valley Chamber of Commerce provides many services to the local business community, but a lesser-known program by the chamber is looking toward the economic future of the region.
PerkUp, a multi-pronged initiative to respond to growth and development in the Upper Perkiomen Valley, was launched in December 2006, beginning with a series of targeted focus groups and discussions with municipal leaders in East Greenville, Green Lane, Hereford, Lower Milford, Marlborough, Milford, Pennsburg, Red Hill and Upper Hanover.
“The idea for PerkUp came out of ... an inter-municipal planning meeting with representatives of all our local municipalities. We were trying to get information from the county [about] what’s going on in the area so that the municipalities would work together because businesses struggle with municipal regulations. And we thought it [would be] really helpful if municipalities understood the challenges of businesses and businesses understood the challenges of municipalities,” said Luanne Stauffer, Upper Perkiomen Valley Chamber of Commerce president and co-chair of PerkUp.
PerkUp comprises three over-arching initiatives: the Business Development Council; the Education Initiative; and the Outdoor Recreation and Nature Tourism Initiative. Now moving into its seventh year, the organization is making strides, and the PerkUp Steering Committee is currently hosting a series of informal receptions to share more information about its work with local business and community leaders.
Bill Bushnell of the Office of Rep. Marcy Toepel (R-Montgomery), another co-chair of PerkUp, credits the success of the program to date to the open lines of communication maintained by all participants and the volunteers that make the program possible. “It’s been a steady progress and there’s been very good buy-in by the chamber membership and the community writ large,” he said at the reception on Aug. 19.
According to the 2012 PerkUp annual report, the Business Development Council “aims to create an economic environment that attracts a blend of professional, technical and skilled jobs by identifying potential business site locations; assessing infrastructure needs; and creating and maintaining key partnerships.”
The council last year worked to establish the Municipal Authority Roundtable to keep an open flow of conversation surrounding issues like water and sewage infrastructure for businesses. The council also works to identify “high opportunity properties” within the various municipalities that may be of interest to potential business owners and lists those sites on the Montgomery County Economic Development website. Listing the sites under the PerkUp umbrella allows potential business owners to search for properties in the entire region, rather than by one municipality at a time.
In addition, the council met individually with each municipality to discuss infrastructure and business development issues and participated in the revitalization plans of each local government, Stauffer said.
The Education Initiative engaged local businesses, students of Upper Perkiomen School District and school administrators to develop training opportunities to equip the region’s current and future workforce. The multi-faceted initiative aims to provide training for available local jobs for which there are inadequate amounts of skilled workers, as well as to give students an opportunity to learn first-hand about the different types of employment opportunities in the region.
UPVCC intern Kasey Schultz of Zionsville said she was surprised by the variety of jobs available at Brown Printing when she toured the facility as part of the initiative. Schultz, who is currently studying graphic design at the Maryland College of Art and Design, said that she initially thought of Brown solely in terms of manufacturing, but she discovered that the company hires graphic designers to manage websites and online publications. “It’s exactly what I want to do but I would have never even thought about Brown Printing for something like that,” she said.
The initiative’s Career Pathways Task Force is also working with school administrators to develop a curriculum that would provide job skills training to fill future needs in the region.
The final segment of PerkUp is the Outdoor Recreation and Nature Tourism Initiative, which seeks to establish the Upper Perk Valley as a tourist destination while protecting the region’s environmental resources. Through the initiative, PerkUp partnered with several Montgomery County and regional agencies to promote best practices for environmental stewardship and to host events that encouraged people to visit the area for outdoor activities.
Part of this initiative also includes the Regional Wayfinding and Identity Program. The program will establish signage throughout the region identifying the various municipalities and sites within them. Stauffer said mockups of the signs will be available soon.
“We really feel like this is a beautiful place to live and we want to take care of it,” Stauffer said. “Having a plan and having businesses and the education community and the residents working together is how we can really have something special and keep it special.”
PerkUp Steering Committee member Cynthia Smith of Horizon Engineering, who also attended the reception, said that change – particularly economic development – can be intimidating for community members who want to maintain the status quo, but “you need to have some growth and change in the community and prepare and allow for certain things to happen or else it’s going to go backwards.”
The initiative, which is applying for nonprofit status with the Internal Revenue Service, is funded by a series of grants and private-public sponsorship. For more information about PerkUp, visit http://www.upvchamber.org/about/perkup.aspx.