Latrobe's revitalization in capable hands with Felice, search panel says
The new director of the Latrobe Community Revitalization Program and the city's new Main Street manager is taking on the challenge of improving Latrobe's economy, seeking to attract businesses and helping existing ones grow.
“Development of small business has been my bailiwick for 15-plus years. I've done it on the industrial side, mostly” in economic development positions in Crawford, Huntingdon and Somerset counties, said Nicholas Felice, 49, of Boswell, Somerset County.
He began his new job, which includes serving as the manager of the Main Street program, on Nov. 12.
Felice succeeds Annette Couch, who was hired in April 2009 as Latrobe's first Main Street manager.
His vision for the job involves coordination and cooperation with the organizations operating within Latrobe to promote economic development. He said it's his goal to meet as many of the business owners as he can in the next month or two.
Felice said he strives to fill the available commercial space with businesses, matching an entrepreneur's needs with the best location. One of the challenges is to identify and encourage entrepreneurs to open a business in Latrobe.
His experience in economic development tells him that emphasis will be placed on business retention.
“You determine very quickly that you spend most of the time with the guys that are there. They are likely to stay, likely to grow. They know the market conditions; they know the labor conditions. It's a better use of your time, and it also is seen in a better light from the citizenry,” Felice said.
Downtown business districts cannot compete for big-box retail stores, he said.
“You don't want that in a downtown like Latrobe. We're looking for a store that will complement what you have,” he said.
‘Primed and ready'
Felice has the right skills, including experience in business development, that the Latrobe Community Revitalization Program wants in a leader, said Alex Graziani, Latrobe city manager.
A search committee received about 50 applications.
“Nick Felice is a well-qualified, seasoned professional who understands business development, finance and local government. I believe he will ... help us get the message out that this city is primed and ready to do development,” Graziani said.
Latrobe Councilwoman Rosie Wolford, another committee member, also cited Felice's credentials. “He's extremely knowledgeable about business,” she said.
The revitalization program encompasses the entire city, not just the downtown business district, Wolford said.
Felice believes his skills are a good match for what the committee wants in the Main Street manager.
He served as executive director of Juniata College's Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership for the past four years, simultaneously working as chief operating officer for Huntingdon County Business and Industry, a nonprofit promoting economic development.
“That was a great experience in getting a better understanding (of) what it takes to be an entrepreneur,” Felice said. He said he was motivated to help “individuals who have an idea for an existing product or something new.”
In Meadville, Felice was director of business development for the Economic Progress Alliance of Crawford County, the county's industrial development agency. For almost 11 years, he managed projects and initiatives as executive director of the Somerset County Economic Development Council.
“He gets it. He knows what it takes to move the community forward,” said James Okonak, vice president of the Latrobe Foundation and a member of the city's search committee. “He will continue the good work that Annette Couch began.”
Felice can take city revitalization to a new level, now that Couch has gotten the program started, Graziani said.
“We have invested in our parking system, WCCC (Westmoreland County Community College) is coming into the downtown with a new facility, Castle Co-Packers is moving into the (former) Chestnut Ridge bottling plant, and Adelphoi (Village) continues to grow,” Graziani said.
Latrobe's Main Street Program, with a budget of about $100,000, is in the fifth year of a six-year state funding cycle, Felice said.
The state Department of Community and Economic Development, which oversees the program, will provide an exit grant of $60,000 for next year, Felice said.
One of his many challenges will be to raise money to sustain the program, including his job.
“If we are bringing value to the community ... then that value, I'm sure, will be rewarded by the businesses and residents who are benefiting from it,” he said.
Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.