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Vandergrift program hopes to win grant in State Farm contest

| Friday, April 19, 2013, 1:46 a.m.

The Vandergrift Improvement Program, or VIP, needs the help of folks around the Alle-Kiski Valley.

The program, which is dedicated to rejuvenating business in Vandergrift, is one of 200 finalists for a $25,000 State Farm Neighborhood Assist grant.

According to State Farm spokesman Dave Phillips, 40 of the 200 finalists will be awarded a grant from the insurance company.

Winners are selected by voting through State Farm's “Neighborhood Assist” app on Facebook.

VIP's entry is titled “Building Business.”

Phillips said anyone who wants to vote for VIP, or any other cause, can do so up to 10 times a day.

Voting ends Monday, and the winners will be announced the following week.

The 200 finalists were narrowed from 3,000 submissions by the insurance company's Youth Advisory Board, Phillips said. The Youth Advisory Board consists of about 30 students ages 17 to 20.

“They picked the causes they thought were most worthy based on how they impact the community in terms of education, community revitalization, and other community benefits,” Phillips said.

VIP has big plans for the money, should it garner enough votes to win a grant, according to Sara McGuire, a volunteer who heads up the outreach for the program.

The group would use the money to try to start business incubators in a building in Vandergrift, McGuire said.

A business incubator provides a space where start-up businesses could open their offices for low rent.

“We have a building that would be perfect for an incubator,” McGuire said. “It has a number of individual office spaces in it. But it needs some work to make that happen.”

McGuire said when those businesses get on their feet, they presumably would move to another Vandergrift storefront to fill one of the many vacancies.

“More than 50 percent of the commercial spaces (in downtown Vandergrift) are vacant,” McGuire said.

“The thought is, businesses in the incubator would have lower overhead costs,” she said. “This would be for people in the community who want to start businesses but don't think they can be in a commercial downtown setting because they don't have resources.”

McGuire said there would be more to the possible incubator than just office space.

“We want to make sure there's extra support,” she said. “We want to provide business education and any kind of support they need to build a successful business.”

McGuire said she and other leaders of VIP have studied other cities that have business incubators and found what they think would work best in Vandergrift.

“We hope that we can start this,” she said, “and people will move into Vandergrift.”

R.A. Monti is a freelance writer.

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