Editorial: Partnership can flourish in the Valley

The Daily Item, Sunbury | October 11, 2015

The first-of-its-kind partnership between Penn State University’s World Campus — the distance learning center of the state’s largest university — and the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce offers Valley employers and employees unique opportunities not available to many small businesses in Pennsylvania or across the nation.

Beginning immediately, the chamber’s 800 members — which represent more than 52,000 Valley employees — are eligible for a 5 percent tuition break to continue their education through Penn State’s World Campus. More than 14,000 students utilize the distance-learning service, which offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificates.

While Penn State refers to the new relationship as a “corporate partnership,” chamber President Bob Garrett referred to it as a “critical partnership.” Penn State has more than 30 corporate education partners, all large companies with hundreds or thousands of employees. The agreement with the chamber offers smaller businesses — which represent 80 percent of the chamber’s members — access to breaks only large corporations previously had. “Today’s fast-paced world requires small and entrepreneurial businesses like those that make up the core of our membership, to provide targeted educational benefits for their employees,” Garrett said. “Our chamber is now part of a strategic partnership that will allow our member(s) to adapt, profit and grow.”

Garrett understands the immediate need for thousands of workers in the Valley with construction on the long-awaited Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway, the Sunbury Pipeline and renovations at the Sunbury Generation power plant.

Those workers will need appropriate training and skills now available through Penn State’s growing online learning service. In this context, the partnership can prove invaluable. “People will have access to the best training in the world,” Garrett said.

What this agreement means for the stalled Susquehanna Valley Community Education Project remains to be seen. If the community college can successfully emerge in the coming months and years, there would seem to be a natural relationship between the community college students and the chamber members, and now with Penn State. Garrett and Penn State officials, who met with community college leaders, said they will not compete, but hopefully offer mutual benefits to prospective students from the Valley.

In addition, Garrett said the chamber will wisely continue to develop a long-standing relationship with Valley universities, business and vo-tech schools to prepare the work force for new job opportunities to eliminate the “brain drain” created when the best and the brightest leave the Valley for what they perceive as something bigger.

Not every business partnership that emerges makes sense. But this merger between the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce and Penn State most certainly does and the Valley may reap the benefits for years to come.