by Diane Sweeney
Nestled in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, the city of Altoona boasts several National Historic Landmarks and buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.
Included on those lists are the famous railroad engineering marvel, Horseshoe Curve, the world’s oldest surviving roller coaster, Leap-the-Dips at Lakemont Park, and the Historic Mishler Theater, the first building of its type in America completely devoted to theatrical performances.
When Altoona First Savings Bank (AFSB) was established in 1927, Altoona’s population was at its height, 82,000. The largest railroad shop complex in the world was the primary employer. In what had been the first frontier to America’s push westward, lived a bustling city of pioneers and innovators. Together, the residents of Mountain City or Railroad City, two names Altoona is known by, changed the face of transportation and the railroad industry.
It is with reverence and honor to those pioneers of the past that Altoona First Savings Bank looks to the future.
“We are an older community that is being transformed with a new vision for entrepreneurship and small businesses,” said Troy Campbell, President/CEO of AFSB.
With five branches serving Blair and Bedford Counties, AFSB is committed, as their vision statement says, “To be a driving force in seeing our local communities prosper.” As an independent, mutually-owned bank, they have greater ability to help people achieve their dreams than the larger, commercial banks.
“We make our decisions based on our knowledge of our customer and their situation,” shared Campbell. “Not on the numbers alone.”
It is the new pioneers, innovators and investors, who are being encouraged to come back to the region. Many of them are people that grew up in Blair County. They left to pursue opportunities and lifestyles that were not available there when they graduated college.
This generation is now having kids of their own, and “the mountains are calling” (to quote John Muir). Work habits and lifestyles are different than they were a generation ago – and there are more opportunities for those looking for a simpler way of life.
Cyclists, paddlers, main street type entrepreneurs and those interested in arts and culture are being invited to “come home to the First Frontier” – as it says on the Altoona Blair County Development (ABCD) Corporation’s website.
Music was a way the original pioneers told their stories, shared their talents, and helped the community join together. So what better way than music – traditional mountain music – to get the new pioneers to return and bond?
In July 2018, AFSB was asked by ABCD to be the title sponsor for the debut of the Altoona First Frontier Festival – a one day event featuring local and nationally known bluegrass, country, and rock bands. Held at the Railroad Museum in Altoona, vendors, artisans, and food trucks were also available for the attendee’s enjoyment.
“As a local, community bank, we constantly have our eyes open for creative ways to invest in making our community better,” noted Campbell to the Altoona Mirror. “We are a big contributor to the arts and believe a strong, diverse arts culture is vital for any successful community. We are enthusiastic to play such a large and active role in making this festival a reality in our community.”
About 1,000 people enjoyed the Americana music played at the festival. The event was considered a success by organizers Ray Eckenrode, General Manager of the Altoona Mirror and Will Jones, of Altitude Entertainment.
“This was the first event we’ve produced with true ‘hands on’ partners in the community,” said Eckenrode. He was referring to AFSB, ABCD, Explore Altoona, and the Blair County Arts Foundation.
Hands on is what it was all about for AFSB. They were not only the sponsor of the event they also participated. Members of AFSB’s staff were asked to serve on a committee to plan and strategize the bank’s involvement in the festival.
Campbell credits Nancy Musselman, AFSB Compliance Specialist, for her leadership of an Altoona First festival committee to manage and organize the bank’s role at the Festival. Nancy made sure the bank’s presence was known in a positive way. Her committee organized over twenty employees to work at the festival. They helped anywhere hands were needed for AFSB and for the festival at large. Prior to the event Nancy and the committee created excitement within the community to help increase attendance. It was a great experience for all who participated.
“The music was awesome, the food was great, and everyone appeared to have a fun time. I definitely believe the day was successful,” said Campbell.
In the 91 years since AFSB opened the first branch in Altoona, being a true partner for prosperity and growth of small businesses has been a priority. Campbell shared how AFSB does not have individual goals for their small business partners. Rather, they work as a team to find a solution for small businesses to become established, grow and remain in the community. Altoona First’s small business partners find funds through alternative sources such as ABCD Corp or Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission.
“We focus on what’s best for the client,” said Campbell. “It’s all about people.”
With a push to bring younger innovators and pioneers back into the Alleghenies, AFSB will continue to partner with local organizations, cultural institutions like the Mishler Theatre, and small business owners to demonstrate what is best about the First Frontier.
“Community banking is all about relationship. It is a community of good, humble people with integrity that built this bank and our communities,” said Campbell. “Together we will work to attract the same type of pioneering people to continue to make Blair and Bedford counties a great place to live and work.”
And make music! There are plans for the second Altoona First Frontier Festival to take place in the summer of 2019, and AFSB will be right there in the middle of it all.