Credit the Marcellus gas exploration boom for keeping Judy Wojanis smiling these days. The emerging gas industry is fueling double-digit sales growth at Wojanis Hydraulic Supply Co. Inc., a Coraopolis-based supplier of pneumatic and fluid power equipment, said Wojanis, company president.
And the company has been hiring, too. Wojanis Hydraulic employs 18 people, three of whom were added in the past year.
â€œThere\’s been a boom during the last two years,â€ Wojanis said. â€œWe\’re very happy about it.â€
The Marcellus is likely among the reasons the Pittsburgh area improved its ranking to 23 in the standings of 100 major metropolitan areas for small business opportunities as rated by American City Business Journals Inc., the parent company of the Pittsburgh Business Times. Pittsburgh\’s spot was up from 71st a year ago.
The survey uses overall economic shape, growth rate and small business density in the rankings. Small businesses are defined as those with fewer than 100 employees.
The Pittsburgh area had 58,639 small businesses in 2008, the latest data available. The area lost 1.23 percent of its private sector jobs between 2005 and 2010, another key indicator used in the ranking, and the population declined 1.38 percent between 2004 and 2009. The region\’s population in 2009 was about 2.4 million.
Austin finished first in the small-business rankings for the second straight year, thanks to the city\’s standing in three categories that directly impact small business activity.
Also driving demand for Wojanis Hydraulic\’s products is pent-up demand for truck maintenance, which fleet owners deferred in recent years because of the wobbly economy, Wojanis said. Revenue grew by 8 percent and 10 percent last year, and her company was on track to rise 12 percent during 2011.
But gas exploration isn\’t the only reason small businesses are thriving in Pittsburgh. The region\’s â€œeds and medsâ€ economy and a supportive environment also is helping small businesses, said Martha O\’Grady, president of Panta Rhei Media Inc., a video service company based in Turtle Creek, which employs four people.
â€œThe presence of all the universities keeps a lot of new ideas finding their way into the marketplace,â€ she said. â€œI don\’t benefit from a lot of that personally, but I think it\’s the economic spring for the city.â€
The swing in Pittsburgh\’s ranking may be also due to the recession, which has hit many parts of the country harder than the local region, said Chris Briem, regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh.
â€œThere have been incremental positive changes in recent years,â€ he said. â€œIt may not be that we\’re busting out in any fast way, but a lot of these competitor places have been hit very hard.â€
Access to private capital has been easing, and the start-up community is maturing, meaning resources are readily available for new businesses, said Terri Glueck, director of communications at Innovation Works, a nonprofit agency that provides funding and technical advice to entrepreneurs.
Last year was the best year for private capital than in several years, she said.
â€œPeople want start-ups to succeed,â€ Glueck said. â€œWe have great mentors and advisers and accountants and lawyers.â€