Tracy Cowles

I am a 1985 graduate of Cranberry High School. A 1989 and 1991 graduate of Clarion University, with a Master’s degree in Speech Language Pathology (Speech Therapist). After college graduation I took a job in Morgantown, WV, then went to Pittsburgh, PA, went back to Morgantown, and eventually came back to Venango County. The major reason for coming back to this area was a family member in medical crisis who needed cared for, while the underlying reasons were that my husband and I were about ready to start a family – there is no place like home to raise kids.
I came back and continued my career in nursing homes, hospitals, and home visiting. We rented, then bought a house. I was eventually asked by a speech therapist friend to “pick up” a few kids in Early Intervention to help her out. I was terrified, as I had no experience with children…. but out of friendship I agreed. I did have a child of my own, and was expecting a second. There was no way that I could know that I would love working with the toddler crowd. Six months later, I was working Early Intervention full time.

In the Fall of 2005, I decided to open my own pediatric therapy company. It was a “crazy” thing to do. I did not have a business degree, and other than operating a Partylite Candle distributorship for several years, I had very little management experience. I did, however, know therapy and customer service.

With the help of Clarion University’s Small Business Development Center, I opened Next Step Therapy, Inc. on January 1st, 2006. We started out with seven part-time employees in a rented office suite, with an initial loan of less than twenty thousand dollars. The following year we had fourteen employees, and purchased the former Steffee School property. Today I own four separate companies, own 18,000 square feet of real estate, have thirty-five employees, and our therapists cover eleven different counties for Early Intervention, along with outpatient clinics in two locations, along with servicing six other contracts.

I have been blessed with success in Venango County. Some will say it’s luck, but in reality, I picked the right place at the right time, and Venango County still has amazing opportunities for those who can see them. I bought the Steffee School building for $119,000.00. Venango County has an incredible array of properties for sale or lease at prices that you can’t possibly find anywhere else. Therefore, startup costs in this area pale in comparison to large cities.

Taxes are low in Venango County, as compared to almost any other area in the country. This keeps continued business costs lower for the owner.

I had very little trouble getting a small business loan from our local small town banks. When people know your name, it’s not hard to get an appointment. If you take in a professionally designed business plan from your local university small business development center, your odds of qualifying increase exponentially.

Having Clarion, Slippery Rock, Edinboro, Thiel, and Grove City Universities within driving distance makes finding professional employees or consultants fairly easy, depending on what field you open a business in.

I highly encourage people who grew up in this area or who are in college now to consider a return to the area, especially if you have an idea for a needed business. As compared to many other areas of the country, the crime rate is low, our schools are good, our childcare is excellent, opportunities for outdoor activities abound, and we have absolute gems for entertainment (Barrow Civic Theater, festivals).

The most fantastic thing that I keep running into in Venango County though, is the gratitude that the community has for new products, new services, and new employment opportunities. Venango County – take a look!