At JA BizTown, students get real world career and financial experience
As Gilfoyle likes to say, “They learn by doing.” The program was primarily designed for 4th, 5th and 6th grade students—and it’s pretty intense. In total, students undergo about 9 hours of curriculum, including 12 lessons. The experience begins in the classroom, where students study topics such as critical thinking, financial literacy, STEM skills, and career exploration.
Students also interview for jobs at JA BizTown with one of the 19 local sponsors, as well as roles as public officials.
The program culminates with a four and a half-hour simulation in JA BizTown®, where students live out what they’ve learned in the classroom at one of 20 storefronts—19 of which are sponsored by local businesses.
“The students learn through simulation. From a career perspective, they get to be decision makers, owner-operators and employees. On the financial front, they learn how to negotiate a mortgage, borrow money, earn a paycheck, bank a paycheck, budget money and so on,” Gilfoyle says.
How did The Trade Group get involved with JA BizTown?
The Trade Group and three other vendors submitted proposals for the project back in 2017. At that time, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC)—which had worked with TTG in the past—was helping JA organize the project. Then the project stalled. Eventually it was handed off to local retail site developer JLL.
Never one to give up easily, Senior Sales Consultant Jack McAndrew kept in touch with UPMC, JLL and Gilfoyle over the years. In the end, TTG’s innovative, life-like, interior space design stood out. It also beautifully complemented the main street concept JA’s architect had developed, so TTG won the project. All the pieces finally came together to build the South Fayette location in early 2019.
Says Gilfoyle, “We had a few companies that pitched proposals, and we liked the work of The Trade Group and what we saw. From the whole concept to working with our architect to their talking with sponsors—there was a lot of good listening going on throughout the process. Ultimately, the spaces were designed, framed and built by The Trade Group to be reflective of the main street concept we were trying to accomplish, while looking as realistic as possible.”
A main street, city hall and custom storefronts deliver a real, hometown feel
To bring the 10,000 sq. ft. mini town to life, McAndrew and TTG Project Manager Pete Adauto worked closely with Gilfoyle, the project architect and JLL representative Nick Anthony. Coordination and constant communication with local businesses sponsoring the program were also key because each storefront was customized with the sponsor’s logos and other brand elements.
McAndrew was pleased that Gilfoyle and his team selected the TTG design option that delivered the most realistic setting. As he explains, “We provided three different options to consider, and they chose the version with high-end, custom-produced storefronts, featuring faux wood and brick textures, laminates and plexiglass. The design has a very realistic feel, which elevates the experience for the students. That’s something a simple graphic representation of a store front can’t deliver.”
After plenty of planning and building, TTG’s design team came up with multiple floor plans and key design elements that could be used for the different storefronts. While there are some similarities in terms of size and layout, unique customized awnings, graphic elements and window treatments make each storefront look different.
Programs like JA BizTown are essential for communities with an aging workforce
According to Gilfoyle, “When we talk with local employers, they all say we have a workforce issue today, largely due to baby boomers retiring. They want to know how to find people to fill all of these jobs. You can do it through immigration and folks moving back but what about our current crop of young people—many who get up and leave after high school? This is a great strategy to retain them and shine a light on the opportunities western PA can offer when they grow up.”
Being late to the JA BizTown game, Gilfoyle took best practices from previous installations and localized them to reflect the core industries that make up the regional economy. Diverse career opportunities and an eye toward the future were also integral to his plan. The JA BizTown program also aligns with JA of Western Pennsylvania’s purpose “to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy.”
“One of the things I emphasized when we created this program was that the businesses, companies and jobs involved must be reflective of this economy, not only now but in the future. You have a whole host of diverse businesses in our JA BizTown. You’ve got retail, high-tech, finance, trades, labor, logistics, manufacturing, STEM—a whole panacea of the opportunities found in western PA,” explains Gilfoyle.
Good partnerships flourish when the lines of communication remain open
While it took several years for Gilfoyle to see his JA BizTown dreams come true, he’s glad he chose to partner with The Trade Group on the project.
Says Gilfoyle, “There was a spirit of cooperation, a lot of listening and back and forth, and constant communication. I thought that was really nice, so the experience with TTG has been good. Would I hire these guys again? Absolutely. It’s like creating a symphony, and it’s been quite an orchestra we put together.”