For many, Bill Miller Jr. is as indispensable a part of Central Pennsylvania as the highways that form the backbone of the region.
He's a member of four business and charitable boards in the Cumberland County community.
And his company, Carlisle Events, is responsible for giving new life to one of the largest and most historic industrial properties in Carlisle. Not to mention, Carlisle Events brings hundreds of thousands of car enthusiasts to the region from all over the world every year to spend more than $100 million on everything from cars to meals to hotel rooms.
Since the 1970s, Miller has built Carlisle Events into one of Cumberland County's most important tourism and hospitality companies. But beyond that, community and business leaders say he's helped build up the region.
"Bill is a man of a lot of energy," said Jeff Gayman, senior vice president of retail banking and consumer lending with Shippensburg-based Orrstown Bank. "He connects greatly with people. … It's just exciting to be around a person with that energy."
Miller is on Orrstown's business advisory board, and the bank has a branch at the Carlisle Fairgrounds — home of the car shows that Carlisle Events made famous — to provide financial services to visitors.
"The first third of your life, you learn," Miller said. "The second third, you earn. The last third, you give back. If everyone lived that way, we'd have a much better world."
Business groups and local government officials praise Miller for his economic contributions — none more so than Carlisle Events' decision to acquire and redevelop the former IAC automotive parts factory on Carlisle Spring Road not far from Miller's offices.
IAC, formerly Lear and Masland before that, made carpeting, foam and other interior components for the auto industry. But it closed in 2009 under the weight of IAC's production realignments resulting from the recession's bite on automakers. Carlisle Events bought the property to use the parking lots for its shows.
Then it became apparent the company needed to do something with the factory properties, Miller said. Reuse was nearly impossible, energy bills were racking up and redevelopment became the only sensible option.
"When we started to look at what our expenses were going to be, and what it was going to cost to turn it into a convention center, that idea went down the drain in a hurry," Miller said.
Today, the company is planning a boutique hotel, restaurants, shops and apartments that could begin to rise as early as February.
"Frankly, we're very happy that Carlisle Events is the owner and developer, because they're local guys and care about the community," said Perry Heath, Carlisle Borough Council president. "It's not like they're in it to make a quick buck and leave us."
That care goes beyond business enterprise, community members said. Miller has regularly put himself in the position to help others even though he already has his hands full and could realistically say no.
"The Church of God Home in Carlisle has been pleased and privileged to have Bill Miller as a member of our board of trustees for the past several years," said Sherry Heim, the director of business development for the retirement community. "Bill has actively participated in the regular business of the home and been a supporter of the cause."
When the home purchased a new bus for residents several years ago, Miller helped the home auction off its used bus so it wouldn't be a loss, she said.
"It's a struggle for nonprofits to operate, and they do a fabulous job," Miller said. "They take exceptional care of people there. If I ever have to go to a home, that's where I want to be."
Miller is a board member for the Salvation Army of Carlisle. The organization didn't return calls for comment, but Miller said that's just their style.
"I just got to realize all the Salvation Army did and I got on their board," Miller said. "It's a hidden gem with all they do. They don't toot their own horn. They're an amazing organization."
He also serves the Chip Miller Charitable Foundation to support research on amyloidosis, the rare disease that took the life of his long-time friend and business partner, Elliot "Chip" Miller.
In business and in the community, it's important to be nice and considerate to others, Miller said. And to give back, however you can.
Carlisle and the people of Central Pennsylvania have helped him and his business grow, and he tries to return the favor.
"Things get done by people who are influential and want to help others," he said. "It's a good feeling to reach out and make things happen and want to help their community. Carlisle is such an amazing community. … It's a very caring community."
About Bill Miller Jr.
Education: Attended Harrisburg Area Community College and Messiah College
Family: Married to Peggy Miller; son William Miller III; daughter Kristine Miller
Current residence: East Pennsboro Township, Cumberland County
First job: “Curb boy” at Shelly’s Drive-In restaurant in Lemoyne
Current job: Co-owner/founder of Carlisle Events
Last book read: “The Christmas Sweater” by Glenn Beck
Guiding philosophy: “Being nice to others. I’ve used that all my life. It works in business. It works in friendships. It works in just about everything. Also, being considerate of others.”