A Conversation with: Jim Gerlach president and CEO of the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance

Stacy Wescoe//April 30, 2020

A Conversation with: Jim Gerlach president and CEO of the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance

Stacy Wescoe//April 30, 2020

Gerlach –

Prior to joining GRCA, for the past five years, Gerlach was the president and CEO of the Business-Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC) in Washington, DC- a non-profit corporation helping companies and trade associations communicate with their employees on a non-partisan basis about important policy issues  and candidates for public office, and motivating them to be engaged advocates and voters.

Before that, he served six terms — 12 years — in the U.S. House or Representatives serving the citizens of Pennsylvania’s Sixth District, which included parts of Berks, Chester, Montgomery and Lehigh Counties. And before that, he served 12 years in the Pennsylvania Legislature, including four in the House and eight in the Senate.


LVB: What attracted you to your position?

Gerlach: This GRCA position allowed me a great opportunity to utilize the terrific experiences I had to advance and advocate for important policies during my legislative service as well as lead a dedicated business association team to provide outstanding services and programs to its members. The position seemed to fit my work life over the past 29 years hand in glove, so it interested me greatly. Further, having most of my work weeks in D.C. over the past 17 years, the position allowed me to be back home with family in Pennsylvania full-time, which I absolutely love.


LVB: Berks businesses, like all businesses, are facing unprecedented challenges with COVID-19, what is your organization doing to help?

Gerlach: We have an extremely talented and energetic team active on many fronts. In addition to disseminating all relevant information regarding governmental mandates and programs, we have been serving as a clearinghouse for best practice informational exchanges between and among our members coping with various COVID-related issues. We also continue to facilitate important economic development projects in the county despite the crisis’ impact. Finally, we have helped implement an outstanding personal protection equipment (PPE) production project for our health care workers and emergency responders. Working with Albright College, local school students, and a myriad of material suppliers and donors, the Berks PPE Network is a wonderful example of voluntary civic engagement by caring individuals helping tremendous front-line workers and responders.


LVB: What do you see as the biggest challenges right now? What are you hearing?


Gerlach: Our biggest challenge, like most other business associations, is trying to continue providing great informational and support services to our members at a time when those members are experiencing tremendous financial and loss of business challenges of their own. We will all get through this ordeal for sure. And in the meantime, we will strive to provide the best services and information possible so our business community can bounce back as quickly and strongly as possible.


LVB: Are Berks businesses thinking ahead to when they’ll start reopening?


Gerlach: Yes, our businesses are all chomping at the bit to resume normal activities. And some have taken a very active role in advocating changes to the Governor’s stay at home directives so they can resume activity sooner, especially in the construction, agri-business and manufacturing sectors. So they monitor the news and our updates daily just waiting for the first opportunity to resume business activity.


LVB: What do you think the Berks Business landscape is going to look like a year from now?

Gerlach: Extremely hard to say, and that will likely depend on whether the so-called second wave of the virus hits later in the year, as well as what medical testing and therapeutic interventions are available over the next 12 months to easily test employees for the virus and help them defeat any infection quickly.

Certainly the final chapter on the COVID-19 crisis hasn’t been written yet. But our local and national business community are highly motivated, very adaptable and wonderfully ingenious. So, my bet is widespread testing capabilities, coupled with appropriate workplace practices and effective therapeutic treatments, will be universally implemented and our economy will come roaring back as a result.

By Stacy Wescoe