Small, high-tech firms are in growth mode, and one Bethlehem business incubator had been rapidly running out of space.
To meet the demand for more entrepreneur space and support these early stage companies, officials at Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania celebrated the expansion of its West Wing at TechVentures2 Thursday afternoon.
The 20,000-square-foot addition offers new meeting and office space to accommodate the building’s 41 firms that employ about 170 people, said R. Chadwick Paul Jr., Ben Franklin’s president and CEO.
The organization began its business incubator program in 1983 and opened its original 35,000-square-foot Ben Franklin TechVentures facility in 2006 to provide more resources and space to its resident business incubator companies on Lehigh University’s Mountaintop Campus.
A second expansion, TechVentures2, opened in 2011 and increased the total space to 109,000 square feet.
The newest expansion with the West Wing reflects the need for incubator and wet lab space.
The building’s rentable space was nearly full by 2016.
The expansion was funded in part by grants from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, Pennsylvania’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program and the BB&T Economic Growth Fund.
The organization used several local firms on the expansion project, including Spillman Farmer Architects of Bethlehem, which designed the expansion, and Allied Building Corp. of Bethlehem, which served as the contractor.
Albarell Electric of Bethlehem provided electrical work and Lutron Electronics of Upper Saucon Township supplied its high-tech lighting products.
The $8 million construction cost includes design, construction, and adding equipment and furniture, Paul said.
Paul commented on the third expansion at the TechVentures building.
“We looked at lots of different ways we could expand this building,” Paul said. “The only thing that maintained the architectural integrity was this. My objective was to make this look like it was already here. I think they achieved it.”
The dedication ceremony included an appearance by “Ben Franklin” who paid a visit in a costume worn by Bill George, founder of Touchstone Theater in Bethlehem. As lighting crashed and thunder boomed on a large flat screen wall monitor, Franklin arrived in a gust of makeshift wind as he struggled to keep his trademark kite afloat.
Franklin then handed the “keys” to Paul to symbolize the official opening of the West Wing and to welcome the next generation of entrepreneurs at TechVentures.
The event attracted about 100 people, including business and community leaders and elected officials.