New Allentown mayor wants to use economic development experience to better the city

Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk 

With years of work in economic development under his belt, Allentown’s new mayor, Matt Tuerk, knows there’s a lot more to the job than being the city’s cheerleader if he wants to attract business and investment to the area. 

He began his career in economic development with the Allentown Economic Development Corp. in 2008. 

When he started, all was rosy in the economy, but it didn’t last. 

“We were riding high and there was a lot of enthusiasm for investment in Allentown. That was the start of the global financial crisis,” he said. “That’s where I cut my teeth in economic development.” 

Luring investors and businesses into the city became difficult as money was harder to come by, he said, but the AEDC kept plugging away at attracting businesses, especially light manufacturing. That has helped bring Allentown to the point it’s at today.  

Besides his job working with manufacturing startups, Tuerk also helped set up the first coworking space in the Lehigh Valley at the Allentown Bridgeworks Enterprise Center. 

Then in 2013, he moved on to the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. 

“We were working with startups in the Lehigh Valley and to better conceptualize the Lehigh Valley to investors to put in a regional effort that recognized the entire region as a place to invest,” he said. 

While working with the AEDC and later the LVEDC, Tuerk said, he was traveling to other communities and learning about their economic development efforts.  

He saw that those who succeeded had leadership that was engaged in improving the quality of life in their region and who partnered well with other organizations. 

“What differentiates successful communities from less successful ones is the engagement of the leadership. The mayor is the lead ambassador for the city to ensure that businesses are interested in a community and know where they fit in,” Tuerk said. 

That’s where he said a mayor needs to do more than just talk up a city. That person needs to make sure the community is the kind of place businesses want to invest in and move to. 

“We have to invest in our underlying assets,” he said. “If we don’t have a strong workforce, a supportive business environment and a safe, clean community, there’s nothing a mayor can do to attract investment. We have to make sure that we’re a good place to invest in.” 

So, as he begins his work as mayor, he said his goal is to focus not just on business development but on public safety, education and workforce training and transportation access so people can get to work. 

“That’s something other parts of the country sometimes seem to forget. Being the mayor, it’s not just about cheerleading,” he said. 

For now, he said, there is no single part of the city on which he wants to concentrate his efforts. He noted that Allentown is a city of neighborhoods, and each has its own unique needs. 

The Hamilton Street corridor, for example, has a booming residential scene right now with apartment buildings being  constructed to replace many of the aging buildings that had been underused. 

He said the Hamilton Street area needs to concentrate on attracting the right kind of restaurants, retail, and office jobs to accommodate the people moving downtown, so they’ll have places to work, shop and eat and will want to stay. 

The Nineteenth Street Theater District is also a place for small business development. He said neighbors there want complementary businesses to shop and dine. 

On the Southside there is a great deal of development going on right now, especially along South Fourth Street. He said the city needs to keep an eye on smart development in the area and make sure traffic and safety are maintained. 

The East Side of Allentown is of particular interest, the mayor said. With the demolition of the Allentown State Hospital there is an open parcel of 195 acres of land available for development – almost unheard of in an urban area like Allentown. 

He said the city and other partners are working to make sure the land is used in a way that will create jobs and lure other economic development to that part of the city.  

Of course, an important part of that is making sure there is proper access to the property, which is along Hanover Avenue. If people are going to work there, Tuerk said, they need to be able to get there safely and easily. 

He called the waterfront area along the Lehigh River another up-and-coming spot in the city, pointing to the work that Jaindl Properties has already begun. 

The city is also looking to encourage light manufacturing, not only at the Bridgeworks but at smaller industrial facilities that are scattered across the city, he added. 

Overall, Tuerk  said, Allentown is in a great place for economic growth. 

“We see demand across the city. There’s continued entrepreneurial development,” he said. 

AEDC reports record 2020 for companies at Allentown Bridgeworks

Binah Winery, a kosher wine-maker, is one of the companies operating out of the Allentown Bridgeworks Enterprise Center. PHOTO/FILE


The Allentown Economic Development Corp. is reporting record results in 2020 for its incubation program.

The AEDC has released the results of its annual incubation impact survey, which showed that its Bridgeworks Enterprise Center grew to a total of 11 companies earning nearly $16 million in revenue. That’s a 33% increase over 2019 revenue.

Those 11 incubator companies employed 39 full-time employees as well as 33 employees that were either contracted or part-time.

They paid more than $2.4 million in salaries, wages or contractor fees to those employees, an increase of 16% over the prior year.

“The Impact Survey results demonstrate the collective, positive trajectory of AEDC’s Bridgeworks Enterprise Center incubation program,” said David Dunn, program manager at the Bridgeworks. “Each year, we look for specific increases as indicators that these businesses are crossing the financial threshold into sustained profitability.”

Dunn noted that some of the incubator companies struggled under the COVID-19 restrictions, but were able to hold on. Others saw double-digit growth in sales and employees and profits.

He said Bridgeworks incubation clients were able to secure a combined $274,800 in federally funded assistance and $65,000 from state-funded sources to run technology-focused projects.

Combined, the companies had a 50% increase in new patents.

The manufacturers secured six provisional patents, 11 US and International patents and seven trademarks for an aggregated 24 new intellectual property assets.

The annual Impact Survey collects data from client companies in the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center incubation program. The survey focuses on job creation, company revenue, loans obtained, grants, and equity investment data.

“Our goal is to continue to assist entrepreneurs as they launch successful, sustainable businesses that contribute to the area’s economic vitality. The results of our most recent Impact Survey indicate the underlying importance of manufacturing to the local and regional economy,” said AEDC Executive Director Scott Unger. “Manufacturing remains one of the key drivers of innovation. It broadens employment opportunities for our residents while providing tax base stability to local government.”

Allentown Bridgeworks renovating space for STEAM education

R. Scott Unger, executive director of the AEDC, left, with Erin Hudson, marketing communications specialist and Jane George of the PPL Foundation, center. PHOTO/SUBMITTED


With the help of a $50,000 grant from the PPL Foundation, the Allentown Economic Development Corp. will be renovating its STEAM education makerspace at the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center business incubator.

The 3,420-square-foot space is occupied by Make Lehigh Valley, a nonprofit providing students and adults with technical, scientific and artistic skills.

The renovated space includes upgraded electrical service to enable more extensive tools and equipment and a new HVAC system to allow for more comfortable temperature control.

It is the last space that had been unrenovated inside the 60,000-square-foot Bridgeworks since the AEDC first developed the building in 1989.

Once the renovation is complete, space will be divided into two separate units to increase functionality. AEDC will continue to lease approximately 50% of the space to Make Lehigh Valley to support on-going STEAM educational programming. The other roughly 50% of the space will be leased as Flex Office Space.

“The renovations will greatly expand the utility of our makerspace. Members and guests will be much more inclined to participate in projects and activities once the work is complete,” said Make Lehigh Valley Board President Scott Piccotti.

The PPL grant was originally awarded at the end of 2019. The onset of COVID-19 restrictions delayed permitting and construction jobs in early 2020. Project renovation began during the summer of 2020 once permits were in place and the tenant moved equipment out.

“We appreciate the continued support of AEDC’s mission by the PPL Foundation,” said AEDC Executive Director Scott Unger. “PPL understands the important role that economic development organizations play in supporting STEAM education and the manufacturing sector. By optimizing the makerspace inside the Bridgeworks facility, we can assist Make Lehigh Valley and other nonprofits address the STEAM skills gap.”

Allentown Economic Development Corp. hires financial controller

Robert Haas –

The former Chief Financial Officer of the Swain School in Allentown was hired by the Allentown Economic Development Corp. as its new financial controller.

Robert Hass joins the AEDC after serving at Swain for 19 years. Before that he was controller at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital in Allentown. He replaces Ken Vance, who is retiring after serving as CFO for nearly eight years. Vance will stay on for an undetermined amount of time to help in the transition.

“We are very excited to welcome Robert Haas to the AEDC team,” said Executive Director Scott Unger. “Bob’s prior experience makes him a unique hire and an ideal fit for the position here. He wore several hats in his previous roles, so he has the competency to manage AEDC’s fiscal operations, which can be complex.”

Haas will be overseeing financials for the AEDC incubation program, loan programs, property development and general management.

The AEDC is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1979. It oversees the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, Urban Made and Urban Sites, programs.