Founded in 1989 in a 64,000-square-foot building on Harrison Street in Allentown that formerly housed Mack Truck operations, the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center is continuing the manufacturing legacy of the property by helping the next generation of manufacturers get up and running.
The only incubator in the Lehigh Valley that primarily concentrates on manufacturing, Bridgeworks is a program of the Allentown Economic Development Corp., that is charged with bolstering manufacturing in the Lehigh Valley and particularly in Allentown.
“We are not only space. We are an entire program,” said Britttany Butkowski, program manager at Bridgeworks. “We provide a lot of services.”
But that doesn’t mean the below-market rent that they offer clients isn’t a major benefit for manufacturers that are just getting off the ground.
And even after they’ve established themselves, space is still a valuable commodity.
Cold Edge Technologies is one example of the value of that space.
The company started at Bridgeworks 15 years ago with what Vice President Jeff Romig described as “a laptop and a card table.”
“We started in a small space and as we grew, we went across the hall. Then when we grew again, we grabbed back some space from our original spot,” he said.
The manufacturer of cryogenic systems has very specific needs for the high-tech equipment it uses so moving operations is a major challenge.
He said that while even moving across the hall can be tough on a manufacturer like Cold Edge, it is certainly a lot easier than moving to a whole other location, and the staff at Bridgeworks’ willingness to help accommodate their needs was an invaluable resource.
Romig said the space is so important to the company they have stayed on as an anchor tenant even though they have graduated from the incubator program.
Space was also a big boost for TRuCapSol LLC, said particle engineer, Jiten Dihora.
Specializing in microencapsulation and controlled release products, the company began as a tech startup in the Ben Franklin Tech Ventures program in Bethlehem.
As the company grew to the point it was ready to commercialize the manufacturing process, which is aimed at creating a biodegradable membrane to compete with microplastics.
But Tech Ventures wasn’t large enough to accommodate the kind of manufacturing equipment TRuCapSol needed.
“If we were going to scale up to manufacturing, we needed something a little bit larger,” Dihora said.
Bridgeworks offered that space, while maintaining the lower rent of an incubator, which helped the company’s bottom line.
But space is just part of the picture, said Butkowski.
She said Bridgeworks also helps manufactures gain access to capital for operating expenses and can help equip them with forklifts or palate jacks that they might not be able to afford on their own as a startup.
For TRuCapSol, Bridgeworks helped the company get a loan to fit out the space with the equipment it needed to manufacture the micro capsules.
“They gave us the capacity to move from R&D to manufacturing,” he said.
While Bridgeworks has experts on staff that can help with issues from financing to marketing, Butkowski said the environment there is also very conducive to learning and support.
Romig noted that as they moved through the incubator program, they were working alongside other manufacturers that were in similar stages of development as Cold Edge and had similar challenges.
“When you have similar problems, you can talk to each other and help solve them,’ he said.
In fact, Romig said, some of the other companies located in Bridgeworks have become suppliers for their own operations, so they’re helping each other out financially as well.
Of course, Bridgeworks isn’t just about high-tech companies. The incubator hosts a wide range of manufacturers, including those in the beverage space.
Bridgeworks is home to distiller County Seat Spirits; High Point Kombucha, a brewer of kombucha; Hijinx Brewing Company, a micro brewer and Binah Winery, which makes kosher wine.
Butkowski noted that companies need to apply to become part of the incubator program and locate at Bridgeworks.
And while supporting the manufacturers is an important goal at Bridgeworks, being a long-term landlord isn’t.
“The goal isn’t to stay here,” she said. Part of the AEDC’s mission is to help the companies grow to the point that they can move into their own market-rate manufacturing space – preferably in Allentown.
Unfortunately, she said that is currently a chink in the system. With the lack of available manufacturing space to move into in the city, many tenants have been staying in Bridgeworks for longer than originally intended because they can’t find a place to go.
She said other departments within the AEDC are tasked with helping to open up space for manufacturing in the city to meet the demand.
And space is dear there as well. Butkowski said Bridgeworks is currently 96% occupied and there is just one space currently available for potential clients and there are at least two parties currently interested in the space.
There is a reason for the demand, Butkowski said.
“The value is almost indescribable. There’s equipment, staff and mentoring above and beyond the lower cost space,” she said. “It really is its own community of makers.”