Morning Call parent company bought by hedge fund

The Morning Call on North Sixth Street in Allentown. PHOTO/FILE


Tribune Publishing Co., the parent company of the Morning Call newspaper in Allentown is being acquired by New York-based Hedge Fund, Alden Global Capital.

Tribune announced late Tuesday that it entered into a definitive merger agreement under which Alden will acquire all of the outstanding shares of Tribune stock for $17.25 per share.

The hedge fund already owns 11.6 million shares of Tribune stock, or about 31.6% of the company’s outstanding shares.

This may not be good news for the call, which has already suffered newsroom cuts and is vacating its North Sixth Street headquarters.

The company has a reputation for making drastic cuts at local newspapers it acquires.

A recent article in Vanity Fair described Alden as a “hedge fund vampire that bleeds newspapers dry.”

Philip G. Franklin, chairman of the board and a member of the special committee on the acquisition commented on the move.

“Over the past year, the Company has taken a number of actions to adapt to an ever-changing business and industry environment, including the impact of COVID-19. These actions included strengthening the Company’s financial position, driving digital growth and investing in high-quality content to better serve customers, employees and communities. This positioning enabled the special committee to negotiate a premium, all-cash price, which the committee concluded was superior to the available alternatives.”

In a press release, the Tribune said that the purchase price represents a premium of 45% to the closing price of Tribune common stock on Dec. 11, 2020, the last trading day prior to receiving Alden’s proposal, and a 21% increase from Alden’s initial offer of $14.25 per share.

The agreement was approved by Tribune’s Board of Directors following the recommendation by the special committee of Tribune’s Board formed to evaluate Alden’s proposal and potential alternatives.

The transaction is expected to close in the second quarter of 2021.

Including the Morning Call operates local media businesses in eight markets. Other papers include the Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News and the Baltimore Sun.

Cedar Crest names head of diversity and inclusion

Leon John


Cedar Crest College has named a new executive director of diversity and inclusion.

Leon S. John, Jr. will be taking on the role beginning March 1.

He comes to the Allentown school from East Stroudsburg University where he was director of alumni engagement.

“Dr. John’s passion for the work of diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as his deep affinity for Cedar Crest College’s mission, suits him perfectly to this important role,” said Cedar Crest College President Elizabeth M. Meade in a statement.

John’s professional background includes diversity, equity and inclusion training, Title IX training, academic affairs, residence life and student life.

His experience in the work of diversity, equity and inclusion includes facilitating workshops on topics such as campus microaggressions and implicit bias in the workplace and serving as a presenter or trainer on issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education as well as other industries.

John has served as an advisor to multiple student organizations, including the Black Student Union, LGBTQ Ally Group and Non-Traditional Student Organization at Penn State Scranton.

John earned his Ph.D. in higher education administration from Marywood University and conducted his dissertation research on self-efficacy among students of color at predominantly white institutions of higher education. He also holds a Master of Arts in communication arts and a Bachelor of Arts in advertising/public relations, both from Marywood University.

John is the second person to hold the post.

Two Lehigh Valley restaurant owners talk of frustration and hope

In a good year, the average restaurant has an operating profit of just 4%, according to the National Restaurant Association. So, when a highly contagious global health crisis hits, and restaurants are forced to close their doors, the effects are devastating. 

Prior to the COVID pandemic however, the industry was having one of its best years to date, according to the NRA.  Industry sales had reached a record high of $863 billion. And while restaurants have slowly reopened, the NRA reports that the number of diners remains down by more than 65 percent over last year.

How did this drop affect restaurants in the Lehigh Valley?  Lehigh Valley Business recently spoke to two local restaurant owners to find out. 

Joe Grisafi of Allentown’s The Pizza Joint, and Sarah Hinsch of Easton’s Greentruth Healing Haven & Plant-Based Kitchen, express a mix of frustration and hope, but remain committed to staying open.

Grisafi, former owner of Corked, a steakhouse and bar in Bethlehem, opened The Pizza Joint last February, just ahead of the pandemic. Lunch was super busy, but the dinner traffic was slower, he recalled

By second week of lockdown in the end of March, all of his business went away. “Everyone was scared and didn’t know what to expect of the virus,” he said. “We closed for two weeks, and then learned of the high survival rate. We thought, ‘We gotta go back to work.’” 

He talked to every pizzeria in the Lehigh Valley before deciding to reopen. And what he learned was that lunch was a dead time. “No one was going into work to come in on their lunch break.”

He decided to reopen on the Monday before Easter just for dinner.

“We jumped on DoorDash, Grubhub and all the mobile food delivery apps,” Grisafi said. “We relaunched our business that way knowing that delivery was going to be central because of the pandemic.”

Later, he expanded to six days a week, lunch and dinner, and it was successful. “We’ve been very busy,” he said. “Ninety percent of our business is takeout and delivery now. People are scared to go out, and want the food brought to them in a safe way. We also do a lot of catering. Moving forward, who knows what the future will bring.”

They stay ahead of all the safety regulations and ensure the restaurant is sanitized. “We are doing what we are told.” The virus hasn’t cross his path, but he calls the pandemic “a dark time” full of fear and urges other restaurant owners to open. 

“People need to stand up and open their businesses,” Grisafi said. “That’s my opinion. I know the struggle it is to own a big restaurant, and all of the overhead costs involved. Everyone thinks it’s lifestyles of the rich and famous. It is not.”

Grisafi predicts it will take five years for the industry in the Lehigh Valley to return to pre-pandemic health. “And that’s going to be for the restaurants that survive this. Not everyone will.”

Over in Easton, at the Greenmouth Juice Bar and Café, Hinsch says the shutdowns were scary, a “sucker punch” in the gut. 

“When the Health Department tells you to shut down, you shut down,” she said. “We shut down for six weeks. I don’t have any financial reserve.  I’m a single mom with no help. I had just enough to make payroll. It was super scary.”

Hinsch let one of her employees live in her house, two others left their jobs.

“The city was a ghost town,” she said. “I”m all about community and food as medicine. It was really sad to see that stop.”

She reopened on May 4 for curb-side takeout, she said, because “I could see that the community needed me and us.” 

Looking back, she said the break was a blessing in disguise by allowing her to see her business with fresh eyes. 

“We launched new items and removed some that weren’t best sellers,” she said. “We decided to launch a meal service. The idea is to keep delivering healthy meal plans weekly, with foods like soup and chili. We make everything from scratch, and include lots of healing items.”

Now they offer online ordering and contactless pick up, and they wear masks.

“The masks do kind of make restaurants more sanitary overall.” Hinsch said. “I don’t think masks in restaurants will ever go away.”

Last year was a challenge, she said, during an interview in early December. “If I make $4,000 this year, I’ll be lucky. 

“It’s heartbreaking but I trust that 2021 is our year,” she said. “We won’t be closing our doors..”

Restaurants are important to the community. Breaking bread together is important. There will be less restaurants when this is over but I think there will be good to come out of this. We are patient. We are healing.”

Chris Raad named president of Pa. Association of Realtors

Christopher Raad


A Lehigh Valley Realtor is now president of the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors.

Christopher G. Raad, is the broker of record and third generation realtor at Harvey Z. Raad Realtors in Allentown.

He is the 98th president of the association and the third president from the Lehigh Valley.

“I’m proud to serve as the president of this organization,” Raad said. “Our association works to protect private properties rights, as well as help people realize their dream of homeownership.”

Raad has been active with the Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors, where he served on the board of directors and was elected president in 2015.

He served again in 2016 after the passing of Jim Zurn, who was serving as president of GLVR at the time.

At the state association, Raad chaired the Commercial, Industrial and Investment Committee, served as a member of the board of directors and has been a major investor in the Realtors Political Action Committee since 2015.

At the National Association of Realtors, he served on the Public Policy Committee, Realtor Safety Advisory Committee and will be a serving his fourth term as a member of the board of directors.

Raad was also a recipient of the 40 Under 40 award in 2016 by the Lehigh Valley Business Journal, served on Allentown’s Historical Architectural Review Board

Harvey Z. Raad Realtors was founded more than 58 years by Christopher’s grandfather, Harvey. Christopher became the broker of record in 2017 and now with 22 years in the industry, he’s operating alongside his father, George Raad and brother, Gregory Raad.

MCR Labs begins cannabis testing in Allentown

A laboratory technician at MCR Labs weighs cannabis flower for testing. PHOTO/SUBMITTED


MCR Labs, a Massachusetts-based cannabis testing company, recently opened a facility in Allentown and has begun accepting and testing product samples for medical marijuana licensees.

This is the company’s first location outside of Massachusetts.

“This is a huge step for us,” said Michael Kahn, MCR Labs’ president and founder. “We’re excited to be expanding and excited for the opportunity to carry out our mission of advancing public health and safety here in the Keystone State.”

He said MCR Labs was the first independent cannabis testing laboratory certified in Massachusetts and brings several years of cannabis testing experience to the Pennsylvania medical marijuana industry.

Julia Naccarato will be in charge of business operations at the Allentown location. She has a background in business administration and project management.

Liquid names Cernese COO, CFO

Mark Cernese

Liquid, an Allentown digital marketing agency, has hired Mark Cernese as its chief operating officer and chief financial officer.

Most recently principal of his own financial firm, Mark Cernese & Associates, and previously CEO of TWG Security, Cernese has more than 20 years of business experience in the Lehigh Valley.

With Cernese’s background in finance and operations, Liquid President Doug Mancini said the new COO will add to Liquid’s total value and be instrumental in the company’s overall growth strategies.

“He brings a unique set of qualifications and experience to a very important leadership role within our organization,” said Mancini. “As Liquid positions for the next 20 years of managed growth and innovation, mark will be responsible for ensuring we deliver on every promise to every customer, every time.”

PPP loans help make 2020 a record year for American Bank

Fueled, in part, by loans designed to help small business through the pandemic, American Bank of Allentown reported record earnings for 2020, an increase of 11% over 2019.

The bank said net income for the year ended Dec. 31 was $8.71 million, an increase of $833,000 over the year prior. Total assets increased $92.8 million, or 14.5%, to $734.3 million compared to $641.5 million on Dec. 31, 2019.

Net loans increased $69.5 million, or 13.4%, from 2019, due to organic loan growth and PPP loan originations.

Total deposits increased $73.8 million, or 15.5%, from 2019.

Mark Jaindl, president and CEO, said he was proud of the bank’s performance, especially in light of the unprecedented circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As we enter 2021, we are optimistic and look forward to serving our customers safely, no matter the circumstances. We are prepared to assist our business customers during the second phase of the PPP loan program while continuing to provide all of our customers the products and services they need to satisfy any of their banking needs,” he said in a statement.

The Bank participates in the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program established under The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES.

This Act expanded the SBA’s 7(a) loan program to help small businesses cover their near-term operating expenses and retain employees.  These loans are guaranteed by the SBA, have terms of two or five years and have fixed interest rates of 1% with payments deferred up to 10 months following the coverage period.

To date, the Bank has disbursed funds in excess of $76.1 million to more than 490 businesses affected by COVID-19.

A Conversation With: Loren Speziale, partner at Gross McGinley in Allentown

Loren Speziale


Loren L. Speziale is an attorney with Gross McGinley in Allentown specializing in business, employment and real estate law. She was appointed to deputy managing partner of Gross McGinley in 2018 and elevated to equity partner in 2019.

LVB: What are the biggest issues in business law right now?

Speziale: Over the course of the last 10 months, laws affecting business have been changing in real time.  We have seen new laws and orders passed in response to the pandemic and, in many cases, made effective almost immediately.

Many of these laws and orders have been amended multiple times over this period of time. This ever changing legal landscape has forced businesses to constantly pivot and make decisions near instantaneously without the benefit, in many cases, of legal precedent, administrative guidance, or, simply, time.

For most businesses, this is not how they have historically operated. The speed at which businesses must now educate themselves, respond and implement changes consistent with these coronavirus-related laws has created some of the biggest issues right now and presumably into the foreseeable future as legal disputes arising out of these laws and related decisions make their way through the various court systems and administrative agencies.

LVB: Do you expect any changes this year with a new administration?

Speziale: With any new administration there will be changes.

While it is expected that the initial focus will be on economic relief relating to the impact of the pandemic, over the course of the next year or so, businesses will likely see regulations and laws proposed that could have an impact on a broad range of topics from health care insurance to minimum wage to corporate taxes to tariffs.

LVB: Do you see any areas of business law that still need change or reform?

Speziale: As we make our way out of the pandemic, businesses should expect that certain practices will not return to what they were pre-pandemic. With this, we can anticipate that there are areas of business law that will be impacted and will potentially require change to conform to a new normal.

While it may be too early to tell what those areas may be, one area of business law that has seen consistent change over the last decade is that of independent contractors. Given the prevalence of the remote work environment since March 2020, businesses may find employees have enjoyed the flexibility of working from home and wish to transition to a role that does not require them to return to the office and work set hours and days.

With these conversations, it is expected that businesses will need to explore whether an independent contractor relationship is one that would work for their organization and the employee. As the laws currently stand, there are numerous factors to be considered to avoid the misclassification of an employee as an independent contractor. If these contractor relationships become more of the norm, it is expected we will see a push for change and reform to independent contractor laws from both businesses and contractors.

LVB: Where should businesses be placing their focus when it comes to legal issues?


Speziale: It is always recommended that businesses, at least on an annual basis, take a holistic look at their business operations and whether they are operating in compliance with the current laws and regulations to which they are subject.

In doing this, businesses should place their attention on human resources laws, as these laws frequently change and will have an immediate impact on personnel.

Businesses should also focus on their contractual obligations to ensure they are familiar with, and acting in compliance with, any timing requirements and other obligations under the terms.  By taking this time, businesses can be proactive in addressing any potential issues and making any relevant changes, all in an effort to mitigate future legal issues.

Will the pandemic leave smarter cities in its wake? Lehigh Valley officials say ‘yes!’

The coronavirus pandemic is accelerating smart city innovation, and impacting urban micro ecosystems along its way.

Traditional and smart city ecosystems – the relationships between people, places and things include public and private sectors and how they interact, infrastructure such as roads, bridges and parking; utilities and emerging technology, which is driving robust change.

Technology offers the biggest opportunities to reinvent urban spaces as smarter, more resilient, better connected and safer cities.

“If [a] city isn’t taking advantage of how technology is becoming mainstream they’ll be left behind,” said Terrence DeFranco, CEO of Iota Communications, Inc. in Allentown.

The coronavirus pandemic has hastened smart city planning – especially digital and internet connectivity generating the need for greater accessibility to move at a swifter pace, said smartcitiesdive.com.

“Covid shone a light and there aren’t gaps [in digital resources], there are massive chasms between communities that have, and communities that don’t,” said Jack Hanley, COO of Connected Cities Integrators Inc. in Tampa, Florida.

Hanley said Connected Cities is currently consulting on a project in York Pennsylvania, and has worked on projects throughout the U.S.

The backbone tech – from data to internet connections, WiFi and broadband capabilities, is the foundation upon which all other aspects of smart city planning can grow. Data gathering and management techniques are critical in turning “physical assets into smart assets” to benefit communities, DeFranco said.

Data, networks, environmental problems and solutions, public utilities such as water and waste water treatment, public safety and transportation can and should be incorporated into the smart city conversation, he said.

Each of these components represents a micro ecosystem within the whole of smart city planning.

“On [one] side you have all the data…[to] gather and turn it into something that is valuable” and on the other side are the business, consulting and private partnerships necessary to create successful outcomes, he said.

As Pennsylvania is one of several states that do not allow municipalities to own broadband services, private partnerships are essential in providing them, one example of a crucial public/private partnership.

“Who will own it and [who] manage it?” DeFranco asked of the two entities in the internet provider relationship.

Those public/private partnerships are vital to implementing and administering other technologies, too. For a successful smart city program to be sustainable leaders and administrators must think about the “business case behind the use case. It’s not one individual company with one gadget – there are a lot of companies selling

“smart connected gadgets,” Connected Cities’ Hanley said.

“Historically the approach between people, places, and things in cities has been done pretty poorly, and the landscape is littered with failed and abandoned proof of concept and pilot projects,” he said.

Any smart city implementation goal must include economic sustainability at its core.

Building connectivity in Easton

Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr. said the downtown is starting with digital access and building its overall smart city ecosystem around a fiber optic loop.

“We’re expanding broadband in our lower-income neighborhoods, offering better connectivity in City Hall…better connections remotely and broadcasting council [meetings]” to keep residents and stakeholders informed, Panto said of the digital outreach plan.

A digital database is underway to capture resident and business information in order to make communication faster and easier.

Other goals described by Panto include shifting from gasoline engine to electric vehicles in the city’s fleet and outfitting snow plows with GPS systems to better manage winter street maintenance and snow plow progress reporting.

He said transportation and transit development is another ecosystem on the list for the smart city treatment. Panto envisions a transit link to the Easton Intermodal Transportation to connect to light passenger rail.

But, for public transportation to become a mainstream reality, public attitudes must change and funding sources from state and federal sources would be essential for it to economically sustainable. “In the Lehigh Valley people are still accustomed to having a car… and we don’t have a good light rail system to connect to, or passenger service, to northern New Jersey, Philadelphia or New York,” Panto said.

Hanley said snow removal and street care – a public service ecosystem – could include mapping salt truck runs and using smart technology to monitor them. Smart tech can also be used for trash collection services to make the process more efficient.

“Historically you work on a route schedule, because that is how it’s always been done and you have people emptying trash cans,” Hanley said. But sensors can detect when trash cans should be emptied, creating an as-needed schedule for collections and saving time and money with digital mapping processes.

Panto said electric charging stations at city owned parking garages are making it easier for those drivers to travel in Easton’s downtown.

Green gas emissions inventories have been completed to help set goals for carbon free emission timelines in Easton, too.

“Cities in the future will deal with [natural] disasters, and while we’re not dealing with fires or hurricanes, we do have flooding,” Panto said.

Easton’s location along the Delaware River makes it vulnerable to heavy rains, storm surges and flooding. Promoting green infrastructure would be a benefit to Easton, too, the mayor said. Green infrastructure uses natural elements in conjunction with city buildings and planning to manage wet weather, flooding, erosion and create healthier, more sustainable urban environments.

Since 2019, Easton has been charging permit fees on impervious surfaces to offset the cost of green infrastructure to benefit its water discharge into river tributaries. The fees, which are charged to residents, businesses and tax-exempt properties, offset costs for storm water management and its cleanliness, he said.

Hanley said smart cities and those who are undertaking smart city planning and implementation attract thriving business and talent.

“Having access to state-of-the-art tech makes businesses become more successful, and people become more employable.

“Smart cities are about the why. This is about people, it’s not about gadgets.” Hanley said.

Allentown targets ecommerce with changes to business privilege tax

Allentown has updated its business privilege tax, becoming the second city in the state after Philadelphia to expand city taxes to include businesses that don’t have brick-and-mortar locations in the city, but do a significant amount of business there.

In Philadelphia, the standard applies to the city’s Gross Receipts Tax.

While Allentown didn’t name specific businesses that it is targeting, the measure is the result of a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision in South Dakota v Wayfair, which sought to tax ecommerce businesses, like furniture and home goods e-retailer, Wayfair. It would also apply to such e-retailers as Amazon.

Bureau of Revenue & Audit Operations Manager Seth O’Neill noted that the city hasn’t changed its business privilege tax guidelines since 1996 and much – from the court ruling to technology and commerce – has changed since then.

“There’s been a lot of things that have come to life that are different that should be included in the tax,” O’Neill told the city’s business and finance committee during their December 21 meeting.

He noted since South Dakota v Wayfair most states have begun charging state sales tax to such businesses, including Pennsylvania.

“The Supreme Court found that it was no longer a constitutional concern because of how much business is done online and from a remote setting,” he said.

O’Neill said the update doesn’t create a new tax in the city and that most that are used to paying the business privilege tax won’t see any changes. This simply applies new rules to how the tax is going to be administered to those businesses without a base of operations in the city.

About half of those paying business privilege taxes pay less than $100 per year and 75% of pay less than $1,000.

This is targeting much larger interstate businesses that have at least 15 business transactions in the city generating at least $500,000 each year.

O’Neill said the $500,000 threshold was chosen because it seems to be the national average for those cities that include such businesses in their business privilege tax and is in line with Pennsylvania’s threshold for reporting corporate income tax.

The city administration noted there is no revision to its Business Privilege Tax rates, which are as follows.

On wholesale transactions, the rate shall be 1 mill ($1.00 per $1,000.00) of gross volume of business.

On retail transactions, the rate will be 1.5 mills on gross volume of business.

On service transactions, the rate shall be 3 mills of gross volume of business.

On receipts attributable to rental transactions, the rate will be 3 mills of gross volume of business.

The Business Privilege Tax Regulations can be found on the city website at www.allentownpa.gov.

People First adds 2 to its executive team

Allentown-based People First Federal Credit Union has made additions to its executive team.

The credit union, which serves more than 75,000 members in the Lehigh Valley, named Candido Amorim as its new chief retail officer.

Amorim, who brings more than 20 years of financial service experience to the position, will focus on member service, branch transformation, and growth. In his previous roles with the credit union he implemented new technologies and processes to provide better service.

He will lead all retail operations, including People First’s seven branches and its call center.

“The only reason we are here is to serve our members and Candido has shown his commitment to service,” said Howard Meller, president and CEO of People First.

The credit union has also named Steve Kunkel its new chief of risk. Kunkel brings over 25 years of operations, risk and compliance experience from other financial institutions. In this role, he will work to enhance the risk mitigation strategies to manage fraud, compliance and other risks throughout the organization.

“Managing risks protects our members and we are here to serve our members,” he said. “Steve’s background and expertise makes him a natural fit for this role.”

People First Federal Credit Union is a federally chartered and insured credit union that has been serving the Lehigh or Northampton Counties for more than 70 years. It has more than $730 million in assets.

Netizen Corp. adds to its executive team

Akhil Handa


Allentown-based cybersecurity firm, Netizen Corp. has named Akhil Handa as its new chief operating officer.

Experienced as a senior executive in the federal and defense markets, Handa has had leadership roles and has worked in cybersecurity engineering and management.

He will oversee company operations, strategic relationships and solutions engineering based out of the firm’s Washington, D.C. office.

Other leadership changes at the firm include the promotion of Doug Ross to chief strategy officer. He was previously Netizen’s director of business development. Before joining the firm he was president and founder of SPARC LLC and Morgan6 LLC, where he earned more than $1 billion in federal contracts.

He will be based out of Netizen’s Charleston, South Carolina office.

Emily Dietrich Withmer has been promoted to director of human resources and legal affairs. Previously Netizen’s administration officer, Withmer has been an attorney since 2001. She will be based out of Netizen’s Allentown headquarters.