1,500 net jobs lost in October: study

While economic indicators remain high for the U.S. economy as a whole, the central and southeastern Pennsylvania regions have been beset by tumultuous global trade and a weak manufacturing sector for the last year and a half, according to a recently published study by analysts at RKL, with an office in Spring Township.

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“Though the U.S. economy has demonstrated remarkable resilience in the face of a weakening global economy, a slumping U.S. manufacturing sector and political turbulence domestically and abroad, central and southeastern Pennsylvania have not fared quite as well,” according to RKL’s analysis.

In coordination with Sage Policy Group of Baltimore, RKL analyzed 10 metro areas in central and southeastern Pennsylvania: Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, Chambersburg-Waynesboro, Gettysburg, Harrisburg-Carlisle, Lancaster, Lebanon, Reading, York-Hanover, Philadelphia and Montgomery, Bucks and Chester Counties.

Over the past six months, these regions have added an average of 2,200 net new jobs per month, a 44 percent slower growth rate than 2018, according to RKL’s report. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the region lost 1,500 positions on net in October.

Major metropolitan areas have generally seen the highest rates of job growth, reflecting a nationwide trend of “disproportionate levels of job growth in major urban areas,” in part because of their “broad appeal to millennials,” the study reports. From October 2018 to October 2019, Harrisburg, York and Lancaster exhibited “anemic” economic growth, 0.2%, -0.1% and 0% respectively, compared to Philadelphia’s 1.5% job growth during the study’s 12-month period.

The Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton region follows this trend, with a 0.3 percent increase in job growth from October 2018 to 2019. The central and southeastern part of Pennsylvania as a whole has enjoyed a low rate of unemployment, with most counties coming in below the 4% unemployment mark.

What jobs have been added lately have been concentrated in education and health services, according to the study, which noted central and southeastern Pennsylvania are home to “a number of large and expanding medical systems.”

At 16,949 jobs added from June 2018 to June 2019, these sectors added more than triple the quantity added by the next sector—professional and business services, which added 5,234 jobs during the same 12-month period.

16-story office tower slated for downtown Allentown

City Center Investment Corp. plans to build 1 Center Square, a 16-story office building in downtown Allentown. (Submitted) –


City Center Investment Corp. announced plans to build its tallest building yet, a 16-story office tower that would rise at the corner of Seventh and Hamilton streets across from PPL Center in downtown Allentown.

Construction of the building, 1 Center Square, could begin by fall 2020, with occupancy in 2022, said J.B. Reilly, president of City Center.

The Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority approved the plans for the project at a meeting on Dec. 4.

Reilly said his company is starting to talk to potential tenants to occupy the building, estimated to cost about $100 million to build.

“I view this as truly a signature building, so we think when you look at the location and the design and all the amenities of the building, this is going to be attractive to a business that really values a strong presence,” Reilly said.

The building could be ideal for major law firms, accounting firms or the significant division of a company.

“It’s a Class-A building that should attract leaders in the industry,” Reilly said.

Designed by JDavis Architects, based in Raleigh, North Carolina, the 250-foot tall building will include ground floor retail space with offices above.

A half-acre plaza of hardscaped and landscaped open space will surround the building, blending into Center Square.

North Star Construction Management of Allentown is the firm building the project.

The interior of the approximately 296,000 square feet of office space will include large glass windows and wide-open floor plates that can accommodate options like flexible workspaces, stairs and theater-style auditoriums.

Reilly has owned the building since 1999 and noted it is the last developable site for center square, the center of the downtown.

Wells Fargo, a major tenant with its name on the exterior of the building, will move next year, Reilly said.

James Baum, spokesperson for Wells Fargo, said Wells Fargo has a branch at that site and a few administrative offices.

“At Wells Fargo we are thrilled to see the continued rejuvenation of downtown Allentown and we will remain a part of this resurgence through a retail bank presence in the city center,” Baum said.

Baum said he could provide additional details in the new year.

“We are developing the property because we feel there’s a strong demand for office space downtown,” Reilly said.

Many companies in the Lehigh Valley are occupying office space that’s more than 30 years old, he said. With 1 Center Square and the company’s other office buildings, City Center has been able to develop modern office environments that meet the needs of executives today, he added.

Occupancy across all five of City Center’s office buildings is 97 percent.

“We are trying to stay ahead of the demand,” Reilly said.

Steve Bamford, executive director of ANIZDA, said he thought the building would be a great addition to the downtown.

“As far as economic activity, employees coming and going means more people on the street and that means more vibrancy in the downtown,” Bamford said.

“Any downtown that is able to preserve some of the historic structures while also adding modern buildings that employers are looking for makes for a more vibrant downtown.”

Bamford said he liked how City Center plans to restore the historic bank facade while adding the modern structure above it.


Sweet Spot golf-suite restaurant tees off tonight

Terry Ellis demonstrates his swing in one of the golf simulators at the Sweet Spot in Allentown. (Photo by Stacy Wescoe) – –

A grand opening is planned tonight at a new place for food and entertainment in Allentown.

The Sweet Spot is a Topgolf Swing Suite, but owner Terry Ellis said this location is different from many other Topgolf Swing Suites in that it comes with a full restaurant and bar.

Located in a spot that was most recently a Rodizio Grill Brazillian Steakhouse,  the Sweet Spot is one of more than 40 Topgolf Swing Suites in the country, but Ellis said to his knowledge it’s the only one that’s part of a restaurant, which he said adds to the entertainment and gives people more reason to go there.

With a menu of casual bar fare with a golf theme, and an emphasis on Ellis’ food favorite, pulled pork, simulated sports fans can find a large array of burgers, sandwiches and flatbreads as well as craft cocktails and coffees.

But, of course, the main attraction is the golf simulator, where golfers can take a swing on any of 84 different golf courses, including pebble beach.

The catch is, instead of putting on the green, balls are shot into the screen the game is being projected onto.

“We actually like to call it augmented reality because you’re using a real golf club and real golf balls,” Ellis said.

And yes, the projection screen can take the abuse.

“They’re engineered pretty well. We estimated we’ll need to replace them twice a year based on activity,” he said.

Besides playing a full 18 holes, or 9 if one is looking for a quick game, there are different golf skill games available, and Ellis is looking to set up leagues.

“I like to say it’s like a bowling alley, but with golf,” he said.

Not everyone is a golf fan, however, and since Ellis wants his restaurant to be fun for families too, there are games ranging from kicking soccer goals to zombie dodgeball that can be played in the golf simulator.

The Sweet Spot is open 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. – midnight Friday and Saturday.

The grand opening is set for 5:30 p.m. tonight.

Suites can be rented for $45 an hour during off peak times – before 5 p.m. weekdays and for $60 an hour during peak times.

New York firm plans to open food hall in Allentown’s Grand Plaza

The owner of the Grand Plaza in downtown Allentown said it plans to open an eight-vendor food hall next summer within the retail space at the building at 835 Hamilton Street. (Submitted) –

Somera Road Inc. of New York City said it plans to open an eight-vendor food hall next summer within the retail space at Allentown’s Grand Plaza on Hamilton Street. The company bought the Class-A office building in April after it had been in foreclosure.

Built in 2002, the building, formerly known as PPL Plaza, is in the Neighborhood Improvement Zone, a tax incentive that spurred more than $1 billion in construction and renovation in downtown Allentown.

The firm said it is accepting proposals from area food and beverage operators and entrepreneurs interested in leasing space at the property.

Somera Road will call the food hall “will&co.” paying tribute to William Allen, the founder of Allentown.

The company plans to update the interior design first and then rejuvenate the outdoor plaza space in front of the building next year.

Plans include adding seating, event space and greenery to the outdoor space.

With more than 6,000 square feet, the food hall will offer six interior dining options, including a coffee shop and full-service bar. Two outdoor kiosks will contain a permanent vendor in addition to a rotating seasonal option.

Once it opens, will&co. would be the second food hall in downtown Allentown.

City Center Allentown opened its Downtown Allentown Market in September, which has nine merchants offering a variety of food and beverages inside a 12,000 square foot space below the Strata West apartments.

Basel Bataineh, vice president of Somera Road, was not immediately available for comment.


Company to offer free clothing, electronics recycling in Allentown

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The City of Allentown has partnered with a New York-based company, retrievr to offer clothing and electronics recycling at residents’ doorsteps.

In a one-year pilot program, residents will be able send a text to schedule pick up for items ranging from clothes and shoes to old smartphones and small electronics.

Most pickups will be free for the residents, but the company said it will charge a small fee to collect larger electronics items such as refrigerators or microwaves.

The city will be getting some funds for participating in the recycling program.

The city will receive 10 percent of the earnings for recycling clothing, however it is estimated at less than $2,000.  The city said the biggest financial impact will be by avoiding the landfill disposal cost of the clothing and other textiles.  The city noted that it currently pays $56.39 per ton for landfill disposal.

“Our residents get the convenience of an at-home pickup, we keep recyclable materials out of the waste stream and the city saves on disposal fees,” said Allentown Mayor Ray O’Connell.

Visit retrievr’s website at www.retrievr.com to learn more about how the program works.

QNB cuts ribbon on new Allentown branch

QNB Bank’s President Dave Freeman cuts the ribbon, joined on the left by Branch Manager Lori Knerr and on the right by Director Jennifer Mann. (Photo submitted) –


Quakertown-based QNB Bank has officially opened its newest office with a ribbon cutting celebration.

The new branch is in Allentown’s theater district at 535 N. 19th Street.

The new branch offers full-service retail banking, as well as a full-time staff of commercial bankers to assist local businesses with their banking needs.

Also at the branch is full cash handling with automated cash recyclers, a coin machine, instant issue check cards, a 24-hour ATM and night deposit.

Founded in 1877, QNB currently operates twelve branches in Bucks, Montgomery and Lehigh Counties and has assets of approximately $1.2 billion.

Nonprofit eyes downtown Allentown for new science center

Da Vinci Science Center’s Science City project, once touted for the corner of South Third Street and Larry Holmes Drive in Easton, now has a new potential home.

Lin Erickson, CEO of Da Vinci Science Center, has expansion plans. (File Photo Stacy Wescoe) –

In May, the nonprofit pulled its plans for a $100 million science center in downtown Easton but today, said it chose to build a new science center on the site of The Farr Lot, a surface parking lot at north Eighth Street next to PPL Center in downtown Allentown.

Da Vinci’s current home is next to Cedar Crest College in Allentown.

Upon learning of the news, one top official expressed support for Da Vinci’s potential to bring a boost in educational and economic growth and development to Allentown.

The site is within the Neighborhood Improvement Zone, a tax incentive that spurred more than $1 billion in construction and renovation in downtown Allentown.

When city and state officials created the NIZ, the zone strived to go beyond simply providing opportunities for constructing new office buildings, according to State Rep. Peter Schweyer, who had been an Allentown city council member at the time.

“When we created the NIZ, it wasn’t just to build new Class-A office space and it wasn’t just to create new and different housing downtown, but also [to create] community development opportunities for everyone,” Schweyer said. “When Da Vinci chose downtown Allentown, they did it because that’s where their numbers directed them to. The real beneficiaries of it are going to be the people in the neighborhood.”

He described Da Vinci Science Center as a regional asset, and one that would have a sizeable increase in its current space. In addition, with the move to downtown Allentown, all the school districts will benefit, he said.

“I think the biggest winners in the decision are the people who live in the neighborhoods of the downtown community,” Schweyer said.

Schweyer said Da Vinci and Allentown officials have to flesh out some details of their plan but he’s expecting the nonprofit could capture some of the NIZ benefits.

In a news release, Da Vinci Science Center said the new center will have an expanded exhibit floor that aims to foster active learning that combines the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and the arts. By doing so, the organization said it would ensure companies have talented employees as the region continues to grow.

“A newer, larger Science Center will give us the opportunity to bring science to life in a bigger, bolder way, and bring even more lives to science in the midst of our renaissance here in downtown Allentown and in the Lehigh Valley,” said Vince Sorgi, chairman of the Da Vinci Science Center board of trustees.

In a statement, Mayor Ray O’Connell said the center has the potential to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors annually to the downtown and he sees this project as an excellent complement to the PPL Center arena and that it would greatly advance the city’s efforts to transform downtown Allentown into a day-out and night-out destination for both residents and visitors.

Da Vinci Science Center has begun working with HGA, a national architecture firm based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on the concept design, which is set for completion in 2020.






City Center getting fruit bowl franchise

An example of one of the fruit bowls that will be for sale at Frutta Bowls. –

In downtown Allentown a green mouth is being replaced by a fruit bowl.

City Center Investment Corp. said that a Frutta Bowls franchise will be opening in December on the ArtsWalk in the space that previously housed Greenmouth Juice Bar and Café.

Like Greenmouth, it also has an emphasis on healthy options. This national franchise offers fruit bowls based with acai, pitaya, kale or oatmeal. It will have gluten, soy and dairy free options available. Besides the fruit bowls, it will also serve smoothies and organic coffee daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“We’re so excited to open our first Frutta Bowls in this awesome location on the ArtsWalk and bring fresh, healthy superfoods to downtown Allentown’s residents, professionals and visitors,” said John Hamati-Sayegh, co-owner of the franchise.

The eatery will occupy a 745-square-foot space across from the new Downtown Allentown Market food hall.

Frutta Bowls started in 2016 with two locations in Howell and Freehold, New Jersey. It has since grown into a nationwide concept.


Four Points by Marriot hotel opens in South Whitehall

One of the 120 recently renovated guest rooms in the Four Points by Marriott hotel in South Whitehall Township. (Photo submitted) –

The former Comfort Suites Hotel across the street from Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom on Hamilton Boulevard in South Whitehall Township, has now officially reopened under the Marriott International brand as Four Points Allentown Lehigh Valley.

Owned and managed by the Joshi Hotel Group, the hotel has 120 guest rooms and over 1,380 square feet of meeting space to accommodate meetings of about 80 people.

All spaces in the hotel, including a new heated indoor pool and 24-hour fitness center, were part of a roughly $3 million renovation project that began in September 2018.

Andrea C Weismiller, vice president of sales for the Joshi Hotel Group, said the company purchased the old Comfort Suites in 2013 and ran it under that brand for five years before deciding on the upgrade.

She said the Four Points brand is a much more upscale experience that is geared toward independent travelers that want to experience the local flair of the community they’re staying in.

Which, she said, is where the local Lehigh Valley breweries come in.

As part of the hotels curated Best Brews and BBQ program, the Four-Points will have regular appetizer and beer features in the Linx Restaurant and Bar, featuring beers from Fegley’s Brewworks, Saucony Creek Brewing Company and Funk Brewing – all of which will be on tap at the bar.

She noted that the Joshi Hotel Group is locally and family owned.

“It was a father and son that founded it and the hotels continue to be owner operated,” she said.

Weismiller said a big challenge for the hotel is being able to serve a diverse clientele.

During the summer months, a large portion of the hotel’s guests come from travelers to Dorney Park, but year round, the hotel houses business travelers and executives.

She said there are reserved executive floors for business travelers so that they can enjoy all the amenities of the hotel, “but they still have that peace that they seek if they need to do work,” she said.

Hotel Group owner, Vikas Joshi, noted that the hotel is the first Four Points brand hotel in the Lehigh Valley, and has other noteworthy distinctions.

“Our hotel is one of the first Pro-Type conversions with the latest Marriott brand design specifications,” he said. “We look forward to a timeless partnership with Marriott and exceeding our valued guests’ expectations.”

A grand opening celebration is planned for Oct. 23.


Using tech to connect: Vistacom gives office tour to show off communication tools

Jim Ferlino, right, president and CEO of Vistacom, watches as Scot Smith demonstrates the capabilities of the Unified Communications and Collaboration system. (Photo by Stacy Wescoe) –

When Lianna Russell, marketing manager for Vistacom in Allentown, starts talking about her audio-visual communications firm’s new experience center she’s not talking about a new showroom.

“I’m taking everyone on a tour of all of our conference rooms,” she said.

The company recently updated a number of its own conference rooms with the latest in audio-visual and communications technology and added a Network Operations Center so customers can see how Vistacom integrates such technologies into their own work, meetings and teleconferences.

“We try to position our role with clients as a communications provider,” said Jim Ferlino, president and CEO of Vistacom. “We need to understand how they want to communicate and help them to do it better and in a more efficient way.”

To do that, sometimes it helps to show the products in action, after all, he said, communications is ever evolving and clients need to be comfortable with the new technology, because if people find it difficult to use or understand they won’t use it and the client company will lose out on its investment and better productivity.

“We hear the same complaints from customers,” Ferlino said. “We don’t hear people well. It’s too difficult to use. We can’t get it connected.”

Therefore he said the goal is to not just add in new tech, but to integrate a system that allows clients employees and customers to communicate in the easiest and most effective way.

He said the demonstrations often takes the confusion out of selecting new equipment.

“There’s a lot of confusion because there are so many platforms coming out,” Ferlino said. “Clients don’t necessarily know where to go.”

He said the key, from a sales standpoint is to help a client find technology that will fit into the ecosystem of what they’ve already committed to and will be adaptable to new technologies as they come out.

“It’s hard to explain some of these things without showing them, especially with interoperability,” Ferlino said. “People don’t know where the future is going. They need to adapt to what’s coming out next.”

There is plenty of new communications tech on the market and the different board rooms show off different ways they can be used.

A giant display screen can show the different people remotely attending a meeting.  Voice sensitive cameras will swivel to whoever is talking so that those at the meeting can see as well as hear a presentation.

Different people can also share things off of their personal devices using links stored in the conference room. All they have to do is plug the device into the system and the information they want to share is on display.

Scot Smith is the manager in charge of Vistacom’s Unified Communications and Collaboration system, or UCC.

He can show how different technologies can be integrated into a screen used in a meeting or huddle room that can show a wide variety of information.

He has one example of a photo of a piece of damaged equipment that a customer might need to examine. A photo can be uploaded, zoomed into and marked up by different participants identifying problems and solutions.

“My favorite is the infinite whiteboard,” Smith said. While the screen does have a simple whiteboard program where a user can use his or her finger to write and draw on the screen, but that is only a little more sophisticated than using a whiteboard he said.

Zooming in and out of the screen and drawing images depicting the state of Pennsylvania, Allentown, the Vistacom office and right down to an employee’s desk he shows how a user can scale into and out of an image and never run out of space.

Ferlino said it’s not just about the screen. Communications systems can integrate whole offices. He gave the example of the “hot desking” many employers are now using for employees that work remotely, but sometimes need to work inside the office for one or two days per week.

Employees can schedule an available desk from their phone before they leave for the office, or check out what’s available on a video board in the office’s main lobby so that no one is fighting over space or accidently stealing someone’s desk.

The same can be done with conference rooms, which can be reserved remotely using Microsoft Outlook Scheduler.

As an added bonus, a busy office can employ motion sensors so if someone ends up not using the space and it is left empty for a period of time, it will indicated that the scheduled office isn’t being used so someone else can take it.

Ultimately, Ferlino said his customer want to bridge the gaps that exist in their internal and external communications. It’s his company’s goal to integrate such technology to help them achieve that goal.

Allentown’s new downtown market offers food hall experience

The Downtown Allentown Market opened today, with nine merchants offering a variety of food and beverages inside a 12,000-square-foot space below the Strata West apartments.

Owned by City Center Investment Corp., the space once held two retailers but now offers a number of venues for people to order food from local, regional and national merchants.

Food Network star Robert Irvine opened Fresh Kitchen, a diner concept with counter seating and a full-service bartender serving food and drinks.

City Center officials have said that celebrity chef Irvine will make appearances at the market several times a year.

Irvine is the host of the Food Network show “Restaurant: Impossible” and also hosts the TV shows “Fitness Impossible,” “A Hero’s Welcome,” Food Network’s “Restaurant Express,” “Dinner Impossible” and “Worst Cooks in America.”

The other merchants include:

  • Shinsen, a sushi/poke bowl concept;
  • Zahra, a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean concept;
  • Batch Microcreamery, offering made from scratch ice cream;
  • Little Miss Korea, a fresh Korean bowl concept;
  • Dougnut Love, offering baked goods, doughnuts, coffee and espresso;
  • Licensed 2 [email protected] The Market, a Southern diner concept;
  • Tavola, a signature startup artisan pizza and pasta concept;
  • Boardroom Spirits, a craft distillery that will also offer Pennsylvania craft beers and wines.

The venue includes indoor seating and flexible space for events, in addition to outdoor seating. The market opens onto the ArtsWalk, a pedestrian walkway connecting the Allentown Renaissance Hotel and PPL Center on Seventh Street with the Allentown Art Museum.

“The market has exceeded our expectations from the physical space and the quality and passion of the vendors,” said J.B. Reilly, president and CEO of City Center. “We think the community will enjoy the market. We think it will have wide appeal.”

He sees it as a place for neighbors, visitors and families to socialize, eat, and drink and a place ideal for people who work in the downtown.

With ADP recently moving hundreds of employees to downtown Allentown and numerous other companies joining the influx of businesses, the market could draw a mix of office professionals looking for new food options. The nearby apartments have also bought in hundreds of new residents, providing potential customers within walking distance.


Allentown restaurateur charged with theft for non-payment of taxes

Louie Belletieri (File photo) –

Prominent Allentown restaurateur Louie Belletieri has been accused of felony theft after the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue alleged that he failed to pay around $89,000 in sales tax that his business 1207 Corp. Inc. collected over the past several years.

Belletieri has run his family’s restaurant at Louie’s Restaurant and Catering since he took it over from his father in the mid-1980s.

According to the criminal complaint it’s alleged that Belletieri collected sales tax for both the bar and restaurant end of his business, but under reported the amount to the state by $89,340.87.

In the complaint, Belletieri did acknowledge to authorities that the amount was underpaid, but denied knowing it

. He made reference to point of sale equipment at the South Allentown restaurant that he believed may have been malfunctioning.

An audit of employee payroll taxes was also conducted but no discrepancies were found.

Louie’s remains open, but prior to the charges Belletieri had posted on social media that he intended to close the location at 2071 31st St SW, the restaurant’s second location in its history.

The plan was to have the location close in November, and move to an as-of-yet undisclosed location.

A woman answering the phone at Louie’s indicated that she believed the restaurant would be moving to Emmaus.

A message was left for Belletieri for comment.

He has a preliminary hearing scheduled for Sept. 30.