A Conversation with: Philip Leinbach, president of AEM Architects in Reading

Philip Leinbach –

LVB: AEM provides architectural services for a wide variety of industries. Which ones are keeping you the busiest right now?

Leinbach: Our mainstay has been K-12 educational facilities since our company’s inception in 1974. That continues today and makes up about 85% of our current workload. We also have ongoing projects for higher education and commercial clients as well. We pretty much cover all areas of design except for the residential market.

LVB: Trends in architecture are always changing. What are the latest trends?

Leinbach: With respect to education, flexible use spaces are increasing in demand. Classrooms and learning spaces must be readily adaptable to different types of instruction and activities. Mobile desks (tables that nest or can be arranged in several configurations), mobile chairs, and flexible teaching areas are a must. Coupled with ever-changing technology, there is a move away from dedicated workstations to one-to-one programs at all grade levels. Tablets and laptops that provide interactive use with classroom displays are increasing. Classroom projectors are being replaced with large screen displays as they are becoming more affordable.

LVB: Is green building still popular?

Leinbach: There is still a draw for “green” design, but this varies based on the client. Many green practices have become more mainstream and are now inherent in design to comply with codes or simply because the “green” technology has now become more affordable (necessity is still the mother of invention) and sensible.

LVB: Has the pandemic impacted design?

Leinbach: Demands for improved air quality, the ability to have better separated personal space (social distancing), and the limiting of touch points are back at the forefront of good design practices. Better filtration and air quality are fairly simple to incorporate in new systems. Renovations are sometimes more difficult but often

have ready solutions. Having the space to social distance in classroom spaces is more readily accommodated with flexible design solutions for new construction. Existing facilities sometimes face challenges with established class sizes and the efficient footprint (smaller) classroom sizes.

LVB: Has the rising price of materials impacted decisions made in the design process?

Leinbach: Absolutely. We are trying to make decisions early in the design process regarding the selection of structural systems/members, building envelope, mechanical equipment, etc. Many of these items have long lead times and therefore are subject to increasing inflationary pressures that place a premium on cost and time on bid day.

The rising cost of fuel is one of the biggest pressures we are facing. The cost of transporting material, equipment, and labor to the construction site simply cannot be avoided. Additionally, petroleum-based products are common across all trades from asphalt paving, piping, to wire insulation. These costs are changing constantly making it difficult to estimate and receive solid bid day pricing.

Wolf touts state investment in new Berks formula manufacturer

Young mother Isabella Torres talks about the difficulty of finding infant formula with the current shortage. –

Governor Tom Wolf and a number of other state officials were in Reading Wednesday to promote the state’s investment in the new ByHeart infant formula manufacturing facility that opened there in March. 

Now in operation at a time when the nation is dealing with a significant shortage of infant formal, Wolf told employees of ByHeart that their work was more important than ever. 

“This is a new way for nursing children to get what they need at a time when there is a shortage,” he said. 

He noted that Pennsylvania’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program provided a $1.75 million grant towards the expansion at the facility. 

ByHeart is one of only five infant formula manufacturers in the country and is the first new formula manufacture to open in the U.S. in the past 15 years. 

ByHeart acquired the facility in 2019 and updated it rather than using a third-party contract manufacturer as is more common in the industry.    

Mia Funt, president and co-founder of ByHeart said five years ago her company set out to take ownership of the formula supply chain to create a healthier formula, which is closest to actual breast milk. 

But she said she was pleased that besides reaching their goal to create a better formula for infants, they were able to open at a time when there was a critical need to bring more formula to market to make up for the shortages. 

“Our commitment was to create a formula closer to breast milk,” Funt said. “Little did we know how important that decision would be today. 

Among those speaking at the event was Isabella Torres, a young mother who lives in Reading who will be attending college in the fall. 

She said despite her efforts to breast feed her son, ultimately, she chose to feed him infant formula and it’s been a struggle to find the formula he needs. 

“They say breast is best, but I say fed is best,” said Torres. 

She expressed her gratitude to ByHeart for bringing more formula to market so that mothers can provide for their babies. 

Wolf also said the new manufacturing facility is a strong boost to the Berks County and Pennsylvania economy. 

“There is no other state in this country that can lay claim to what is going on here,” he said. 

A Conversation With: Lori Lentz, director of extended learning at Kutztown University

Lori Lentz –

LVB: Kutztown is looking to study the workforce needs of Berks County for programming to begin in the fall. Tell me about what you’re working on.  

Lentz: The Office of Extended and Lifelong Learning at Kutztown University is developing training for employers in Berks and Lehigh counties who are interested in providing opportunities to their employees for upskilling and career advancement.  Adults who are curious about college but not sure if they are ready to commit to a degree program can admit into certificate programs, which are about 3 to 4 classes.  We are also facilitating Senior Scholars, which is a program for the 50+ age group and will offer non-credit, short topics such as wine-tasting events, photography, etc. beginning in summer. 


LVB: Are there particular industries you’re concentrating on?  

Lentz: We are working with KU’s SBDC to offer training on WEDnet, which is government funded.  We are focused on developing training that can assist employees and employers in local industry. 


LVB: What are the biggest workforce needs that you see in Berks County?  

Lentz: We are currently canvassing local industry to determine needs.  Soft skills such as communication, leadership, critical thinking, and the ability to work in a team are in demand.  Training in computer programming, problem solving and analytical skills, and software is also in demand. 


LVB: How do you think that Kutztown can help?  

Lentz: KU can help in several ways.  Employees can increase their marketability for in-demand careers with a certificate.  KU also offers many certification options in Education.  KU can help with accelerated degree pathways by offering summer and winter online courses, awarding credit for prior learning, or pursuing a completion program.  KU also offers online and hybrid degrees.  


LVB: How can employers get involved with Kutztown’s workforce training efforts?   

Lentz: Employers, employees, and nontraditional students may access KU’s workforce training and extended learning at  https://www.kutztown.edu/about-ku/administrative-offices/extended-and-lifelong-learning.html or they may call me at 610-683-4478. 

ByHeart celebrates FDA registration of Reading formula facility

ByHeart Manufacturing Facility in Reading, PHOTO/SUBMITTED –

ByHeart, a baby nutrition company, officially announced the FDA registration of its Reading manufacturing facility, becoming only the fourth vertically integrated U.S. infant formula brand to have full oversight of their production, supply chain and R&D. 

The company said this enables it to rewrite the formula recipe from scratch and have control over every step of the process, from farm to formula – something no new infant formula entrant has accomplished in more than 15 years.  

Pennsylvania government officials including State Senator Judith Schwank and Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding attended a ribbon cutting to support the $21.6M manufacturing investment ByHeart made to create the facility and infant nutrition center of excellence. 

The company said it expects the new ByHeart facility will have meaningful impact nationwide. It noted that there are supply issues with infant formula in the current market, with retail stores across the US reaching nearly 30% out of stock inventory on infant formula last month. 

ByHeart said its registration strengthens the fragile U.S. infant nutrition supply chain and seeks to mitigate the risk of formula shortages in the future. 

ByHeart was awarded a $1.75 million in Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grant on behalf of the State of Pennsylvania for investments in ByHeart’s Reading facility. 

“I’m thrilled to invest in innovation in the infant nutrition industry with $1.75 million in state support,” said Gov. Tom Wolf. “In addition to supporting good health from birth, this investment in ByHeart will create good jobs, economic impact, and support for agriculture in the commonwealth and indeed the entire country currently suffering from shortages in this supply – it’s an all-around win.” 

In 2019, ByHeart acquired and updated the manufacturing facility in Reading rather than using a third-party contract manufacturer as is more common in the industry.  

Work the company has done on the facility includes enhancements in preventative food safety measures to convert the plant from toddler food production to infant formula capability. 

“We spent 2 years auditing infant formula plants around the world,” explained ByHeart CEO and Co-Founder, Ron Belldegrun. “We chose the commonwealth as our home base because of local expertise, rich agricultural heritage, and a commitment to furthering value-add Dairy, which – together with our expertise in infant nutrition innovation – has the potential to transform Reading into a national and global hub for the export of the most fundamental and vital food in the world.”