New PIDA loan approved to spur business growth in Bucks County

A new $375,000 low-interest loan to support business expansion for Bucks County manufacturer First Look Display Group, LLC, has been approved through the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority (PIDA). 

The loan approval was announced Wednesday by Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) Secretary Rick Siger. 

“PIDA loans are one of our key economic development investment tools and are vitally important to companies looking to grow, retool, or retain and hire additional workers,” Siger said in a statement.

First Look Display Group was approved for a 15-year loan at a 3.5% reset interest rate to assist in the purchase and renovation of their currently leased operational space in Bensalem Township. Founded in 2018, First Look Display Group, LLC designs and manufactures metal racking systems for a variety of uses, including point of purchase displays in retail environments and as storage units in industrial environments.

The company will also make renovations including full replacement of the roof, and installation of three overhead doors and ancillary dock equipment. First Look Display Group, LLC has committed to retain 11 current jobs and create three new, full-time jobs within three years.

Low-interest loans and lines of credit are provided by PIDA for eligible businesses that commit to creating and retaining full-time jobs, and for the development of industrial parks and multi-tenant facilities. PIDA loans can be used for land and building acquisitions, construction and renovation costs, machinery and equipment purchases, working capital and accounts receivable lines of credit, multi-tenant facility projects, and industrial park projects.

Businesses in Pennsylvania eligible to apply for PIDA loans include agriculture, construction, child daycare, manufacturing, industrial, research and development, hospitality, defense conversion, recycling, computer-related services, mining, retail and service enterprises, and developers.

Pa. unemployment claims decrease

Pennsylvania ranks 39th among states in which unemployment claims were lower than in the previous week, according to updated rankings by WalletHub. 

Regarding the change in unemployment claims last week versus the previous week, Pennsylvania’s numbers decreased 20.4%. Regarding the change in unemployment claims last week versus the same week pre-pandemic, Pennsylvania’s claims were down 4.1%. 

Pennsylvania ranks 47th nationally in unemployment claims per 100,000 people in the labor force. 

Amid the slowing of inflation, new unemployment claims decreased 3% week-over-week on July 17. South Carolina ranks No. 1 on the list, followed by Kentucky at No. 2 and Mississippi at No. 3. Arkansas (4), Alabama (5), Michigan (6), Missouri (7), Maine (8), Maryland (9), and Wisconsin (10) completed the top 10. 

The bottom 10 consisted of No. 42 Hawaii, District of Columbia (43), Oregon (44), Massachusetts (45), West Virginia (46), Utah (47), California (48), Colorado (49), Ohio (50), and Vermont (51). 

Except for Colorado and Vermont, each state boasted unemployment claims last week that were lower than in the previous week. Every state also had unemployment claims last week that were lower than in the same week pre-pandemic (2019) except for West Virginia, Hawaii, Tennessee, Nebraska, Idaho, California, Nevada, Texas, Connecticut, Georgia, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Indiana, Minnesota, Colorado, Utah, Vermont, and Ohio. 

Vermont, Ohio, and Massachusetts were among the 29 states whose unemployment claims last week were worse than the same week last year. 

WalletHub Analyst Jill Gonzalez said record low unemployment figures should not be expected to continue much longer. 

“The Federal Reserve rate hikes have already started a slowing of inflation, which in turn will cause unemployment numbers to increase,” Gonzalez said in a release. “The hikes, coupled with the chances of a recession in the next 12 months at over 70 percent, are two leading causes of why we will see record-low unemployment come to an end sooner rather than later.” 

Gonzalez said certain job types are still seeing higher levels of unemployment currently. 

“For instance, construction jobs have very high unemployment numbers right now due to building activity slowdown, with higher interest rates lowering demand for new individual housing,” said Gonzalez. “Farming, fishing, and forestry jobs are also seeing high unemployment, which has more to do with technological advances and less about the current economy or pandemic recovery.”

Carbon County project receives funding from Shapiro Administration

A Carbon County project is among the eight new projects receiving more than $3 million in funding through the Commonwealth Financing Authority, the Department of Community and Economic Development announced Tuesday. 

The projects provide funding to strengthen Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry and improve the state’s infrastructure. The grants and loans total $3,048,636. 

“Investments in projects like these approved recently will help make the Commonwealth a better place to live, work, and prosper,” Secretary Rick Siger said in a statement. “From bolstering our agriculture industry to making critical infrastructure improvements, these projects will grow our economy and improve the quality of life for Pennsylvanians.” 

The Pipeline Investment Program (PIPE) provides grants to construct the last few miles of natural gas distribution lines to business parks and existing manufacturing and industrial enterprises, which will result in the creation of new economic base jobs in the commonwealth while providing access to natural gas for residents. Applicants eligible for PIPE funding include businesses, economic development organizations, hospitals, municipalities, and school districts. 

Little Leaf PA, LLC, on behalf of UGI Utilities, Inc., was approved for a $501,136 grant for the installation of 3,000 linear feet of natural gas pipeline in Banks Township, Carbon County. The installation will allow for additional capacity of the gas line to support the future expansion of Little Leaf from 20 acres of greenhouse to 60 acres of greenhouse. 

Little Leaf uses their greenhouses for Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) lettuce growing and this increase in production would result in at least 300 new jobs for the local community and increase the natural gas capacity through the construction of a new gas regulation station for the Smithfield Gateway Center in Smithfield Township. The total project cost is $1,02,272 and UGI Utilities will provide matching funds in the amount of $501,136. 

The First Industries Fund (FIF) provided $2,547,500 to strengthen the state’s agriculture and tourism through loan guarantees. Land and building acquisition and construction, machinery and equipment purchases and upgrades, and working capital are all possible uses for funding.  

Projects in Lancaster, Northumberland, and Perry counties received FIF loans. 

Serfass to build 118 luxury rentals in Allentown’s Dream Grand Plaza

Allentown-based Serfass Construction Co. Inc., a family-owned business firm specializing in multi-unit residential and commercial projects, has been retained by DLP Capital to construct 118 market-rate luxury rental units within the 350,000-square-foot Dream Grand Plaza building in Allentown.

The Class A office building is in the city’s central business district at 835 Hamilton St. The project involves converting five of the eight floors into a residential community “that will redefine luxury living in the area,” a release said.

When transformed, Dream Grand Plaza will offer 118 apartments spanning floors two to six, with select residences featuring two floors accessed by spiral staircases, creating a unique and spacious living experience, Serfass said.

There will be an array of resort-style amenities, including well-appointed media rooms, a state-of-the-art fitness center, a dog wash, and a package room to streamline deliveries.

“We are thrilled to be working alongside DLP Capital on this exciting project,” Matthias Fenstermacher, vice president of Serfass Construction, said in the release. “… Together … we will bring this vision to life and set a new standard for living in Allentown.”

Added Don Wenner, founder and CEO of Allentown-based DLP Capital, a private real estate investment and financial services firm: “Allentown has been undergoing a renaissance of economic activity, with the vitality (of) downtown attracting new businesses, residents and visitors alike. Dream Grand Plaza will be at the forefront, offering the epitome of modern apartment living in a very central location – and offering area workforces great options for a dynamic live-work environment.”

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Following I-95 collapse, Lehigh Rep. infrastructure bill advanced to PA House floor

In the wake of the recent collapse of I-95, the Pennsylvania House Labor and Industry Committee advanced House Bill 1449 out of committee and to the floor of the House. 

Sponsored by state Rep. Josh Siegel, D-Lehigh, the legislation would create a statewide contractor law, establishing requirements that would have to be met by companies bidding on infrastructure projects that are publicly funded. The measure would also require firms to have a state or federal registered apprenticeship program and pay the prevailing wage rate. 

“One needs to look no further than the recent collapse of I-95 and its expedient repair by our skilled tradesmen and women to know we need to seriously invest in our infrastructure and in the continued training of skilled laborers in the commonwealth,” State Rep. Jason Dawkins, D-Phila., said in a statement. 

“This legislation would ensure that Pennsylvania has a skilled craft labor workforce that will bolster our infrastructure and build our states future.” 

Also advancing out committee and to the House in H.B. 1465, which would apply the Prevailing Wage Act to investor-owned utilities, including electric, gas, sewer, and water. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s prevailing wage rates and minimum safety standards would be applied by the measure to all constructed construction work completed on underground utility systems regulated by the Public Utility Commission.

Nathan’s food truck opens in Allentown as restaurant delayed

While his Nathan’s Famous restaurant waits to get built – the first in the Lehigh Valley for the iconic brand best-known for its hot dogs – franchisee Nat Hyman is supplying hungry customers with the next best thing.

A Nathan’s food truck is now open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily at the site where the 1,500-square-foot freestanding eatery will be constructed: a parking lot at the corner of Linden Street and American Parkway in downtown Allentown.

The day before the food truck opened officially, it handled 46 orders, said Hyman, a real estate developer.

Nathan’s “has a huge following” in the area because of its New York roots, he said. The brand began in 1916 when Nathan Handwerker debuted his nickel hot dog stand on Coney Island.

he project is awaiting a building permit from the city, Hyman said. Likely to open next summer, the restaurant will feature walk up and drive-thru service.

In the entire downtown, there are only two fast food restaurants, and they aren’t close to the area where Nathan’s will be, he said.

Plus, Nathan’s is unique, Hyman said.

The food truck carries the full complement of menu items, he said. “There’s really a lot more to it than hot dogs.”

The offerings also include burgers, like the BBQ Bacon Tribeca Burger; chicken sandwiches, like the Hell’s Kitchen Chicken Sandwich; cheesesteaks, fries and milkshakes.

Hyman said he has developed almost a thousand apartments within two blocks of the new Nathan’s, where the tenants get a discount.

He wasn’t planning on entering the fast-food business, he said, but building a Nathan’s is an ideal use for the parking lot property.

Hyman is a fan of Nathan’s as well as the franchisee. With a food truck and then a restaurant in close proximity, he joked, “I am concerned about my weight.”

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

A future view of construction management

What is construction management? 

The Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) states that: 

“Construction management is a professional service that provides a project’s owner(s) with effective management of the project’s schedule, cost, quality, safety, scope, and function. Construction management works for all project delivery methods. No matter the setting, a Construction Manager’s (CMs) responsibility is to the owner and to a successful project.”   

What are the responsibilities of the Construction Manager? 

It is also important to understand the responsibilities of the Construction Manager. The Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) states the most common responsibilities of a Construction Manager fall into the following 7 categories: Project Management Planning, Cost Management, Time Management, Quality Management, Contract Administration, Safety Management, and CM Professional Practice.  

What is the future of construction management? 

The field of construction management is expected to grow at a higher rate than the national average, positioning future construction managers for a successful career. For example, employment of construction managers is projected to grow 8 percent from 2021 to 2031, faster than the average for all occupations. About 41,500 openings for construction managers are projected each year, on average, over this decade. 

There is a growing demand in the construction industry for construction managers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a construction manager’s job chances will grow at a 10% CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) up to the year 2028. 

Job opportunities for construction managers are expected to be good. Specifically, job seekers with a bachelor’s degree in construction science, construction management, or civil engineering, coupled with construction experience, will have the best job prospects. 

Employment growth creating many new jobs will be contrasted with some construction managers expecting to retire or leave the occupation in substantial numbers over the next decade, resulting in further job openings. 

Construction managers are expected to be needed as overall construction activity expands. Population and business growth over this decade will result in the construction of new residences, office buildings, retail outlets, hospitals, schools, restaurants, and other structures.   

The need also will grow to improve portions of the national infrastructure, which may spur employment growth as roads, bridges, and sewer pipe systems are upgraded or replaced. 

A growing emphasis on retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient should create jobs for general contractors, who are more likely to manage the renovation and upgrading of buildings than oversee new large-scale construction projects. 

Firms will more likely require construction managers to oversee projects to ensure that projects are completed on time and under budget. Furthermore, construction processes and building technology will become more complex, requiring greater oversight and spurring demand for specialized management personnel. 

Employment of construction managers, like that of many other construction workers, is sensitive to fluctuations in the economy. In one scenario, workers in the construction industry may experience periods of unemployment when the overall level of construction falls. And in another scenario, peak periods of building activity may produce abundant job opportunities for construction managers.  

What is the primary purpose of construction management? 

The primary purpose of construction management is to strongly control and monitor the progress of a project in terms of quality, cost and time. It covers a wide spectrum of responsibilities and it spreads to many different fields (construction, engineering, architecture, law, software, technology, etc.).  

Common challenges for CMs 

Some of the common challenges CMs can expect to face in a typical construction project, include: 

  • Poorly defined objectives. Many project managers struggle with a lack of well-defined goals for the projects they run. 
  • Budget constraints. 
  • Time management.  
  • Unrealistic expectations.  
  • Hazard management.

Strategies to overcome these challenges include: 

  • Effective communication with the team. 
  • Evaluating and confronting performance problems. 
  • Hiring the right people. 
  • Managing conflicts within your team. 
  • Retaining star employees.

How will construction management change over the next decade? 

Construction industry professionals, during a Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) Conference & Trade Show in San Diego, CA, shared their thoughts on how construction management will change over the next decade and what Owners can expect.  

Looking 10 years into the future, panelists said they will be expecting several things from the Construction Manager (CM) including: 

  • value engineering 
  • innovative construction methods 
  • stakeholder leadership/management 
  • efficiency 
  • staff augmentation 
  • training 

CMs are encouraged to be involved early on in a project to help assist and advise the Owner through all phases of project delivery, including the planning, design, and construction process of capital projects. CMs can bring great value and insights to the project team during the design and construction phases. 

Key industry trends that will drive project delivery for the next 10 years, beyond earlier engagement by the CM, will be more complexity in both the delivery and construction of a project. Sustainability is expected to be incorporated into the construction process and innovative technology will play a key role. 

Anticipatory leadership is needed in the construction management industry. Closely monitoring hard trends and soft trends is critical in order to anticipate what will happen and be on the leading edge of the industry. Failure to be anticipatory and to innovate will result in the industry and its organizations becoming irrelevant. 

In today’s world, there is importance of the bottom line needs to be viewed in 3 parts: financial, social and environmental considerations and the necessity of balancing all three during the lifecycle of a project. 

Future leadership of the construction management industry must understand that Owners will increasingly expect a certain knowledge base from the CM. This involves acquiring and deploying cutting-edge technology in regards to the digital side of things as well as construction methods. A construction manager must have the resources and effectively utilize project management tools. 

A closing thought 

“Management is, above all, a practice where art, science, and craft meet.” Henry Mintzberg, business and management academic and author.  

Glenn Ebersole is a registered professional engineer and the Director of Business Development at JL Architects, a nationally licensed commercial architecture firm based in West Chester. He can be contacted by [email protected] or 717-575-8572.