Bethlehem receives 5-year Enterprise Zone designation

Map of the Bethlehem Enterprise Zone –

The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development has once again awarded a 5-year Enterprise Zone Designation to the City of Bethlehem.

The designation qualifies Bethlehem as a “distressed area” under the Neighborhood Assistance Program.

Bethlehem has been receiving the designation from the state since the mid-1980s. It is one of five Enterprise Zones in the state.

The Enterprise Zone designation helps to encourage investment in blighted, vacant, and underutilized properties within Bethlehem.

The designation comes through the Keystone Communities program and gives the city priority consideration under many of the state’s DECD programs.

It also gives the city access to the Enterprise Tax Credit Program, which Asher Schiavone, Bethlehem economic development coordinator said has been extremely helpful with economic development projects in the city.

Since 2015, there have been eight EZ Tax Credits approved for a total of $2.15M.

Projects funded through the tax credit program include work on the Flat Iron Building, the Gateway Building and The Factory.

The designation also gives businesses increased access to financing by lending institutions on mutually advantageous terms.

Eligible businesses located within the zone receive priority consideration when bidding on state government contracts, when applying for financial assistance to clean up contaminated sites under Act II and for any state resources that would assist in leveraging business investment and job creation in the Enterprise Zone.

Bethlehem Enterprise Zone Map

OraSure honored for contribution to life sciences

OraSure CEO Stephen Tang, left, speaks with Don Cunningham, president and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. (Photo submitted) –

The Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. honored Bethlehem-based OraSure Technologies for its contributions to the life sciences industry and growth as a company that produces medical diagnostic tests.

The event took place at LVEDC’s fifth annual fall signature event Wednesday at the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks in Bethlehem.


At the event, OraSure CEO Stephen Tang spoke with Don Cunningham, president and CEO of LVEDC, about the growth potential of the industry. In addition, Tang spoke about OraSure’s role as a center for life sciences research and manufacturing and how the Lehigh Valley supported those efforts.

“OraSure is improving health and wellness for people around the world by providing access to accurate, essential personal health information,” Tang said in a news release. “Our business requires employees with a wide range of skills, from manufacturing equipment operators to Ph.D.-level scientists. To recruit successfully, we need an environment where talented people want to locate.”

That environment is the Lehigh Valley, which he said, offers the location and quality of life employees want.

“Lehigh Valley is becoming a microcosm of an innovation hub,” Tang said.

With its established companies, growing startups, and numerous universities and colleges that provide access to talented employees and forums for sharing ideas, the Lehigh Valley can press its advantage, Tang said, by extending connections with surrounding areas that are hubs for talented life sciences employees.

Cunningham said life sciences research and manufacturing are a target industry sector for LVEDC recruitment initiatives and the valley is at the heart of one of the largest concentrations of life sciences workers in the nation.

In Lehigh and Northampton counties, life sciences companies such as OraSure provide more than 6,000 jobs.

In the last five years, employment in the sector grew at an annual rate of 1.7 percent, he said.

In the Lehigh Valley, employment in the sector could grow at a rate of 0.5 percent per year for the next five years, according to LVEDC.

LVEDC’s fall event spotlights a company in one of the region’s targeted industry sectors, such as high-performance manufacturing, life sciences research and manufacturing, food and beverage processing, and high-value business services.








Community First Fund expanding executive team

Expecting a record year for lending and more growth, the Lancaster-based Community First Fund has been adding staff and restructuring its executive team.

The nonprofit economic development organization recently hired Michael Carper, the former CEO of the Housing Development Corp. MidAtlantic, to be its chief credit officer.

Community First Fund also contracted with a finance expert from Chicago to serve as CFO until it hires someone to the post full-time.

“We’re adding and growing dramatically,” said Dan Betancourt, the organization’s president and CEO.

Community First Fund provides financing for small businesses, affordable housing projects and nonprofit organizations located in low-income communities and serving disadvantaged groups, including Latino and African-American entrepreneurs.

And the need for services is rising.

The organization, which started out serving Lancaster, now covers 15 counties in Central Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley and suburban Philadelphia. Its staff has grown from 20 to 40 over the past five years and it is making more direct loans to businesses, with volume rising from about $10 million to $30 million in the past three years.

The nonprofit also has opened new loan offices in Allentown and Philadelphia where it would like to add more people to expand lending.

“We expect to go deeper into markets we are in,” Betancourt said.

But depth, he said, requires a bigger team. That starts at the executive level.

In addition to adding new execs, the nonprofit has made some internal promotions.

COO Joan Brodhead was recently named senior executive vice president and chief strategic initiatives officer, while senior vice president of lending James Buerger was elevated to executive vice president and chief lending officer.

Community First also has hired staff to work under each of the C-suite executives.

Opportunity knocking

The growth comes at a time when Community First has been positioning itself as a go-to resource for investors and developers interested in the federal opportunity zone program, in which investors can get a tax break on capital gains by investing in projects in qualified distressed areas, dubbed opportunity zones.

The investments typically will flow through what are known as qualified opportunity funds. Community First has been working to develop such funds, which could work in combination with other state and federal incentives.

Among the most notable of those is the New Markets Tax Credit program, a federal tax credit program operated by the U.S. Treasury Department that helps support large urban redevelopment projects.

Community First did not get any credits this year but hopes its clients still can take advantage of the incentives.
“We plan to work with clients and try to help them find an allocation through another organization,” Betancourt said.

And it has snagged other kinds of funding. Community First recently received a $1.5 million federal grant from the Treasury’s Capital Magnet Fund, a grant program that helps finance low-income housing projects.

Betancourt said the plan is to use that grant as seed capital in the form of low-interest loans to support developers who receive Low-Income Housing Tax Credits from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Authority in Harrisburg.

Community First, meanwhile, will kick in $4.5 million of its own funds, bumping the total to $6 million. Betancourt said he hopes to be able to help finance about 400 affordable housing units across the organization’s footprint.

Community First also has rolled out an online application for small businesses looking for loans. Betancourt said this will help the organization process applications more quickly and at a higher volume, hopefully steering some small businesses away from predatory online lenders that charge higher interest rates and fees.

Community First is looking to cut a 60-day application process down to about 30 to 45 days, Betancourt said.

“I think we will be able to work with more clients,” he said.