Barry Isett unveils new headquarters

Barry Isett & Associates on Wednesday held a grand opening celebration for its new headquarters on Crackersport Road in Allentown. 

The engineering firm recently moved from the two-building headquarters it called home for 45 years into the new 21,000-square-foot, one story building. 

While the new facility is roughly the same size as the two, three-story farmhouses that the company had been operating out of since 1977, the new facility brings the company’s inspection and testing labs together with the main office so everything is under one roof, and the layout is more open and efficient allowing staff to collaborate better. 

“It’s a wonderful new chapter for the company,” said Kevin Campbell, president and CEO. “It’s a wonderful place to come to work.” 

Describing the building as a “modern farmhouse” style structure, Bob Korp, who served as project manager on the building, said the offices don’t just serve as a home, but as an example of what the firm can do. 

Onsite there is a rain garden for water quality as it infiltrates stormwater back into the subsurface, as well as a retention basin, which shows customers options for stormwater management. 

The building also features exposed ductwork and lighting and boasts different styles of lighting controls so clients can see their different options in action. 

Campell said many of the firm’s original clients were invited to the celebration, as well as many of its founders. 

Tim McNair, Jr., who is a current member of Isett’s board of directors, brought his father, Tim McNair, Sr., to the event. His father was formerly a board member at the company. 

“I wanted him to see what is happening with the company he helped to build,” McNair, Jr. said. 

MKSD Architects designed the building and Boyle Construction managed the construction of the building, while Isett handled its own engineering work on the project. 

Lehigh Valley chip start-up unveils revolutionary semiconductor technology

Bethlehem-based iDEAL Semiconductor, a fabless semiconductor company focused on delivering power efficiency that reduces the carbon footprint, announced Tuesday the general availability of its patented SuperQ technology.

SuperQ can reduce power loss in many applications including data centers, electric vehicles, solar panels, motor drives, medical devices and white goods (such as refrigerators and washing machines). Its higher efficiency provides a more sustainable future.

iDEAL’s engineers and scientists reinvented the power device architecture and delivered a step-function increase in performance. The technology – manufactured using state-of-the-art complementary metal-oxide semiconductor equipment – is based in silicon, which represents 95% of global semiconductor manufacturing capacity, and is forward compatible with future power semiconductor materials.

Through scientific research and engineering at the atomic level, iDEAL has created a novel architecture that “sets the next frontier of performance and debunks the idea that the industry has reached the end of the road for silicon advancement,” a release said.

“Our improvements in silicon rival the improvements offered by other materials, but with silicon’s manufacturability, availability and reliability,” said Mark Granahan, CEO and co-founder of iDEAL Semiconductor. “Through collaborations in the U.S. with Applied Materials and Polar Semiconductor, we have unlocked previously unimaginable performance gains. … With the current global push for a greener future, we are thrilled about the role we play in making products more sustainable while also showcasing what investment in America’s semiconductor industry can accomplish.”

After launching SuperQ, the company plans to aggressively expand its hiring, product proliferation and U.S. manufacturing capacity.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Lehigh Valley, central Pa. represented by student entrepreneurs

Student entrepreneurs will represent the Lehigh Valley and central Pennsylvania today in the final round of the annual State System Startup Challenge, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) announced. 

Jake Hill of Camp Hill and a student at West Chester University, and Stelios Melekos of Churchville and East Stroudsburg University, will join Victoria Heffelfinger of North Huntingdon and Pennsylvania Western University (PennWest) in featuring products and services in high demand. The three finalists will pitch their business plans to judges today for an opportunity to gain funds for their startup or expand their existing business. 

The student entrepreneurs will discuss products in three academic areas within PASSHE universities and three industries with worker shortages – education, healthcare, and business. The start-up challenges fit with PASSHE universities’ efforts to address workforce shortages in education, healthcare, business, social services, engineering, and computer science. 

“These student entrepreneurs have innovative and exciting startups that combine business, healthcare and education, which are three fields in high demand in Pennsylvania,” said Board of Governors Chairwoman Cynthia D. Shapira. 

“State System universities are preparing thousands of students for success as entrepreneurs, and I commend the supportive faculty and the remarkable ingenuity and energy of the students.” 

Henry is a senior Bachelor of Applied Science student with a pharmaceutical product development concentration. His business plan is Lectra Technologies LLC, which produces Lectra Tape to help people navigate their rehabilitation process and complete physical therapy. 

Lectra Tape is conductive kinesiology tape that delivers electrical pulses from a wireless muscle stimulator to aid in the healing and rehabilitation process. Sensors in the tape collect data that is analyzed and shared with the user and physical therapists, so they can adjust rehabilitation plans to provide the best results and encourage the individual to continue their physical therapy. 

Melekos is a junior business management student with a concentration in entrepreneurship. Melekos’ business is Blitz Performance LLC, which provides anglers with the highest quality and most innovative lures and apparel for both saltwater and freshwater fishing. Blitz Performance products are available to retail customers online at blitzfishingperformance.com and wholesale at tackle shops across five states. Blitz Performance looks to build a sense of community around the brand by developing the tools to catch more fish and make the most of anglers’ time on the water. 

Heffelfinger is a freshman special education student. Her business plan is Wildlife Water School LLC, an aquatic instruction school that provides swimming lessons for people ages 6 months and older. Offering an inclusive environment for people of all abilities and backgrounds, the school provides basic skills, infant swimming resources, and advanced instruction. Specialized lessons for people with disabilities or other challenges are also available. Wildlife Water School intends to offer aquatic therapy in the future. 

First prize is $10,000, and second- and third-place finishers will receive respective prizes of $5,000 and $2,500. The finalists were selected from more than 60 students and student teams from across the state-owned public university system. 

The Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN) will air the competition live tonight at 7. The program can also be viewed live on PCN Select. 

“The ingenuity and energy of these finalists speaks volumes about the spirit of innovation that is thriving at our universities,” Chancellor Dan Greenstein said. “Several past winners of this competition have launched their own businesses from the ideas born of this real-life experience, and I look forward to the new businesses that may emerge from this year’s competition.”

PASSHE addresses ‘critical’ teacher shortage

The plight of Pennsylvania’s workforce shortage has hit the education sector particularly hard. 

A press release by Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) states that the number of new certified teachers in the state since 2011 dropped by nearly 67%. In 2020-21, Pennsylvania issued more emergency teaching permits than new teacher certifications. 

As job growth in the Pre-K to 12 education field is expected to be 6% by 2030, more than 10,000 additional educators and teachers will be needed than Pennsylvania currently has. A shortage of new teachers can leave public and private schools with fewer candidates to fill jobs. Additionally, students may be left without a regular teacher as shortages in educators can also cause larger class sizes and require other school staff to fill in.  

PASSHE said it is addressing the teacher shortage by seeking $112 million in state funding to produce more graduates in six in-demand, high-growth jobs, including education. PASSHE would use $56.5 million to provide direct financial relief to education students, saving each student an average of $1,500. High-need students could receive an additional $5,000, for a total of $6,500 per year. 

PASSHE discovered shortly before its recent House Appropriations Committee hearing that its description of the funding request was confusing to some legislators. To reduce confusion, it has changed slightly how it describes its request. 

To clarify, PASSHE is seeking the $112 million in state funding, mostly for financial aid, to enable more students to afford the education necessary for six targeted careers with worker shortages. This combined with a 3.8% ($21 million) inflationary increase in base funding would enable PASSHE’s Board of Governors to consider freezing tuition for an unprecedented fifth consecutive year. 

By making a degree more affordable, PASSHE expects more Pennsylvanians will be encouraged to pursue careers in the teaching profession. 

Along with teaching, the careers targeted by PASSHE are nursing, social services, business, and the STEM fields of engineering and computer science.

Small businesses’ growth and diversity highlight new study

Data from a new study provides a guide for the Small Business Administration (SBA) to help ensure America’s small businesses can grow and diversify their revenue through trade. 

“SBA’s new research gives insight into the broader impact and opportunity for America’s small business exporters, with findings showing significantly more small businesses exporting than previously reported,” Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman said in a statement.

“The data provides a better guide for the SBA to help ensure America’s small businesses can grow and diversify their revenue through trade. We will continue to strengthen our capacity to provide resources that small exporters need to compete in the global marketplace and power our nation’s economy.”

The SBA released its findings from a commissioned study on the Total Addressable Market (TAM) of small business exporters in America.  Among the study’s key findings is new data, based on recent business surveys, that places the number of exporting small businesses at 1.3 millionan increase of nearly five times the estimates previously published by the federal government.

The research also places the potential market size, or total addressable market, at over 2.6 million small businesses, representing 42 percent of all small employer businesses. 

“We know that small businesses are the engine that drives the U.S. economy, and we can now tell a better and more comprehensive story of the importance of exporting for small businesses,” said Associate Administrator for International Trade, Gabriel J. Esparza.

“We will use this research to support and advance the global market success of U.S. small businesses and evolve our products and services to better meet the needs of those current and future small business exporters.” 

Small business exporter numbers have traditionally been derived by the federal government primarily from U.S. Census Bureau surveys and goods export data. According to the latest official data from 2020, there were approximately 264,000 small business goods exporters in the U.S. The data does not account for overseas shipments valued at less than $2,500 and service exports, including software as a service. 

The study’s research reveals the highest concentrations of small business exporters and exports exist within a variety of manufacturing, wholesale, plastics and chemicals, medical equipment, and computer systems design firms, as well as management consulting, architectural, engineering, legal, and software service providers.

Another focus with both goods and services exporters are emerging industries, such as green technology industries, as there is a global demand for technologies and services benefiting the environment. 

PASSHE seeks $112M to bolster engineering education

The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education said that it has a plan to help address the shortage of engineers.  

The State System is seeking $112 million in state funding to produce more graduates in six in-demand, high-growth jobs, including engineering.   

It said that Pennsylvania and the nation have a persistent shortage of engineers needed to build critical infrastructure, such as expanded broadband, roads and bridges, water services, and rail, air and clean energy projects, and to support manufacturing and other opportunities in the economy. 

It cautioned that unless we strengthen the talent pipeline by educating and training more engineers, these projects risk being delayed, scaled back, or eliminated.
PASSHE would allocate $3 million¬ to support engineering – $1.5 million to expand the high-cost program and $1.5 million to provide direct financial relief – saving high-need engineering students an average of $5,000 per year.

Making a degree more affordable would encourage additional people to pursue careers as civil engineers, electrical engineers, industrial engineers, mechanical engineers and more, PASSHE said.

Separately, PASSHE is seeking $573.5 million, an inflationary increase of $21 million, enabling the board of governors to consider freezing the basic in-state undergraduate tuition rate for an unprecedented fifth consecutive year. 

Updating a cement plant

ZAP Engineering and Construction Services undertook a project in which a cement plant required the replacement of heat exchanging cyclones in the preheater tower. PHOTO/COURTESY ZAP ENGINEERING
ZAP Engineering and Construction Services undertook a project in which a cement plant required the replacement of heat exchanging cyclones in the preheater tower. PHOTO/COURTESY ZAP ENGINEERING –

The cement industry has a long and storied history in the Lehigh Valley with some of the country’s earliest cement manufacturing taking place right here.   

With concrete being the most widely used construction material on earth, it is no surprise that the need to produce cement, a critical component in concrete, would be ever increasing.   

As production at cement plants continued to increase over the generations, so did technological advancements, which resulted in larger and more complex systems being created for cement manufacturing.  Now, cement manufacturing facilities are truly an engineering marvel in the size and scope of the equipment needed for modern cement production.   

These plants operate in tough conditions and even the largest and most advanced equipment succumbs to the millions of tons of raw materials that can run through them each year.   

The maintenance and eventual repair of the equipment poses its own engineering challenges, especially when key pieces of equipment need to be replaced.  For those situations, it takes an experienced team of multi-discipline engineers to tackle the problem from evaluating solutions, engineering complex modifications, and working closely with construction contractors to carefully plan a project.   

ZAP Engineering and Construction Services, a Colorado based company with a soon to open, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania office, undertook a project in which a cement plant required the replacement of heat exchanging cyclones in the preheater tower. 

The design process started with an evaluation of the tower structure with the aim of determining the structural constraints and determining how structural design codes and standards have changed since the tower was built, requiring a complete and detailed analysis of the tower to determine the structural limitations for the cyclones.  

From this model it was determined that before the new, larger refractory lined vessels could be installed in the tower that structural reinforcement would be required to bring the preheater tower into compliance with current building codes, including seismic and wind requirements.   

After the completion of the structural analysis and determination of the structural limitations as they applied to the cyclones and the inlet and outlet ducts, the process team was brought in to analyze the existing cyclones and connecting ductwork.   

As part of the replacement of the cyclones, ZAP was also asked to evaluate advancing the design to increase the cyclone efficiency of which the operational evaluation identified gas velocities and pressure drop as key improvement areas. 

The design process commenced with taking a 3D scan of the project area.  At the completion of this process a CFD model of the existing stage 2 to stage 1 risers, stage 1 cyclones and stage 1 exit ducts was developed.   

The new cyclones and ducts were to have refractory lining to provide wear resistance and insulation protection to the steel.  The refractory design would add weight to the vessel and was therefore limited in thickness by the structural limitations of the tower.   

As the needs of the project grew, so did the complexity of the modification which engaged all engineering disciplines to come up with an integrated solution.   

This final solution integrated the needs of the installation contractor who was actively engaged in the planning aspects of the project. 

The installation of the new cyclones and ducts was a challenging portion of this project and involved the demolition of the concrete tower roof, removal of two concrete roof beams as well as the old ducts and cyclones.   

It was decided to use a single contractor for the fabrication, demolition and installation. This gave the contactor the freedom to fabricate the cyclones and ducts in a manner that not only met the design criteria but aided in installation.  

The plant had a very tight shutdown window of 21 days during which the demolition of the old cyclones and installation of the new could occur. This required careful planning and sequencing to ensure that the schedule was met without any compromise to safety or quality of the finished product. 

These types of large, complex engineering projects are becoming more common across the heavy industrial space as the growing base of aging heavy industrial equipment that needs repair and upgrades.   

It takes a high level of competence and teamwork amongst an engineering team that spans disciplines to successfully execute it in a safe and effective manner. 


Jeff Kutz is vice president of East Coast Engineering for ZAP Engineering & Construction Services 


New jobs, higher pay, career advancement are aims of new PASSHE registry

Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) is creating the state’s first credential registry to help prepare students of all ages for in-demand careers and strengthen the workforce. 

The project is funded by Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor & Industry and American Rescue Plan funds appropriated by PASSHE. 

Initially, the State System’s credential registry will include in-demand programs such as business, computer science, education, engineering, nursing, and social services. The first phase of the credential registry is anticipated to be ready in 2024.  

A press release from PASSHE stated the on-line tool is user-friendly and will aid students and workers in navigating education and professional credentials. Users will be enabled to make informed decisions regarding their opportunities. 

The credential registry can be used by the public to learn which credentials exist, where to obtain them and in what order, and which skills employers seek for jobs in high demand. The registry will explain which credentials are sequenced, possibly leading to a bachelor’s degree and beyond. 

PASSHE Chancellor Dan Greenstein said the State System is redesigning itself to meet the needs of learners and provide a pipeline of talented individuals that employers are seeking. He added that the credential registry is a key part of the process. 

“Credentials add value to your resume by demonstrating to employers that you have the education and latest skills to do the job,” said Greenstein in a statement. “Students and job seekers will be able to use the credential registry to understand the pathways to earn credentials that open doors to new and higher-paying jobs.” 

The State System is partnering with the non-profit Credential Engine in creating the online credential registry.

“Pennsylvania’s design for this work is exemplary,” said Scott Cheney, CEO of Credential Engine. “Focusing on quality, stackability and pathways will help students and workers be better able to navigate their way through all types and levels of credentials to the skills needed by employers. Having all that information in an open credential registry is an important first step.”

A credential registry will be an important tool to address the labor shortage. Currently, 60% of Pennsylvania jobs require higher education, yet only 51% of workers have education after high school. Helping the state’s workforce earn credentials can close the talent gap, and credentials such as badges, certificates, licenses, apprenticeships and industry certifications can be earned as two- or four-year State System academic programs.  

Credentials can be earned at the learner’s pace. In short-term programs, learners can enter higher education, earn a credential while working and go on to the next credential or leave higher education for the workforce. They can return to the program to earn advanced credentials to build skills to advance their career or earn a higher income. 

The State System is expanding credentialing within academic courses so students can earn credentials on route to their degree. The online registry’s largest benefit may go to working adults, especially those with some college and no credential, or those in entry-level positions who need to improve their skills to keep up with automation and technology. 

In a press release issued by PASSHE, a Pennsylvania-specific registry enables employers to identify the credentials most relevant to their hiring needs. 

Strategic financial management is critical for AEC firm success

Architectural, engineering and construction (AEC) firms are designing, planning, constructing and leading projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars. These firms provide professional services that impact the quality and success of those projects. There is a public misconception that these types of businesses are highly profitable, but that is not always true. Some AEC firms maintain a decent profit margin, while many others struggle financially. 

There are many reasons why AEC firms are not profitable enough, but one main reason is poor financial management. Strategic financial management is essential for any business to be successful and sustainable. Strategically managed finances can result in a great success story or in a fatal nightmare if finances are not controlled.  

Architects, engineers and construction professionals do not get much business education relative to running a business while working on their professional degrees. And that is one of the major challenges these professionals face in running their business. 

Slow paying clients are one major challenge in the AEC industry in today’s economy. The problem of not being paid on time is a very serious issue for small and large firms. The issue is exacerbated because it is occurring when AEC firms are having significant difficulty staffing up to meet demands of their existing and new clients.  

Strategic thinking is critical to determine what strategies need to be considered for financial profitability. Strategies are needed to diversify clients and professional services to ensure a stable flow of income for firm growth and pricing projects accordingly.  

Working capital is a problem that many people in business do not understand and AEC firms need much more focus and education to deal with it. Wikipedia defines working capital as current assets less current liabilities. If current assets are less than current liabilities, an entity has a working capital deficiency, also called a working capital deficit and negative working capital.  

Positive working capital is required so an AEC firm is able to continue its operations and also have sufficient funds to satisfy short-term debt and ongoing operational expenses. An AEC firm’s current assets typically include accounts receivable. However, in reality that is not true if clients take a year to pay their bills.  

AEC firms must have enough cash to keep meeting payroll and all other overhead expenses for the time it takes clients to pay their bills for work performed by their firms. AEC firms must stop tolerating slow-paying clients and acting as a bank to finance their clients’ businesses and projects.  

Strategies that AEC firms must incorporate into their planning include: pursuing specific vertical markets and project types that are “recession resilient;” strategic focus on “Go – No Go” decisions on clients and projects; considering diversified business relationships and developing new strategic partnerships with other firms.  

Strong financial management deploys tools to achieve success. Some of those tools include:  

A management strategy for the direction of the firm. A forward look at the next quarter and the rest of the fiscal year, the next year, the next 2-3 years are important to determine that direction. The firm needs to set aside time to review and reflect on current workload and backlog, prospects in the pipeline, capacity to handle increased workload, any new skills or services needed, project management models, existing and desired clients, market trends, overall goals for the firm and other factors anticipated to impact the AEC industry.  

Agility and adaptability are two key words for the future in the AEC world. The pandemic certainly highlighted the need for each of those attributes. A successful AEC firm must be able to adapt to changes in the industry, the economy, markets and unforeseen influences that will impact their business.  

Business development is another critical tool for success in AEC firms. A firm cannot simply rely on work coming to them unsolicited and without strong ongoing relationships. Business development is a full-time task and is a “contact sport” that requires time to build and enhance relationships, research markets and forecasts, identify and qualify opportunities and work with the team to secure contracts and keep in touch periodically with clients during current projects.  

Another very critical tool relates to developing strategic and realistic pricing of professional services. There are not many resources available to help guide a person in the development of professional fees. The truth is that development of these fees is a combination of an art and a science and this skill is developed over time.  

Developing options to acquire working capital is also an important tool. One option is to secure a line-of-credit. Credit lines have been used by businesses for years to meet working capital needs. This resource provides a flexible loan from a financial institution that defines a specific amount of money the firm can access as needed and repay either immediately or over time. Lines of credit are often used to cover the gaps in irregular monthly cash flow or to finance a special purchase where it may be difficult to ascertain the exact funds needed in advance.  

AEC firms are some of the most complicated businesses to manage. Success requires a strategic thinking high level person that understands both the design process and the financial management process to oversee financial performance.  

Some important action items needed for strategic financial management include: 

  • Price: Learn from past experience to determine how many hours were spent on similar projects. 
  • Monitor: Regularly monitor projects’ profitability. 
  • Forecast: Obtain accurate projections for the firm’s projects and regularly review them.  
  • Allocate: Allocate staff and resources according to projections.  
  • Process: Create financial processes to support financial management, including project management, billing, change orders, collection, etc. 
  • Focus: Do not micro-manage. Focus on what makes a difference and helps meet financial objectives. 

Closing with great advice from George Washington: “To contract new debts is not the way to pay old ones.”