Berks Athena award goes to local STEM educator

Adelle Schade
Adelle Schade –

Women2Women of the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance has named Adelle Schade as its 2023 Athena Leadership Award recipient. 

The founder of Total Learning Experience and Dean of Pre-College and Summer Programs at Albright College will be honored at the organization’s 12th Annual Conference + Expo. 

In a release, Women2Women said Schade has been a catalyst for educational change in Berks County. Total Experience Learning was named a top four STEM program in the United States in 2019 by District Administrator Journal.  

In December 2022, the program received international recognition at the United Nations as the most innovative educational model by the Materials Science sub-division of the United Nations.  

Schade has taken the program from the high school environment to launching a world-class program that embraces students and educators. Developing a curriculum for teachers while continuing to push the boundaries for students. 

Schade’s leadership and expertise also extends to the Berks County community.  

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Schade partnered with community leaders and manufacturers to address PPE shortages in the community. She worked to source 3-D printers and supplies to print equipment for first responders, educators and those in most need of protection from the virus.  

Business leaders raising funds for R.M. Palmer explosion victims

Berks business and community leaders are raising money for the victims of the March 24 explosion at R.M. Palmer Co. PHOTO/COURTESY GREATER READING CHAMBER ALLIANCE –

The Greater Reading Chamber Alliance is working with other business and community leaders in the Berks County area to help raise funds for the victims of the March 24 explosion at R.M. Palmer Co. 

At the request of West Reading Borough Council, Berks County Community Foundation and the United Way of Berks County have partnered to create the West Reading Disaster Recovery Fund to aid members of the community who were affected by the explosion that killed seven and injured several others. 

Depending on the amount of funds raised the organizations have a prioritized list of where the money will go. 

The first priority would be for grants to organizations providing support to the families of individuals killed in the explosion for immediate financial losses. 

Second would be grants to organizations providing support to individuals displaced from their homes as a result of the explosion. 

Third would be grants to organizations providing support to individuals displaced from employment as a result of the explosion. 

The fourth priority would be to support the Borough of West Reading towards an historical commemoration of the explosion including the creation of a memorial to those lost. 

The Berks County Community Foundation and the United Way of Berks County will help distribute the funds to organizations assisting families who lost loved ones in the explosion or those who lost work as a result of the blast.  

Any remaining funds will go to honoring those who died, said Tammy White with United Way of Berks County. 

The chamber noted that the candymaker has been a part of the Greater Reading business community for 75 years and spent more than 40 years as a chamber member.   

Elizabethtown College’s High Center looks to strengthen local nonprofits

Elizabethtown College’s High Center has launched a new Nonprofit Center as it seeks to expand its mission of strengthening family-owned and privately held businesses in South Central Pennsylvania. 

The Center’s mission is to serve the needs of the regional’s nonprofit leaders and organizations via services that include executive peer groups, best practice surveys, leadership speaker series, and member benefits. 

“Nonprofit organizations, their boards, and executive teams tackle unique challenges and have needs that are often underserved in our business community,” High Center Executive Director Michael Mitchell said in a statement. 

“The leadership and organizational development model that the High Center provides has become essential for hundreds of businesses and leaders in the region, and we are excited to offer this invaluable resource to the nonprofit sector.” 

Julie Larison, who joined the High Center recently as managing director, is leading the Nonprofit Center. She most recently served as senior director of membership services for the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance and is a graduate of Elizabethtown College with a master’s degree in strategic leadership and organizational development. 

“Nonprofit organizations are truly essential businesses in our communities, and I am thrilled to be partnering with them and their leadership teams to further enhance and support their work,” said Larison. 

Along with the core offerings that encourage business and leadership development, nonprofit members can take advantage of a High Center Speaker Series that is scheduled to bring nationally recognized experts to Berks, Lehigh, Lancaster, and York counties. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is the scheduled speaker for the High Center’s Business Forum at Lancaster’s Marriott on Penn Square, Wednesday, March 29.

Grant to help plan Reading passenger train service redevelopment

A state grant from gaming revenue could help bring the city of Reading a step closer to bringing back passenger rail service. 

The Greater Reading Chamber Alliance said it has been awarded $142, 346 for its Franklin Street Transit-Oriented Development Strategic Planning Process.  

The money is coming from Category 4 licensed gaming revenues.  

“We are thrilled to receive these funds as we continue to work with our public and private sector partners to lay the groundwork for restoration of passenger rail service to the City and County,” said Jim Gerlach, president and CEO of the GRCA. “And we especially appreciate the great leadership of Sen. Judy Schwank and her State House colleagues in supporting this initiative. They fully understand the importance of rail restoration and the monumental economic growth opportunities it presents.”  

In addition to Sen. Schwank’s support, the project garnered support from Rep. Manny Guzman, Rep. Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz and Rep. Mark Rozzi, who all represent parts of Reading.  

The focus of the Franklin Street Transit-Oriented Development Strategic Plan is to formulate the best and most appropriate course of action to support the redevelopment and revitalization of residential, commercial and industrial properties within the neighborhoods adjacent to the train station.  

This funding will enable the city of Reading to properly plan for future revitalization and growth.  

The GRCA said the re-establishment of an intercity passenger rail system has the potential to bring over $1.4 billion in income generation, over $1 billion economic development, nearly $1 billion in tax revenue, and 28,000 person years of work. 

The Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority is also in the process of applying to the Federal Rail Administration’s Corridor Identification and Development Program, which will direct billions in funding to develop intercity passenger rail services with the goal to reconnect underserved communities. 

GRCA names new chair, welcomes new board members

GRCA President & CEO Jim Gerlach, Michele Richards, and Sara Kuzma-Stump PHOTO/SUBMITTED –

Sara Kuzma-Stump, director of sales and marketing at Suburban Testing Labs Inc. Has been named chair of the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance for 2023. Laura Haffner, regional bank president at Wells Fargo will serve as vice chair. 

Jack Gombach, government affairs consultant for McNees Strategic Solutions Group has been named treasurer.  

“The GRCA does great work to help businesses in our community grow. From training, networking, economic development support, and connecting companies to important resources, I’m so proud to be a chairperson of this great organization,” said Stump in a release. “When the Greater Reading Area thrives, our businesses succeed. We need to create a community where employees and potential companies recognize our area as a great place to live, work and play. And I’m excited to be a part of that.”  

Stump succeeds Michele Richards, director of Treasury sales at Fulton Bank, who will now serve as immediate past chair. 

 “On behalf of the chamber board, we are extremely appreciative of the terrific leadership Michele provided over the last year,” said Jim Gerlach, president & CEO of the GRCA. “Her professionalism, common sense problem-solving, and dedication to the Berks business community were outstanding and helped move the Chamber to a higher level of service and accomplishment for both our members and the County’s communities.”  

The board also welcomed four new board members: Alba Fernandez, vice president and community lender at Community First Fund; Ben Leisawitz, a partner at Barley Snyder, LLC; Mike Riley, an account executive at EthoSource; and Stephen Bonner, vice president of operations at DoubleTree by Hilton Reading. 

GRCA supports expansion of Clean Slate program

The Greater Reading Chamber Alliance has come out in favor of legislation that would make it easier for people with minor criminal convictions to get jobs. 

Jim Gerlach, president & CEO of the GRCA has sent a letter to the Berks County state delegation members detailing the chamber’s support for H.B. 1826, Expansion of the Clean Slate Program to include nonviolent, low-level drug-related felonies.  

“GRCA members support the bipartisan effort to expand the Clean Slate program through H.R. 1826. The original Clean Slate program has helped over 1.2 million Pennsylvanians move past their mistakes, beat addictions and bring positive change to their lives,” he said in the statement. 

“In a time where all employers are desperate for workers and it is estimated that for every one job seeker, there are two open positions, commonsense solutions like this proposal are critical. We applaud the legislative leaders who are introducing practical ways to expand our employee base through these types of reforms,” he said.  

“We are pleased to see that this legislation would align Pennsylvania law with best practices and evidence-based policies from other states that have successfully initiated these improvements. H.B. 1826 would expand automated Clean Slate sealing to low-level drug felony after 10 years with a crime-free record. The drug conviction will not be eligible if the punishment imposed was a sentence of imprisonment of three years or more, which excludes trafficking and other serious or violent offenses.” 

He noted that September is recognized as National Recovery Month and he felt that the passage of H.B. 1826 would serve as a goal and a reward for citizens who have worked hard to move beyond their addictions.  

“This bill would also be a huge help for our business community who continue to search for additional workforce capacity. We support this bipartisan effort and encourage the Berks County state delegation members to vote for this bill,” he said. 

GRCA to host Latino affairs commission

Members of the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance will talk about programs the chamber has to support and attract Latino businesses Friday when it hosts the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs. 

The Commission works to advise the governor on policies and legislation that impact Latino American communities. 

GACLA and its commissioners have served Pennsylvania’s growing Latino community since 1971. The commission is composed of 20 volunteer members appointed by the governor for a two-year term.  

The chamber will also give an update on the Berks Women2Women’s Mujer a Mujer leadership development program.  

The Berks Latino Workforce Development Board and GACLA Executive Director, Luz Colon, will discuss events to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, which is Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.  

GRCA releases Berks State of the Economy

The Greater Reading Chamber Alliance has released its second annual Mid-Year State of the Economy, a compiled economic snapshot of Berks County.   

The largest industry sector in Berks County based on both Gross Domestic Product and employment numbers continues to be manufacturing, employing 30,038 workers.  

While manufacturing employment numbers are strong, the numbers indicate there are approximately 2,000 fewer workers than in 2019, before the pandemic.  

This runs counter to other economies in the region where their workforces are at or above 2019 levels.  

It suggests Berks County businesses may face greater challenges in meeting market demand and preserving productivity. 

Berks County’s Gross Domestic Product, which is the total value of goods and services produced by a region, expanded 5.8% in 2021. That follows a contraction of 2.8% in 2020. As of 2021, total GDP in Berks was $21.5 billion. 

The Economic Development Company (EDC) of Lancaster County Center for Regional Analysis said that the second quarter GDP forecasts are varied, signaling uncertainty over how quickly a recession could materialize.  

The latest estimate from the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow forecasts negative growth in the second quarter (-1.2%).  

In contrast, The Conference Board forecasts positive growth (+0.8%), noting that it anticipates the US economy is headed towards a “shallow recession” at the end of the year and into early 2023. 

The report also showed that key sectors in Berks’ economy continue to operate with a significantly smaller employee base than prior to the pandemic. 

Wages have increased 4.4% in 2022, compared to 9.4% during this same period in 2021 

The overall cost of living remains lower than the national average and surrounding metropolitan areas 

Consumer spending in Berks County has flattened, while nationally it has continued to rise. The local shift suggests county consumers may be adopting a more conservative stance as inflation continues. 

The cost of housing continues to be lower than surrounding communities. Despite lower costs, Berks County continues to be challenged in diverse and desired housing options. 



Pennsylvania’s 2022-2023 budget praised by business community

Business leaders and stakeholders around the state are offering mostly praise for the $45.2 billion 2022-2023 Pennsylvania General Appropriations Budget, which was passed by the state legislature and then signed by the governor on July 8. 

The budget, which includes federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, represents a 2.9% increase over the previous year’s spending, but is $500 million less than Gov. Tom Wolf’s original budget. 

The feature of the budget that has garnered the most praise from business leaders is the fact that it cuts the Corporate Net Income (CNI) tax rate from 9.99% to 8.99% and creates a phased reduction to 4.99%. 

“This tax change will greatly benefit our small business and agribusiness communities, helping them leverage additional funds to invest in expansion, improvements, and technology upgrades, said Jim Gerlach, president and CEO of the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, adding that it “will send a clear signal that Pa. is truly ‘Open for Business.’” 

The Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce also spoke in favor of the change, saying that the state’s business community has long advocated for a reduction to improve the state’s overall competitiveness and economic climate. 

For decades, Pennsylvania’s CNIT rate, which at 9.99 percent was the highest flat rate in the country, served as a barrier to growth, said PA Chamber President and CEO Luke Bernstein. 

“This monumental tax reform package is a giant step towards making Pennsylvania more competitive,” he said 

Gerlach also applauded the use of the ARPA funds. 

“We are very pleased to see $42 million of American Rescue Plan funds go to paying down outstanding debt in the Workers’ Compensation Security Fund which will ensure the Unemployment Compensation Tax levied on businesses will not be increased due to COVID related job loss,” he said. 

The budget also provides increases in the Education Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) on top of an $850 million increase for K-12 school districts with $225 million earmarked for the 100 neediest school districts. 

The leadership of Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education said the budget would have a positive impact on higher education, as well. 

“We are incredibly appreciative of the governor and General Assembly for this historic investment in the 90,000 students that our PASSHE universities serve,” said Cynthia Shapira, chair of the PASSHE board of governors. “This unprecedented additional funding recognizes that state system universities have kept their promises to the state with a redesign that is delivering positive results for our commonwealth and more opportunities for our students.   

The 2022-23 state budget invests $552.5 million in PASSHE, a $75 million increase from $477.5 million in the 2021-22 fiscal year. Shapira said this is the largest single-year increase PASSHE has received from the state and will benefit students by allowing the state system to hold tuition flat for the fourth consecutive year, despite inflation. 

Additionally, the budget provides $125 million in one-time ARPA funding to support system redesign. In total, the budget invests $677.5 million in the state-owned university system and its students. 

Those in senior care also praised the budget. 

LeadingAge PA, an association representing more than 360 senior services providers, said they will benefit from funding provided by the 2022-23 budget. 

The budget provides a 17.5% rate increase in direct aid to nursing homes, which it said is the first across-the-board Medicaid funding increase in nearly a decade. This Medicaid funding increase is effective Jan. 1, 2023, with over $131 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding also included to help bridge the gap. 

“These historic steps come at a time when long-term care providers continue to battle unprecedented challenges due to the pandemic,” said LeadingAge PA President and CEO Garry Pezzano.   

“Pennsylvania’s long-term care providers have struggled for too long with dwindling resources that threaten to severely limit the aging population’s access to care,” Pezzano said. “Pennsylvanians deserve the best long-term care system in America. Today, we took an important step toward achieving that goal.” 

Not all organizations were happy with the budget, however, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) expressed disappointment that it did not get the funding it was promised. 

The Governor’s initial budget proposal to fully fund the DRBC with more than $893,000, however, legislative negotiations cut funding to $217,000, the same level that Pennsylvania has been funding the commission at since 2014. 

“Full share funding to the Delaware River Basin Commission from each of the basin states is a major priority of the Coalition because the Commission is a key player in the proper management of the Watershed” said Kelly Knutson, director of the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed. “With full support of all the basin states, the DRBC would have the staffing and programming support necessary to effectively monitor water quality and make informed decisions on river flow management.”