Could passenger rail service return to the Lehigh Valley

Could passenger rail service return to the Lehigh Valley? The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is continuing its efforts to find out. 

PennDOT has announced that it is funding a study to determine what it would take to bring passenger rail travel back to the Lehigh Valley. 

The announcement comes as the $1.2 trillion federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) allocates $66 billion into improving and enhancing passenger rail service nationwide. 

It’s not, of course, the first time the Lehigh Valley has studied the passenger rail issue.  

Back in 2010, Lehigh and Northampton counties and the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. funded an analysis of what it would take to create a “Pennsylvania Component” of New Jersey Transit’s Raritan Valley line from central New Jersey.  

The report found that it would cost $650-$710 million in infrastructure costs and would need ongoing annual subsidies of about $11.6 million.  

However, unlike that 2010 study, this new study will meet Federal Railroad Administration standards, a step necessary for the consideration of adding new routes to the system. 

Speaking at a meeting of the Lehigh Valley Transportation Study, PennDOT Deputy Secretary Jennie A. Louwerse said the comprehensive study would determine the costs, ridership potential and ongoing expenses that would come from creating a passenger rail connection that would help riders travel beyond the Lehigh Valley region. 

“The great thing about the Infrastructure Law is that it allows us to take a look at what it takes to reinstate [passenger rail] service,” Louwerse said to the LVTS. “…I believe this study will provide a solid foundation for the Lehigh Valley to know what do we need to do to make this happen.” 

Louwerse said the study would likely start in the next two months and take about a year. . 

It was estimated that building a Lehigh Valley rail extension would take at least a decade. 

Pennsylvania currently has passenger rail provided by SEPTA, the Port Authority of Allegheny County and Amtrak, which runs a Pennsylvania line that stretches from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia and a Keystone Service line running from Harrisburg to Philadelphia. Both of those Amtrak routes continue to New York City. 


U.S. Army orders another 144 trucks from Mack

Mack Defense has received an order for an additional 144 Mack Defense Heavy Dump Trucks. PHOTO/SUBMITTEED –

Mack Defense is reporting that the U.S. Army and the U.S. Army Reserve have ordered an additional 144 Mack Defense M917A3 Heavy Dump Trucks (HDTs). 

The additional vehicles, based on the commercially available Mack Granite model, are part of the previously announced firm-fixed price $296 million contract to be fulfilled over seven years that the Army awarded Mack Defense in 2018.  

Production of the HDTs began in the first quarter of 2021, following an investment of $6.5 million to create a dedicated HDT production line at the facility.  

The production line helps fulfill the M917A3 contract, while allowing Mack Defense to produce other vehicle variants. 

The original production line in the MEC was in Mack’s former Customer Adaptation Center in Allentown, where vehicle modifications occurred. The Customer Adaptation Center has since moved to Mack’s Lehigh Valley Operations (LVO) in Macungie where all Mack Class 8 vehicles for North America and export are assembled.  

Previously, non-armored HDT vehicles began production at LVO and were then transported to the MEC, for final assembly. 

The HDTs are a key component in construction and maintenance missions for infrastructure assets, such as airfields, roadways, landing strips, supply facilities and motor pools. 

“We are proud to maintain our production operation which was created for the U.S. Army M917A3 HDT program, and we are extremely proud that our Mack Defense HDT vehicles, which have been fielded, are meeting and exceeding expectations,” said David Hartzell, president of Mack Defense. “Mack Defense remains committed to producing vehicles for the U.S. armed forces based on modified versions of our industry-leading Mack vehicles providing the latest technologies and best value while meeting the military’s demanding requirements.” 

The Army previously had ordered 155 HDTs, which are spec’d with heavier-duty rear axles, all-wheel drive, increased suspension ride height and other ruggedized features to meet the unique requirements of the Army. Those HDT vehicles have all been built, and final deliveries will continue through August 2022. 


Why top companies choose the Lehigh Valley as home

With revenue ranging from more than $11 billion a year to $1.5 million a year, the 100 Top Privately Held Companies in the Lehigh Valley show a wide range of industries and sizes. 

Many of these companies were founded and chose to stay in the Lehigh Valley as they grew, like Vistacom, an audiovisual company solutions provider in Allentown. 

Others, like Ciocca Dealerships, chose to move to Allentown recently because they saw opportunity in the Lehigh Valley. 

They’re not alone. Many companies are choosing the Lehigh Valley to open or relocate a business. 

Site Selection magazine recognized the Lehigh Valley as one of the top performing regions for economic development in the Northeast U.S. in 2020 and the region has ranked among the top regions of its size for six years in a row. 

So why is the Lehigh Valley so in-demand for these top performing companies? 

Don Cunningham, president and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp., said there are many reasons, and some are just emerging. 

Traditionally, he said, economic development professionals have always looked to the region’s geography as a lure for businesses – especially in the logistics and distribution fields. 

“One of the obvious assets of the Lehigh Valley has been its proximity to New York and Philadelphia,” he said. 

With such major metropolitan areas within such a short drive, locating manufacturing and distribution close to those population centers makes sense. 

“But, more important in recent years has been the authenticity of this region,” Cunningham said. “There’s a movement where young people are choosing to stay or come to the Lehigh Valley because of the quality of life that the Lehigh Valley is providing.” 

He said people under 40, who make up the majority of the Lehigh Valley’s workforce at about 46%, want different things than their predecessors did. 

“They have quick access to the city and culture and trails and mountains,” Cunningham said. “It’s a not a cookie cutter area. It’s got its own identity with nightlife and restaurants.” 

So, he said, the new restaurants, shops and entertainment venues located throughout the region are as important to drawing top talent and companies to the region – and keeping them here – as the transportation network. 

“It’s become much more about what’s here I think,” he said. 

The Lehigh Valley’s concentration of higher education is also a boost to its ability to attract and retain top companies. 

“We have nine schools that collectively graduate more than 10,000 graduates each year, which is huge for our size,” he said. 

He said as the quality of life and availability of career-oriented jobs continues to grow in the Lehigh Valley, many of those graduates are choosing to stay. 

He said employers recognize the depth of that talent pool, knowing they can get top talent in a less expensive market than those surrounding big cities. 

“There are a lot of partners working together on talent supply and the alignment of skills so that the market is training students for the kind of jobs that are needed,” Cunningham said. 

He said with all those factors in place, he sees the Lehigh Valley continuing to prosper economically and will continue to be a prime destination for top companies. 

LV home sales slump in July on higher interest rates, record prices

With rising mortgage rates and record-high sales prices the housing market was cooling in the Lehigh Valley during July. 

“As more and more prospective buyers find their home purchase plans delayed, many are turning to the rental market, where competition has intensified due to increased demand,” said Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors CEO Justin Porembo. “A few downsides are rental prices are also increasing and scammers are taking advantage of someone’s desperation by posting fake rental ads and then stealing deposit money.” 

 According to GLVR, closed Sales dipped 18.3% to 752 listings. With inventory still not at sufficient, comfortable levels – there were 826 units in July for Lehigh and Northampton counties. The Median Sales Price increased 9.1% to $300,000. 

New Listings slipped 19.9 % to 876 for the month.
Pending Sales were down 11.9 % to 745.
Months’ Supply of Inventory was down 14.3% to 1.2 months.
The percentage of list price received increased 0.1% to 102.6% of asking price.
Homes sold, on average, in 13 days, down one day, or 7.1%. 

 In Carbon County, the Median Sales Price was unchanged at $220,000.  

Closed Sales were down three listings to 58.  

Pending Sales slipped two listings to 81. New Listings increased 13 listings to 114. Inventory saw a jump and came in at 156 units, leading to a Months’ Supply of Inventory that also increased to 2.2 months.  

Properties moved at a swift pace for the association’s more rural county, with Days on Market coming in at 19 days, up just two days from the previous July. 

 “Despite the current housing market struggles, there are bright spots,” said GLVR President Howard Schaeffer. “Inventory of existing homes has continued to move in a more positive direction, even if it’s not noticeable month-over-month, and despite the summer slowdown, homes are still selling quickly, with the typical home staying on market an average of 13 days.” 

Gas prices drop again, but less people driving

Gas prices continue to drop both nationally and locally, but less people are driving. 

According to the latest report from AAA East Central, gas prices were ten cents lower than last week in Pennsylvania. The average price for a gallon of gas was $4.357 on Aug. 9 as compared to $4.460 on Aug. 2 .

In the Lehigh Valley gas prices dropped a similar amount dropping from $4.366 on Aug. 2 to $4.267 on Aug. 9. 

 AAA said that despite steadily falling gas prices during the peak of the summer driving season, fewer motorists fueled up last week.  

It is another sign that, for now, Americans are changing their driving habits to cope with higher pump prices, it said.  

Meanwhile, the cost of oil has edged lower on fears of economic slowdowns elsewhere around the globe.  

Because of these factors, the national average for a gallon of gas fell to $4.03. Today’s national average is 66 cents less than a month ago and 84 cents more than a year ago. 


Uline hiring to fill new Alburtis East Coast Distribution Center

Wade Goff, senior director of distribution for Uline, is helping to organize hiring efforts at the company’s new East Coast Distribution Center in Alburtis. PHOTO/SUBMITTED –

Uline is getting ready to open its new 925,000-square-foot East Coast Distribution Center at 8449 Congdon Hill Drive in Alburtis. 

The new building is part of the Wisconsin-based company’s expansion efforts in the Lehigh Valley and in the Northeast Corridor of the United States. 

Wade Goff, senior director of distribution for the company, said the company, which is a supplier of business products, is growing dramatically. 

“As a company we’ve had 25% growth over the last year,” he said. 

At the same time the company has increased its workforce by 16 percent in 2021 and now has more than 8,500 employees. 

The company has a big hiring push going on for the new Alburtis distribution center and at the warehouse and customer service center on Uline Dr. in Allentown as it looks to expand its presence in the Northeast. 

Goff said they’re looking to hire between 80 and 110 people at the Alburtis location alone, as well as adding staff to the Allentown location. 

While he admits the current hiring environment is challenging in the Greater Lehigh Valley, so far recruitment efforts have been going well. 

“Our job fairs are very organized. We walk them through the building so they can see the kind of environment they’re going to be working in,” he said. 

The company had more than 160 people sign up for a series of hiring events in early August and around 35 people have already been hired for the new Alburtis facility and are working to set up racking and taking in inventory. They also have around another 35 people they plan on making offers to. 

He said that Uline has a good reputation, which does help in its recruitment efforts. 

“We do a lot of events for families and for the employees and with pay starting at $25 an hour and up it’s an attractive package,” Goff said. 

The company is currently looking to fill a wide range of positions from warehouse workers to receiving clerks, custodians and management. 

He also noted that the company puts a strong emphasis on promoting from within and after time with the company general workers can apply for management or other training to build their careers. 

“We want them to know there is a future with Uline. That’s important nowadays,” he said. 

Gas prices still high, but dropping

After skyrocketing to record highs, gas prices continue to drop both locally and nationally. 

Gas prices in Pennsylvania are seven cents lower this week at $4.460 per gallon, according to AAA East Central’s Gas Price Report. 

In the Lehigh Valley the average price for a gallon of gas on Aug. 2 was $4.366, down from $4.438 on July 25, but still higher than the price of gas on Aug. 2, 2021, when it was $3.252.

The national average for a gallon of gas has fallen almost 14 cents over the past week to $4.189. Today’s average is 63 cents less than a month ago and $1.01 more than a year ago. 

According to new data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), gas demand increased from 8.52 million barrels per day to 9.25 million barrels per day last week.  

The estimated rate is 80,000 barrels per day lower than last year, AAA said, but it could slow pump price decreases if the trend holds.  

Additionally, total domestic gasoline stocks decreased by 3.3 million barrels to 225.1 million barrels, signaling that higher demand reduced inventory last week. 

New survey data from AAA found that drivers are making significant changes to cope with high pump prices.  

Almost two-thirds (64%) of U.S. adults changed their driving habits or lifestyle since March, with 23% making “major changes.”  

Drivers’ top three changes to offset high gas prices are driving less, combining errands, and reducing shopping or dining out. 

PPL Foundation donates $450K to local nonprofits

The PPL Foundation said it has made $450,000 in grants to nearly 100 nonprofit organizations throughout eastern and central Pennsylvania as part of the foundation’s sustaining grants program, which supports efforts to build sustainable communities, enhance education and promote diversity, equity and inclusion. 

“The PPL Foundation is committed to strengthening communities through innovative approaches that address critical social challenges,” said Ryan Hill, president of the PPL Foundation. “We’re proud to work together with our nonprofit partners year-round to improve the lives and well-being of residents in the communities we serve.” 

The latest round of grants will support programs ranging from STEM summer camps and student learning centers to initiatives that address food insecurity and organizations promoting revitalization, sustainability and equity.  

The PPL Foundation’s next grant cycle, which awards grants focused on major new initiatives and expansions of programs that align with the foundation’s focus areas, will begin in August. Applications for grants ranging from $25,000 to $100,000 will be accepted Aug. 1 through Sept. 15. 

Since its creation in 2015, the PPL Foundation has donated $20 million to strengthen communities and support the great work of hundreds of nonprofit organizations. For more information go to  www.pplcares.com. 

A conversation with: Jan Graybill, CEO & Senior Partner of Legacy Planning Partners

Jan Graybill –

LVB: A few years ago you predicted a “silver tsunami” of baby boomers retiring and looking to sell their business. Is that happening?

Graybill: In regards to small to mid-size privately held companies, COVID has certainly pushed back many owners’ plans to exit. But it has also distracted and delayed time that could have been spent planning for an exit. We are experiencing baby boomers who are age 65+ now wanting to exit with little to no time left for preparing to exit. The runway to exit is getting shorter and shorter for the baby boomers. Procrastination continues to be the word of the day for most of the baby boom generation who own small businesses. The wheels of time grind slowly but inevitably. An exit strategy is just good business strategy. For those who have 3-5 years to plan for their exit they may be able to pull It off. The tsunami is coming, It has just been delayed!

LVB: How has the pandemic impacted M&A activity?

Graybill: The pandemic caused both demand and supply to be disrupted in 2020. However in 2021 many buyers could clearly see business winners and losers. Some sellers were forced to sell due to financial stress and buyers were in the drivers seat. Some business services and products benefited or were little impacted from the pandemic and saw their values increase. Owners of mid-size businesses who survived and thrived the pandemic were able to exit with little to no advance planning. Mostly due to demand from private equity for profitable businesses.

LVB: Is now a good time to buy or sell a business?

Graybill: This is a loaded question! If the buyer must rely on financing for the purchase It is becoming increasingly more expensive. The headwinds of current inflation and supply chain disruption also increase risk of success. Some deals are internally financed so less impacted by external financing. Overall, the key to success or failure for the seller is taking time to prepare! The more time one has to prepare, the more options that will become available to the seller. Unfortunately, many small to mid-size privately held owners do not allow themselves enough time to prepare and as a result It limits their exit options.

LVB: What advice do you have for someone looking to sell or merge their business?

Graybill: There are three steps I recommend every business owner take whether they are considering a transition or not. The process of preparation is great business strategy and can lead to improving profitability for the business and improving quality of life for the owner. 1. Understand the options available to you for an exit. 2. Consult with a Business Coach, M&A expert and an Exit Planning Advisor. 3. Assess your business and personal financial planning to understand your personal wealth gap, business value gap and business profit gap.

Gas prices drop again

Gas prices continue to drop from their record highs. 

Gas prices in Pennsylvania are 13 cents lower this week at $4.534 per gallon, according to AAA East Central’s Gas Price Report. 

In the Lehigh Valley the average price for a gallon of gas was $4.438 on July 26, down from $4.665 on July 19. 

On July 26, 2021 the average price for a gallon of gas was $3.253. 

According to AAA, it was modest demand for gas and lower oil prices that led to pump prices falling again.  

The national average is down almost 17 cents since last week to $4.327. Today’s average is 57 cents less than a month ago and $1.17 more than a year ago.  

The steady decline is due to low domestic demand for gasoline and oil prices that remain in the mid-$90s per barrel. The price of gas has now fallen every day since hitting a record $5.016 on June 14. 

According to new data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), gas demand rose from 8.06 million barrels per day to 8.52 million barrels per day last week.  

However, AAA said that rate is 800,000 barrels per day lower than last year and is in line with demand during July 2020, when COVID-19 restrictions curbed demand.  

Additionally, total domestic gasoline stocks increased by 3.5 million barrels to 228.4 million barrels, signaling that low demand led to growth in inventory last week. 

At the close of Friday’s formal trading session, West Texas Intermediate decreased by $1.65 to settle at $94.70.  

Crude prices declined last week as the market continues to worry that weak demand, which is typically strong throughout the summer, could continue to push prices lower, AAA speculated.  

A strengthening dollar also helped to push crude prices lower last week. 

Hotel Bethlehem once again makes 10 Best Historic Hotels list

The Hotel Bethlehem –

For the fourth consecutive year, the Hotel Bethlehem has been named as a finalist on USA Today’s nominations for 10 Best Historic Hotels. 

“We’re thrilled this national publication has recognized what Lehigh Valley residents have known for generations. Historic Hotel Bethlehem is unmatched,” said Bruce Haines, the hotel’s managing partner. “Over the past 100 years, we’ve hosted generations of weddings, anniversaries, and special events. We’ve employed thousands of local residents. Historic Hotel Bethlehem is part of the fabric of people’s lives, and we hope everyone who considers it a special place will vote to keep your community hotel number one in the nation.” 

A team of travel experts evaluates hotel properties each year and then USA Today posts the finalists to its website for readers to vote on. 

Last year Hotel Bethlehem was voted as the no. 1 historic hotel after previously coming in third and second place. 

The hotel’s staff, of course, hopes to retail its no. 1 spot in 2022. 

 “It would be absolutely fitting to receive this recognition to put the icing on the cake of the hotel’s 100th anniversary this year,” Haines said. 

Hotel Bethlehem opened in May of 1922 as a 200-room community hotel. Prior to being Hotel Bethlehem, multiple structures occupied the property. In 1741, Moravians constructed the “First House of Bethlehem” on the land. In 1823, The Golden Eagle Hotel opened and remained until 1919. In its last days, The Golden Eagle Hotel served as a convalescent home for soldiers returning from World War I.  

Fans of the hotel can vote for it on the website www.votehotelb.com through August 15 at noon. USA Today will announce the winners Aug. 26.