Gas prices hold steady despite decreased demand

Gas prices remain mostly steady at their current high, despite a decrease in demand according to AAA East Central. 

In the Lehigh Valley the average price for a gallon of regular gasoline was up slightly over the week from $4.260 on March 22 to $4.292 on March 29. That’s still up dramatically from the average price of $2.961 on March 29 or 2021. 

AAA said across the country demand is defying seasonal trends and has dipped for the second straight week, its analysts assume that is due to people adjusting their driving habits because of the higher fuel prices. 

However, elevated oil prices have slowed that decline, and if prices continue to rise, pump prices will likely follow suit. 

At the close of Friday’s formal trading session, West Texas Intermediate increased by $1.56 to settle at $113.90. Crude prices climbed after EIA’s weekly report revealed that total domestic crude stocks declined last week by 2.5 million barrels to 413.4 million barrels, approximately 18 percent lower than the level in mid-March 2021. The current inventory level highlights tightness in the market, contributing to rising oil prices. 


Concannon Miller makes top 20 list of Fastest Growing accounting firms in U.S.

Ted Witman, president and COO of Concannon Miller –

Bethlehem-based accounting firm Concannon Miller has been named to Accounting Today’s 2022 Fastest Growing Firms in the U.S. for 2022. 

Concannon Miller’s revenue grew 27.34% in 2021, landing the firm at no. 20 on the list. 

According to the firm, its growth was largely because of increased consulting services to clients, especially related to COVID-19 tax credits and other funding. Concannon Miller also completed the strategic acquisition of Abraham, Borda, Corvino, Butz, LaValva & Co. in fall 2020. 

The firm also recently won the Best of Accounting award for providing superior service, given through the third-party national consulting firm ClearlyRated.  

“We are blessed with an incredible team of talented and hardworking staff; an exceptional year like this is a result of the expertise and dedication they provide to our clients each and every day,” says Ted Witman, Concannon Miller president & COO. “We also want to thank our clients – both long-term and new – for the trust they place in us to advise and improve their results.” 

Concannon Miller’s team of 150 employees is led by a 17-shareholder team.  

The firm has two offices, one in Bethlehem and one in St. Petersburg, Fla.  

The company is the largest CPA firm headquartered in the Lehigh Valley, where it specializes in serving privately held businesses and their owners and is one of the leading providers of CPA services to McDonald’s Owners. 


Martin Guitar Foundation donates $400K

Nazareth-based C.F. Martin & Co. Charitable Foundation has announced that it has made 63 grants totaling $400,000 to Lehigh Valley and national organizations.  

The foundation was established by Christian Frederick Martin IV and Diane S. Martin in 1996. Since 1998,  C.F. Martin & Co. to support foundation programs. Over 25 years the foundation has granted $4.05 million to nonprofit organizations.   

 The foundation grant supported 13 Lehigh Valley organizations in arts and culture, human service, education, and environmental action:   

  • Allentown Symphony Association 
  • ArtsQuest 
  • Community Music School 
  • Godfrey Daniels 
  • Lehigh Valley Arts Council 
  • Moravian Historical Society 
  • Nazareth Center for the Arts 
  • Northampton County Historical & Genealogical Society 
  • PBS39 
  • State Theatre Center for the Arts 
  • Touchstone Theatre 
  • WDIY 88.1 

 As human service needs expand during the pandemic, foundation funding supported 18 Lehigh Valley organizations addressing poverty, hunger, and homelessness:  

  • Allentown Rescue Mission  
  • Bloom – Lehigh Valley  
  • Center for Humanistic Change  
  • Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley  
  • Community Bike Works  
  • Family Connection of Easton Inc.  
  • Greater Valley YMCA – Nazareth Branch  
  • Lifepath  
  • Meals on Wheels  
  • Miller Keystone Blood Center  
  • Morningstar Senior Living Foundation  
  • Nazareth Area Food Bank  
  • New Bethany Ministries  
  • ProJeCt of Easton Inc.  
  • Second Harvest Food Bank  
  • United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley  
  • Valley Youth House  
  • Visiting Nurse Association of St. Lukes.    

The Foundation also funded 6 Lehigh Valley educational organizations: 

  • Da Vinci Science Center 
  • Moravian University  
  • Muhlenberg College 
  • Bethlehem Area Public Library 
  • Nazareth Area Public Library 
  • Northampton Community College Foundation.   

Martin said the NCC Foundation received the largest grant, $35,000, to support the college’s guitar-building program.   

Other area grants went to Association of Fundraising Professionals, Greater Easton Development Partnership, and Nazareth Economic Development Commission. 

Beyond the Lehigh Valley, the foundation made grants to organizations, mainly for programs in guitar performance, education and research.

Voting to begin for Lehigh Valley manufacturing video contest

The 9th annual What’s So Cool About Manufacturing? video contest will be held at SteelStacks in Bethlehem. PHOTO/FILE –

Voting begins soon for the “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing?” contest in the Lehigh Valley. 

The Manufacturers Resource Center said online public voting for the ninth year of the student video contest will begin March 23 at 12:01 a.m. and will continue through March 25 at 11:59 p.m. 

Twenty-eight student teams will work with regional manufacturers to compete for the most votes to win the “Viewers Choice Award.”  

The videos will also be reviewed by a panel of judges for awards in ten other categories, including Outstanding Career Pathway, Outstanding Editing and Outstanding Creativity. The Sweet Manufacturing Award will be presented to the winner of the CTE High School Cupcake Competition. 

“What’s So Cool About Manufacturing is a yearly ‘tradition’ and our community has come to expect the information about careers and technology the student teams so diligently spotlight in their educational and creative media messages,” said Karen Buck, manager of Workforce Initiatives at the Manufacturers Resource Center. “The online voting process really allows the entire program message to be shared within school districts and in the community.” 

Votes can be cast on the website https://www.whatssocool.org/ .  

The winner will be announced during this year’s awards event, broadcast live on WFMZ April 5 at 7:00 p.m. 


Air Products pulling operations out of Russia

Air Products of Trexlertown said it is pulling operations out of Russia out of concerns over the attacks on the Ukraine. 

In a statement from President and CEO Seifi Ghasemi, he said that the company would be seeking to divest its operations in Russia. 

“We continue to be deeply concerned by the tragic human suffering being experienced by the people of Ukraine and the impact it has on many others,” he said in a statement on the company’s website. “We condemn actions of war when the world should be making greater efforts for peace. Our hearts go out to all those affected. Like many other companies, we have employees in this region and are continuing to give them the support that we can.” 

Ghasemi noted that Air Products currently only operates a very small industrial gas business in Russia, which has less than $25 million in sales, or approximately one quarter of one percent of the company’s annual revenue. 

“We are developing plans and will implement the safe and responsible divestiture of our business in Russia, recognizing that our products are important for the safe operations of several industries, including food, amongst others. We also decided not to pursue any new business development activities in the country,” he said. “As always, we continue to review developing and applicable sanctions to ensure our ongoing compliance.” 

He also noted that the company is supporting humanitarian efforts, providing financial support to the International Committee of the Red Cross from the Air Products Foundation.  

“Our global employees have also responded with care and generosity, reaching out to their affected colleagues and making contributions to various organizations supporting relief efforts,” he said. “For our people in Russia, we fully understand and recognize these actions will cause concern. As we move to divest our business in the country, we will continue to give them the support we can during this difficult period and put assistance programs in place.” 


First Commonwealth names new chief lending officer

Terry Grier –

First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union of Trexlertown has announced the appointment of Terry Grier as chief lending officer. 

As a member of the credit union’s executive leadership team, Grier will provide the strategic direction and leadership of consumer lending, business solutions, loan operations and debt resolution. 

Grier joined the First Commonwealth family in October, working very closely with outgoing chief lending officer Kevin Brown.  

Grier has been instrumental in leading enterprise initiatives, process improvements, optimization and enhancing First Commonwealth’s portfolio of lending products and services. He has focused on building comprehensive business solutions and positioning First Commonwealth as a trusted financial partner for small businesses throughout the Greater Lehigh Valley.  

“Terry brings vast skills and expertise to this role, given his impressive background, leadership experience, financial expertise and proven success in commercial and business lending,” said Donna LoStocco, president and CEO of First Commonwealth. “He has demonstrated his ability to lead a growing financial services organization as chief lending officer as we finished 2021 with very strong results – including a milestone of achieving $1 billion in assets – and will be instrumental in driving our strategy of making our lending functions more dynamic and growing our specialty small and mid-size business solutions.” 

Grier brings more than 25 years of leadership and 18 years within the financial services industry to First Commonwealth. He holds a BA and MBA with a concentration in Executive Management from Baldwin-Wallace University in Ohio.  



Lehigh Valley sees more homes for sale

The housing inventory shortage is far from over, but the number of homes listed for sale in the Lehigh Valley is on the rise.

In February, new listings in Lehigh and Northampton counties increased 18.7% from the year before, jumping to 634, according to the Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors trade association.

And pending sales totaled 579, up 23.2% from February 2021.

With inventory at historic lows, buyers are still having a difficult time finding a house, Justin Porembo, CEO of Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors, said in a release. A silver lining, however, “is we’re leaving the winter lull, and even though inventory will still be tight, the lead up to the spring market always brings new opportunities and new listings.”

Howard Scheaffer, 2022 president of the association, said people who had been on the fence about selling their homes are now moving ahead.

He recently listed two such properties in one day, he said.

Scheaffer said he’s seeing more foreclosures, too, and that adds housing inventory as well, as those properties come on the market.

There are still a plethora of buyers, he said, but affordability isn’t what it was last year as home prices and interest rates climb.

The median sales price in February rose 16% from 12 months ago, to $264,000.

Scheaffer said the landscape is going to continue to change, with even more interest rate hikes in the cards, so buyers should act quickly.

Here are some more highlights from the February report for Lehigh and Northampton counties:

· Closed sales fell 4.6%, to 418.

· The percentage of list price received was 101.5%, so houses continued to sell for above asking price.

· Homes sold, on average, in 24 days.

Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors also covers less populous, more rural Carbon County. In February, the median sales price there rose to $221,000. And it took an average of 37 days for a listing to sell, about the same as a year ago.

AAA: Lower crude oil prices could help ease gas price increases

Gas prices in Pennsylvania are ten cents higher this week at $4.412 per gallon, according to AAA East Central’s most recent Gas Price Report.  

But there may be relief in sight as lower crude oil prices may drive prices back down again. 

After peaking above $123 per barrel shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the price of crude oil has gradually fallen below $110.  

AAA said that if this trend holds, it may remove some of the extreme upward price pressure consumers have found at the pump.  

The national average price of a gallon of gas hit $4.33 on Friday, March 11, before falling a penny and holding throughout today at $4.32. Tuesday’s national average is 14 cents more than a week ago, 82 cents more than a month ago, and $1.45 more than a year ago. 

In the Lehigh Valley the average price on March 15 was $4.410 per gallon, up from last week. On March 8 the price was $4.377 per gallon. 

The current price is dramatically higher than a year ago. The average price for a gallon of gas on March 15, 2021 was $2.978 

AAA reports that according to new data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), total domestic gasoline stocks decreased by 1.4 million barrels to 244.6 million barrels last week. Meanwhile, gasoline demand rose slightly from 8.74 million barrels per day to 8.96 million barrels per day.  

The increase in gas demand and total supply reductions are contributing to rising pump prices. However, increasing oil prices play the lead role in pushing gas prices higher as the cost of crude oil accounts for about 50% of what drivers pay at the pump.  

Consumers can expect the current trend at the pump to continue if crude prices continue to climb, the report said. 

At the close of Friday’s formal trading session, West Texas Intermediate increased by $3.31 to settle at $109.33.  

Crude prices have eased as the market continues to find replacement barrels of oil and further supply growth for the tight market becomes apparent. However, AAA cautioned that the market remains volatile and additional disruptions or escalation of the current crisis in Ukraine could cause prices to surge again this week.  

Additionally, EIA reported that total domestic crude stocks decreased by 1.8 million barrels last week to 411.6 million barrels. The current stock level is approximately 17% lower than at the end of February 2021, which continues to put pressure on domestic crude prices, according to the report. 


Industrial tenants should brace for rent increases

Industrial tenants in the region can expect sticker shock when their leases come up for renewal according to a new report by CBRE. 

Rent has gone up dramatically in the past five years, — the length of the average lease — and companies need to be prepared to pay more to keep their facilities. 

Bill Wolf, executive vice president of the firm’s Allentown office, said while rents are up across the country, regions near ports are seeing the largest increase, which has Northampton County in the top five of regions in the Greater Philadelphia region and I-78/I-80 corridor for rent increases. 

Industrial rents have gone up 26.7% in Northampton County, due mostly to its proximity to ports in New York and Newark and also because of competition for scarce available space, which has enabled owners and developers to push prices higher.  

Rents have gone from $4.87 per square foot in 2016 to $6.81 in 2021 in the county. 

Lehigh County was slightly behind with a 25.4% percent increase over the past five years. 

Wolf said it’s something these companies need to be prepared for. 

“You have to prepare and get advice from your consultants,” he said. 

The report warned that many tenants may think “can we negotiate the rate? Can we relocate and find a better rate?” 

 While exploring their options, tenants may find that their relocation options are limited or non-existent. Many go back to their landlord and find that they cannot negotiate down, but in fact the previous renewal offer expired, and the new rate is now even higher. 

If there is any good news is that while rents continue to climb, the Lehigh Valley is still a relative bargain compared to some regions. 

In the region included in this survey, Delaware County had a 67.6% increase in industrial rent, with number jumping from $5.46 per square foot in 2016 to $10.11 per square foot in 2021. 

In other regions close to major ports the increases have also been dramatic. In Southern California rents have gone up more than 86% in five years, with rents near the Los Angeles ports up 57% and 40% in the New York/Newark area. 

While it may be a startling increase, Wolf said these companies should be cognizant that an increase would be coming.  

“The rental rates are the most visible cost increase, but these companies are already seeing increases throughout their supply chain,” he said. 

He said shipping, for example is up 150% over five years and domestic freight is up 40%. He said he would also expect fuel surcharges to be implemented or increased because of the dramatic spike in gas prices recently.