Foreign investment lands LVEDC a spot in research project

The Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation was recognized for bringing foreign companies like Fuling Plastics of China to the region. PHOTO/FILE –

The Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation was chosen by SelectUSA to be part of a competitive research program based on its success in bringing investment from foreign countries into the valley.

SelectUSA, a government program led by the U.S. Department of Commerce, chose the local organization as one of 12 out of 40 applicants to analyze its competitiveness in attracting corporate investment, in part, because of its track record in luring companies such as Safran of France, Fuling Plastics of China, and Primark of Ireland.

Lehigh Valley has “a rich history of Foreign Direct Investment and working with international companies, and it has a solid plan going forward,” said Samantha Luban, research analyst at Ascendant Program Services, which provided analytical support to SelectUSA for the research program.

While the LVEDC collects data on demographics and infrastructure, the research program offered critical insight into enticing foreign and domestic companies to invest in the Lehigh Valley, said Karianne Gelinas, LVEDC vice president of business development and talent supply. In other words, the program helped LVEDC identify the valley’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to attracting business.

The LVEDC is a member of the SelectUSA professional organization. “We are honored to have been selected to be part of the research,” Gelinas said. “We got a lot more information about investment from abroad.”

SelectUSA has facilitated more than $84 billion in investments since its inception more than a decade ago. It has aided in creating or retaining 106,000 jobs working with U.S. and Foreign Commercial Services, according to its website. Its research takes a deep dive into industrial sector strengths and weaknesses, talent supply and other economic indicators in domestic  regions.

Members of the LVEDC staff visited England, Germany, France and China to establish personal contacts, Gelinas said. Foreign companies want to know the strength of the workforce, proximity to airports and customers and the weather before they visit an area. The personal connections help, she said, especially for areas like ours that are not well-known to foreign investors.

Among the recent successes from those trips was wooing Norac Foods/bakery, a French maker of baked pasta and frozen desserts that opened a new facility in Forks Township. In addition, SunOpta of Canada announced in February its plan to expand its Upper Macungie Township facility.

The value of working with SelectUSA was understanding what is important to attract companies to the valley. “We were aware of companies overseas but didn’t necessarily have the data to share,” she said.

LVEDC found that location is absolutely critical. Companies look for the ability to move products for export and for domestic customers. Weather, she said, is a factor too. Not only do companies need to know they can move goods all year round, but employees need to be happy in the climates where they work.

LVEDC is a grantee of a Foreign Trade Zone, which reduces tariffs on exports. Lehigh Valley exported $3.8 billion worth of goods in 2019, ranking the region 66th among 386 metro regions in the country. Among its largest exports were chemicals ($1.4 billion) and machinery ($425.8 million). Exports dipped during the pandemic in 2020 but rebounded to more than a $1 billion in the first quarter this year, according to the U.S. Census.

“Lehigh Valley is an attractive market for foreign investment because we have the talent, infrastructure and location in the heart of the densely populated Northeast corridor. Companies value those assets in a competitive global market,” Gelinas said. “The data in SelectUSA’s diagnostic report help us tell that story to national and international companies we want to retain and attract, especially in a time when companies are considering whether to re-shore operations.”

Part of Lehigh Valley’s strength is in its manufacturing sector, Luban said. The industry employs more than 10 percent of the region’s work force and produced in 2019 a $7.1 billion Gross Domestic Product, making Lehigh Valley the 52nd largest manufacturing economy in the nation. Employment in the industry has grown one percent faster than the national average, and the average annual wage is $1,000 more.

The output per worker is nearly $567,000 – about 4.4 percent more than the U.S. average. Among the reasons for a higher output is automation and the production of high value goods. Lehigh Valley has a high concentration of employment in the medical device industry, and iconic employers such as Mack Trucks.

To ensure the workforce is available, Gelinas said, there is a regional collaborative effort to let people know what skills are needed. “In 2018, we did a study to see what jobs were hard to fill,” she said. Through working with partners like the Workforce Board Lehigh Valley, local schools and colleges and technical schools, people know what skills are needed. We give them solid information so they can ensure programs are in place.”

The SelectUSA program is just the latest LVEDC effort to keep track of the region’s economy and business and development trends. The LVEDC recently selected Garner Economics LLC, a nationally recognized economic development consultant, to update LVEDC’s action plan. The LVEDC also contracted with Camoin 310 on an in-depth analysis of Lehigh Valley’s talent supply and demand. It will address how regional and workforce needs have been changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the top skills employees need now and in the future and other insights that will inform a revised strategic action plan.

Retriever Brewing Co. to debut beer hall in Orefield

Matt Andersen and family at the RBC Beer Hall in Orefield. PHOTO/SLOBBERY DOG PHOTOGRAPHY –

A brewing company that launched during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is now — at last — opening its doors to the public.

Matt Andersen, an attorney specializing in the alcohol industry, announced in October that he was starting Retriever Brewing Co., despite the challenges of starting a new business in the midst of a pandemic.

His company took over the Willow Tree Grove in Orefield, at 2844 Township Line Rd. in April.

The space had served for many years as a wedding and event venue.

A grand opening for The RBC Beer Hall is now set for July 30 at noon.

The beer hall will have seating capacity for nearly 200 people inside and another 50 seats on outside patios.

There will also be an RBC Beer Garden, which will consist of picnic tables and Adirondack Chairs with fire pits, which will add more outdoor seating capacity.

Andersen said RBC will operate on a bar-service model, where customers will go to the bar to order their drinks and either return to their seat for a server to bring the drink their table or receive their drink from the bar.

Besides Retriever Beer, RBC will offer a full bar of Pennsylvania-made wine and spirits, including the increasingly popular canned cocktails being made by Pennsylvania distilleries.

Initially RBC will be scheduling food trucks to come to the property to serve different dining options to guests, or people can bring their own food.

And, because the brewing company was named after Andersen’s love of dogs, particularly his retriever, he notes good dogs are always welcome on the property.

The Edgewood Co. moves hardscapes business into Lehigh Valley region

Work begins installing a retaining wall at Male Road Warehousing in Wind Gap. PHOTO/ Daniel Yates, Media on Edge –

A Malvern-based hardscapes installation company has been lured to the Lehigh Valley by the boon in construction in the logistics and warehousing industries.

The Edgewood Co. Inc. opened a regional office in Hellertown to better reach clients in the region.

Damien Vrontisis, regional vice president of earth retention for Edgewood, said many of those large projects require retaining walls to maximize the space and that is an area his company plans to concentrate on in the Lehigh Valley.

He said Edgewood is currently installing wall systems at Male Road Warehousing in Wind Gap, with upcoming wall projects at the Commerce 33 Padula Road project and East Valley Logistics among several others.

“They’re a means to get the owner more space by holding back the earth to make room for more parking and warehouse space,” added Nick Fenstermaker, project manager out of the Hellertown office. “This way you don’t have a sloping site.”

Because of the tremendous industrial growth in the region retaining walls are being used more and more on such sites, Fenstermaker said.

“The day of available flat lands are all gone,” he said. “About 30 years ago they started putting up the retaining walls instead of grading the properties.”

While getting contracts to install retaining walls is the company’s main goal right now, Vrontisis said the company also has a large landscaping paver division, which he hopes will grow as Edgewood’s overall Lehigh Valley business grows.

A concrete paver project The Edgewood Co. installed at Lehigh University in Bethlehem. PHOTO/Daniel Yates, Media on Edge –

In commercial settings, concrete or brick pavers are generally used as hardscaping surrounding a property that is more of an amenity destination, such as a lifestyle shopping center, to create a more aesthetically appealing look.

However they can be used in many areas—even rooftop gardens – to provide a stable and attractive surface.

Because they can be more permeable than other forms of pavement, such hardscapes are also popular surrounding buildings that seek to be more ecofriendly.

Edgewood already has a number of projects in the Lehigh Valley that are using pavers for such a purpose. The company is installing permeable pavers at Lehigh University’s HST Science Center in Bethlehem along with Turner Construction.

It also has a project at Lehigh’s School of business installing terrace pedestal granite pavers and other structures along with Quadratus Construction Management.

The Lehigh Valley is just a good region for the company to expand into, Vrontisis said.

“The Lehigh Valley is kind of the logistics, warehouse hub of the Eastern U.S.,” he said. “Even back when the economy was bad in 2008-2009, the work up here was still plentiful, so it made sense to move in this direction.”

The Lehigh Valley is just one area of growth for Edgewood. The company, which was founded 20 years ago by owner Tim Frey, wants to grow its operating footprint substantially.

It also recently opened a Washington, D.C. office and seeks to expand in Virginia and Maryland as well to target growing markets in those regions.

As the company launches in the region, Fenstermaker said the Malvern and Lehigh Valley offices are mostly sharing a workforce, with many of the company’s employees already living in the Lehigh Valley area, but as business grows he hopes to hire more people in this region to meet the demand.

LifeAire Systems sees staggering growth with COVID-19 demand for air purification

One of two LifeAire Systems air purification systems made for Stanford University Medical Center in California back in 2016. PHOTO/FILE –

When Kathryn Worrilow, founder and CEO of LifeAire Systems LLC, began research to create her company, her focus was very specific – in vitro fertilization.

It was a very small market, but one she saw as important to families trying to have children.

But with the arrival of COVID-19, she found herself in the position many in the biotech industry have: a need to focus on the war on viruses. And the impact the demand has had on what was once a small startup is a story any entrepreneur or inventor would dream of.

About a decade ago, Worrilow was a reproductive physiologist working as scientific director of Lehigh Valley Health Network’s in vitro fertilization laboratory when she came up with the idea for LifeAire. She wanted to come up with an air purification system that would bolster the success rate of IVF.

The LifeAire System would kill viruses as small as Anthrax, the smallest of the viruses, to ensure the protection of the delicate, newly created embryos.

Her original LifeAire system was created for that purpose, but she soon saw the benefit of having a higher quality air purification system for overall hospital use, and in long-term care facilities where the residents can be as fragile as those embryos.

She began research and development on ways to take that IVF-specific system and integrate it into HVAC systems for larger health care facilities.

There proved to be a market.

In 2017 St. Luke’s University Health Network added a LifeAire system to its Allentown campus, one of a growing number of health centers to do so.

When pandemic hit in early 2020, demand for air purification was everywhere. The company went from three verticals, IVF, hospitals and long term care facilities to more than 10. LifeAire now has customers ranging from police stations and schools to Broadway theaters, and a large volume of corporate offices.

The growth she has seen by expanding LifeAire’s customer base has been staggering.

Kathryn Worrilow –

“The number of locations in which we now have the LifeAire technology increased 350% from the pre-pandemic time to the current time,” Worrilow said.  “The number of LifeAire products installed increased 700% from the pre-pandemic time to the current time.”

Interestingly, the expansion wasn’t Worrilow’s idea. She was thinking about LifeAire in a wider setting, concentrating her efforts on serving health care providers.

The expansion came from demand. When the pandemic hit she got calls from worried building owners wondering if LifeAire could help protect their employees and customers.

“We weren’t thinking beyond our core verticals,” Worrilow said.  But when asked if it would work, she knew it would based on the research they had already done on the technology. So her answer became “yes.”

“We responded because we wanted to help in any way we could,” she said. “It has been nonstop since a year ago February.”

One of those new corporate customers is Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s TechVentures building in Bethlehem, the place where LifeAire got its start.

Laura Eppler, chief marketing officer for BFTPNEP, said there are many other biotech companies working out of TechVentures that need that protection and the organization wanted to make sure it was offering a safe environment for its clients moving forward.

“Everyone wants to think that this [COVID-19] is a one off, but it probably isn’t,” Eppler said.

The LifeAire system wasn’t chosen because of its relationship with TechVentures.

“We researched to make sure it was the best product for us,” she said.

Knowing the science that went into the development of the system, Eppler said they were confident the LifeAire system was the most effective of the available air purification systems out there.

“COVID-19 is so small it doesn’t always respond to standard preventative technology, but if it can kill Anthrax it can kill COVID-19,” she said.

As with LifeAire’s other clients, the system was retrofitted into TechVenture’s existing HVAC system and is now eliminating 99.9% of pathogens in the air.

Much of Worrilow’s time has been speaking with business and building owners about viral control and steering them to a system that might be smaller or less complicated, but will still suit their needs.

Offering options isn’t slowing demand, however. LifeAire has added staff and outsourced some manufacturing to keep up with the demand for the product.

She’s also working on research and development of new air purification products.

COVID-19 opened the public’s eyes about the threat viruses pose around the globe. She said it is a fight that will continue and a fight she hopes LifeAire Systems can help the world win.

Mack Defense begins Heavy Dump Truck production in Allentown

Mack Defense has begun production of its new Heavy Dump Trucks at the newly renovated Mack Experience Center. PHOTO/SUBMITTED

Mack Defense has begun production of its new Heavy Dump Trucks at the Mack Experience Center in Allentown.

The company recently invested $6.5 million to create a dedicated production line for the truck line at the facility.

Previously, non-armored HDT vehicles started production at the Lehigh Valley Operations facility in Lower Macungie Township where all Mack Truck Class 8 vehicles are assembled. The HDT vehicle then transported to the Mack Experience Center for final assembly.

“The investment to create a dedicated HDT product line at the Mack Experience Center will increase production efficiencies,” said David Hartzell, president of Mack Defense. “We are proud to continue the fulfillment of our current contract with the U.S. Army and support our armed forces.”

The production line is located in the former Customer Adaptation Center, where vehicle modifications for Mack trucks occurred. All of that space will be used for production. The Customer Adaptation Center has since moved to LVO.

The HDT is based on the civilian Mack Granite model, one of the top-selling work trucks in North America.

The first deliveries of the Mack Defense HDT to the U.S. Army began in May.

Franklin Hills to be featured in 2022 Mack Truck calendar

Pictured are winners from the Mack Pinnacle (top left), Mack Granite (bottom left) and Mack MD (right) categories. The Mack MD is used by Franklin Hill Vineyards in Bangor. PHOTO/SUBMITTED

Mack Trucks is out with the list of winners of its annual calendar contest, and this year one of the featured trucks is not only made in the Lehigh Valley, but driven here as well.

A Mack MD used by Franklin Hill Vineyards in Bangor is one of the trucks that will be featured on the 2022 Mack Calendar.

The contest invited nominations internationally. Featured trucks in this year’s calendar come from a number of U.S. states and from Canada and Puerto Rico.

This year’s winners will participate in a professional photo shoot of their Mack truck and will be featured in the 2022 edition of the Mack Calendar.

Thousands of Mack fans and followers voted online through Mack social channels to select winners in seven categories.

“It’s an honor to celebrate our hardworking customers and the great-looking Mack trucks they depend on,” said John Walsh, Mack Trucks vice president of marketing. “We had great participation throughout our social media channels, with Bulldog fans from around the globe casting votes for the dedicated customers they want to see in the upcoming calendar.”

Here’s the entire list of winners.

Mack Anthem

  • Centerra Co-Op, Ashland, Ohio
  • Volume Tank Transport, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

Mack Pinnacle

  • E. French Construction, Belmont, Massachusetts
  • M&M Transportation, Fisher, West Virginia

Mack Granite

  • Brandon Franklin LLC, Farmington, Kentucky
  • Rockingham Redi-Mix, Harrisonburg, Virginia

Mack TerraPro

  • Aloha Waste Systems, Kapolei, Hawaii
  • Andres Reyes Burgos Inc., Cataño, Puerto Rico

Mack LR

  • Consolidated Disposal Services, Ephrata, Washington
  • West Oahu Aggregate Co., Honolulu, Hawaii

Mack MD

  • Franklin Hills Vineyard, Bangor, Pennsylvania

Legacy Truck Models

  • 1990 Mack RB690: ADF Exca-For, Saint-Joachim-de-Shefford, Québec, Canada
  • 2005 Mack Vision: Mercier Valley Irrigation, St. Anne, Illinois

Benefactor names race horses in honor of St. Luke’s

Doctor Jeff is one of two horses Mike Caruso named in honor of St. Luke’s University Health Network. The other is simply named St. Luke’s. PHOTO/SUBMITTED

There are different ways to support your local hospital, but a retired insurance firm owner has found a unique one.

Mike Caruso, who is also a well-known former wrestler from Lehigh University, has been a longtime financial benefactor of St. Luke’s University Health Network, but now he’s making sure St. Luke’s gets support right from the horse’s mouth.

He has named two race horses for St. Luke’s and for Dr. Jeffrey Jahre, St. Luke’s senior vice president of medical and academic affairs.

The Saucon Valley resident and his associates purchased the two young steeds last fall in Kentucky.

They are currently training to start competing with hopes of making it to premier courses like Belmont Park and Saratoga Springs.

Caruso named one of the 2-year-olds St Luke’s after the Bethlehem hospital where he has received care since his college days.

However, the name was Caruso’s second choice. He had originally wanted to honor longtime St. Luke’s President & CEO Richard A. Anderson by calling the horse President Rick.

“He’s been a good friend for many years,” Caruso said of Anderson. “He’s a great leader who deserves recognition for his 30-plus years at the helm of the network.”

Anderson, however, demurred. Instead, he asked Caruso to name the horse for the hospital.

Caruso named Doctor Jeff for his good friend, Jeffrey Jahre MD, whom he called his “healthcare guru.”

While he can’t predict how well the horses will do, he and his partners have had winners before.

Their most victorious thoroughbreds have been Monomoy Girl and Aunt Pearl, both winners of the Breeder’s Cup.

Whitehall Mall owner files for bankruptcy

The owner of the Whitehall Mall has filed for bankruptcy.

Citing the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic placed on the industry, Washington Prime Group of Columbus, Ohio announced Sunday that it would be seeking Chapter 11 protection.

The company said it is entering Chapter 11 after executing a restructuring support agreement (RSA) with creditors, led by SVPGlobal, that hold approximately 73% of the principal amount outstanding of the Washington Prime Group’s secured corporate debt and 67% of the principal amount outstanding of the company’s unsecured notes

Washington Prime Group will use Chapter 11 to implement a comprehensive and consensual financial restructuring of the Company’s corporate-level debt, it said.

The RSA provides for a deleveraging of the company’s balance sheet by nearly $950 million through the equitization of unsecured notes and a $190 million paydown of the company’s revolving credit and term loan facilities.

“The company’s financial restructuring will enable WPG to right size its balance sheet and position the company for success going forward. During the financial restructuring, we will continue to work toward maximizing the value of our assets and our operating infrastructure,” said Lou Conforti, CEO and director of the Washington Prime Group.

The company has secured $100 million in new money debtor-in-possession financing from the Consenting Creditors to support day-to-day operations during the Chapter 11 process.

The Real Estate Investment Trust said the Whitehall Mall, which features retailers such as Bed Bath & Beyond and Kohl’s, will continue normal operations, as will the other properties it owns.

Trans-Bridge resuming Wall Street service

In another step in the region’s return to pre-COVID-19 normalcy, Trans-Bridge is resuming service to the Wall Street section of Lower Manhattan beginning today.

The route was suspended in March of last year because of the pandemic.

The Bethlehem-based bus company said the resumption of service comes exactly one year after it resumed limited service to New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal on June 8, 2020.

“We feel the time is right to resume the service to Wall Street,” said Tom JeBran, Trans-Bridge Lines president. “Most restrictions have been lifted in New York, and employees are beginning to return to in-person workplaces once again. After surveying our passengers to gauge their transportation needs, the feedback shows there will be enough commuters utilizing the runs to warrant the return to service.”

Trans-Bridge Lines will begin the Wall Street Service with two routes eastbound and two runs westbound, Monday through Friday.

JeBran said there will be an addition of more routes and possible changes to the Wall Street schedule as the company regains momentum.

He did note that while state and local mass restrictions have been lifted, federal law requires that masks must still be worn when traveling on buses through September. So passengers will be required to wear masks while on the bus.

Materials shortage challenges construction industry

Shortages of materials such as lumber, steel and concrete are impacting the construction industry across the board, and Joe Landrigan, president of Sage Design-Build, a construction management services firm in Allentown, said it’s no different for his firm.

Shortages have caused time delays on projects, as construction managers await materials.

The National Home Builder Association said reports of material shortages are at their highest point since it started tracking the statistics in the 1990s. The association reported that 90% of home builders surveyed said there was a shortage of plywood, and 87% said there was a shortage of windows and doors, according to a May 2021 survey for the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI).

There has also been a major impact on price. Lumber has skyrocketed more than 300% in the past year, the NAHB said, with prices peaking at above $1,600 per 1,000 square board feet.

There are shortages of everything from copper pipe and PVC, to acoustic ceilings and drywall, Landrigan said.

The sharp spike in prices has put many of the company’s projects on hold, Landrigan said.

“A customer may have a project they were looking to do they’re putting the brakes on, waiting for more price stability,” he said.

In many cases that’s a good decision because most of the cost pressure is being driven by a temporary shortage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. “I think it’s a reasonable expectation that prices will be lower in six months,” he said.

From a construction design standpoint the lack of availability and higher prices causes challenges. When Landrigan gets bids from subcontractors he normally has a price guarantee that’s good for a number of months. “Now you’ve got 24 hours to make a decision. There’s no price guarantees,” he said. And even if there is a guarantee it’s inflated to meet expected price spikes and isn’t a good value.

So what does he do?

“From a design standpoint we have to look at some alternatives,” he said.

For example, if plywood is not available or is too expensive, and the material is not going to be visible, he might substitute particle board without decreasing the quality. He looks for different ways to accomplish the task. He recently looked at alternative materials for lockers for a school project he’s working on because the cost of the traditional style was too high.

Others in the industry are making similar changes. He said electricians, for example, are now sometimes using aluminum conduits instead of the usual steel to cut down on costs and construction delays.

Projects that are already underway are mostly safe from the dramatic material shortages and price spikes, Landrigan said, because most of those were already sourced out before the problem began.

“It’s sort of going forward where there’s a question,” he said.

He said the most important thing he can do for clients right now is to be transparent about the situation.

“They rely on us to source things economically,” he said.

He said letting a client now what the cost, delays and unpredictability will be is important to helping them make a decision on how they are going to move forward on a project.

“We will eventually get through this. It’s just a matter of when,” he said.

St. Luke’s, furniture manufacturer receive state PIDA loans

Two local projects are receiving state funding to help foster job creation.

The Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority is providing low-interest loans for the construction of a new medical facility in Hanover Township, Northampton County and for the purchase of manufacturing and processing equipment in Quakertown.

St. Luke’s University Health Network is receiving a $1.5 million PIDA loan through the Carbon Chamber & Economic Development Corp. towards the $3 million construction of a new 8,187-square-foot Medical Center for its Schoenersville site in Hanover Township.

St. Luke’s plans to offer services such as medical, physical therapy lab services, medical office space, X-ray and pediatrics at the facility.

It said there is currently a lack of quality health care facilities in the area and the new office will provide better medical access to people in the surrounding community.

St. Luke’s expects the new building will create 55 new jobs over the next three years.

The PIDA loan is a 15-year loan at a 1% reset interest rate.

In Quakertown, Home Reserve LLLC will receive $740,000 through the Bucks County Economic Development Corp. towards nearly $1.5 million in manufacturing and processing equipment for the company’s new Quakertown facility.

The equipment includes industrial woodworking, textile, foam blowing and packaging equipment to support the company in the manufacturing and packaging of its ready-to-assemble furniture.

The expansion at Home Reserve is expected to create 85 new jobs.

The PIDA loan is a 10-year loan at 2.75%