Rainy day fails to stop Carbon County’s first Day of Caring

With it being the first ever United Way Day of Caring in Carbon County, it was a pretty big deal and volunteers were excited to get started on four community service projects in the region.

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate with the inaugural event, and it rained on much of the volunteers’ plans.

But, Jill Pereira, vice president of education and impact for the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, said that didn’t stop the dozen or so people signed up for the work to give up.

Outdoor projects had to be scrapped, but they all gathered together for an indoor project to deep clean the kitchen at the Jim Thorpe Memorial Hall, where there was plenty of work to do.

“There was lots of rolling up the sleeves and getting into the cleaning,” Pereira said.

Volunteers from First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union, Lehigh Valley Health Network, and Split Rock Resort all participated in the project.

Pereira said that while this was the first Day of Caring event in Carbon, the United Way has been hosting Day of Caring events for corporate volunteers in Lehigh and Northampton counties for 27 years.

Day of Caring brings volunteers from the area’s corporations for a day of service at nearby community service organizations.

Projects can range from landscaping work and rearranging food pantries to visiting the elderly.

The United Way of Carbon County merged with the Lehigh Valley United Way three years ago.

“It took some time to learn the landscape and to build relationships with the region’s businesses and nonprofits,” Pereira said. “But now that we have started, based on the interest, we know we’ll be looking at a bigger and better one next year.”

Bethlehem manufacturer celebrates $10M expansion, name change

Pictured here left to right: Gil Roth, president of Pharma & Biopharma Outsourcing Association; Barbara Morgan, pharmaceutical business director of Lubrizol Life Science Health; Uwe Winzen, general manager of Lubrizol Life Science Health; Rob Lee, president of Lubrizol Life Science Health – CDMO division; Christopher Molineaux, president & CEO of Life Sciences Pennsylvania. (Photo submitted) –

Bethlehem’s Particle Sciences has celebrated the opening of its $10 million expansion as it prepares to officially change its name.

The new facility will be adjacent to the existing Bethlehem development and clinical trial manufacturing site.

The new facility is part of a $60 million investment its parent company, Lubrizol Corp., announced it was making into its LifeSciences business in 2017.

With the expanded capacity, the contract development and manufacturing organization will be manufacturing pharmaceutical products for commercial sale by its customers.

The company said it has experienced continuous growth over the past five years creating the need to expand its capabilities and manufacturing capacity.

The expansion should create around 30 jobs in the manufacturing and pharmaceutical sciences fields. Particle Sciences currently employs 85 people.

At the ribbon cutting, the company also marked the company’s transition under the Lubrizol Life Science Brand Umbrella.

Lubrizol Inc. acquired Particle Science in 2015. The name change will be official Nov. 5.


Competitors named for 2019 Venture Idol

Ken Okrepkie, regional manager of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pa., left, stands with the winners of the 2018 Venture Idol, Signallamp Health co-founders Andy Goldberg and Drew Kearney. At right is Chad Paul, president and CEO of Ben Franklin Technology Partners Northeastern of Pa. (File photo) –

Seven contestants have been chosen to compete in this year’s Venture Idol hosted by the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeast Pennsylvania.

This is the 16th year the event will be held. It is a combination between the television shows Shark Tank and American Idol, with entrepreneurs making their business pitch to investors.

This year’s competitors will be:

  • American Paper Bag LLC of Wilkes-Barre, which bills itself as the first company to manufacture and sell an innovative new style of paper shopping bag and paper mailer in North America.
  • Apis Innovation, a Bethlehem company developing technology that will allow for remote monitoring and autonomous adjusting of methane generating wells at landfill sites.
  • Build My Team of Honesdale, which produces Software-as-a-Service job placement tools.
  • Ophidion of Bethlehem, which is developing a product that can be used in the treatment of Huntington’s disease.
  • PrintElements of Honesdale, which is a company developing digital tools to streamline the bid process and project management of multi-faceted print projects.
  • Skillion of Bethlehem, a company that provides a mobile app and Internet of Things device for remotely monitoring and controlling micro-mobility products such as electronic bikes, to provide safety, prevent theft, and/or manage rentals.
  • studio BE, a Wilkes-Barre company that provides scientifically-backed mindfulness techniques to corporate executives, managers, and other employees by integrating ancient Buddhist teachings and professional enhancement curriculum.

According to organizers, prior to the evening event, the seven companies will pitch to a group of experienced private investors, who will select the three company finalists.

The audience members will then “fund” the companies, crowdfunding style.

Each Venture Idol attendee will rank the three companies. Guests can vote on their smartphones using a new voting app produced by Ben Franklin client UBMe, or by using paper “Ben Bucks.” Ben Franklin will allocate a total of $15,000 in prize money among the presenters based on the audience vote.

Venture Idol will be held Nov. 6 at the Innovation Institute in Ben Franklin TechVentures in Bethlehem.

The ‘Entre-pet-neurs’: The pet-care industry is valued at nearly $73 billion and growing rapidly, thanks to millennials who regard pets as family

Jiminy’s Founder and CEO Anne Carlson said dogs consume more than 32 billion pounds of protein annually. “It’s just not sustainable with traditional protein sources,” she said. Jiminy’s makes its products mostly from crickets. –

Biggie the dog’s first trip to the veterinarian became an “aha” moment for his owner, Ben Seidman and, especially, for Biggie himself.

“He really didn’t like it,” said Seidman, recalling the lab-pit bull-boxer’s animated response and apparent displeasure at having his temperature taken.

“Me and my wife said ‘hey, there’s got to be a better way for millions and tens of millions of dogs that are going to vets every single year.’”

It was the kind of experience that inspires innovation and growth in the nearly $73 billion-and-growing U.S. pet care products industry according to the American Pet Products Association.

Seidman, who lives in Chicago, and business partner, Yale Zhang, who lives in New York City, are two of many who would like to grab a slice of that pie.

They co-founded a company called Mella Pet Products in part to develop a reliable alternative to the ubiquitous thermometric goosing that has long stoked fear among the Biggies of the world.

Mella was one of 10 companies, out of more than 100 that applied, to be invited to the inaugural Pet Innovation Challenge in Bethlehem Oct. 2-3.

That two-day event allowed so-called “entre-pet-neurs” to not only showcase and pitch their products, but to meet investors and collaborate with other businesses and industry experts in hopes of learning how to fuel their emerging pet brands.

The event was sponsored by Boulder, Colo.-based New Hope Network, a company best known perhaps as the force behind the Natural Products Expos West and East in Anaheim and Baltimore respectively each year. They are the Super Bowl and World Series of the natural products industry.

It was held at Factory LLC, a defunct steel mill-turned business innovation center on Columbia Street near Lehigh University, SteelStacks and Northampton Community College’s Fowler Family Southside Center in South Bethlehem.

Factory LLC founder Rich Thompson said innovators forge on even when others say it can’t be done.

“When something is new and different you just can’t buy it off the shelf and
you just can’t bring in 20 people who have done it before and say here’s how you do it,” he told the participants. “So, you have to stay on the innovation side of things.”

Each of the 10 companies invited to the Pet Innovation Challenge were built on the idea of improving pets’ lives in an environmentally friendly, humane and sustainable way, and each was proposing a unique solution.

Seidman hopes Mella will become the, “Apple of health care for pets.”

“Finding an alternative to rectal thermometry is just on one of our goals,” he said. “We believe that many of the techniques and practices currently used in the veterinary space are archaic, and new methods combined with new technology can reduce the stress and anxiety both pet owners and their pets feel about veterinary visits.”

Chicago-based Shameless Pets was there too. It hopes to turn millions of pounds of wasted food each year in America into pet food.

Berkeley, California-based Jiminy’s, and Takoma, Md.-based Chippin, aim to create nutritious, protein-rich foods and snacks from crickets and other insects that can be raised and harvested with minimal disruption to the environment.

Still another company, Hachi Tama based in Japan, came to promote its high-tech, smart cat litter box that can help detect chronic kidney disease and more effectively control odors.
Growing Industry

The modern pet care product industry is seemingly recession-proof, fueled by health and nutrition-conscious millennials who regard pets as family, who care about how those pets feel and care what they eat. They also crave environmentally friendly, sustainable, healthy, humane and clean products.

“Even in 2008 when the economy was sucking, the pet industry was continuing to grow,” said Dr. Katy Nelson, an Alexandria, Va.-based veterinarian who hosts and produces “the Pet Show with Dr. Katy,” which airs on television in in the DC area.

Nelson, who spoke to Challenge participants Oct. 3, said the relationship between humans and pets has changed over the ages.

“For centuries we trained them for protection and herding and hunting. Now they’ve gone from skulking around the campfire to literally sleeping in beds with us,” she said. “So, obviously that changes how we view these animals.

“A lot of millennials are putting off having children and their pets are taking the place of having children, so they are ready to spend,” Nelson said. “They want to feel good about it. It’s as much about feeling as it is about the product itself. And after next year we think we’re going to hit $96 billion that people spend on pets just here in the USA. That’s just absolutely incredible.”

Problems and solutions
Jiminy’s, a Berkeley, California-based company attending the challenge, is trying to answer the call for sustainable, healthy pet food.

Founder and CEO Anne Carlson said dogs consume more than 32 billion pounds of protein annually. “It’s just not sustainable with traditional protein sources,” she said.

Crickets, on the other hand, are sustainable, easy to raise, highly digestible forms of protein, said Carlson.

Barn-raised crickets use 67% less land than chicken, and 93% less land than beef. One five-ounce bag of cricket treats saves 220 gallons of water over what it would take to create an equal-sized bag of treats made from traditional protein sources.

Hardly any greenhouse gases are produced by crickets, Carlson said.

And harvesting crickets is a less disturbing affair, too, he said. The insects are cooled down and enter a kind of hibernation before being harvested.

In January, Jiminy’s will roll out two new products: Cricket Crave and Good Grub, a product made from grubs. “We’re really excited about it,” Carlson said, “and so far the dog reaction has been amazing.”

About half of all dogs and cats will develop digestive problems, according to Holly Ganz and Carlton Osborne. They started a San Francisco-based company called Animal Biome that designed a test that can unravel the undiagnosed digestive mysteries that plague some animals and often lead to their early demise.

All you have to do is send them your pet’s poop.

“Your pet’s waste is the best indicator as to how they’re feeling,” the company states on its website. “A healthy gut creates good poop, and good poop prompts a thumbs up,” it continues.

Valuable feedback

One investor, who asked to remain anonymous, came to the event “looking for young, hungry entrepreneurs,” and added that the pet products industry is full of them.

Pet products are one of the biggest categories in any supermarket,” said Thompson who not only hosted the event but was a potential investor.

Thompson knows a thing or two about pet products. He was the CEO of New Jersey-based Freshpet for nearly six years until his retirement in 2016, and was the CEO of The Meow Mix Company from 2001 to 2006.

Now in his role as CEO of Factory LLC, he and his team have $250 million of investable
capital to acquire meaningful equity stakes in high-potential food, beverage and pet health companies.

The Pet Innovation Challenge showed, if nothing else, that the industry is thriving with innovation and potential, according to Thompson.

“It’s the humanization of pets,” he said. “Pets used to live in the backyard, but now they live in your house.”

Thompson would like to see the next big pet product company end up in Bethlehem and that Factory LLC could help stoke the flames of success.

While the 10 companies hoped to woo investors, they were also eager to get important feedback from them about blind spots in their evolving business plans, and possible solutions.

“We’re an early stage startup entering our critical growth phase and we’re looking for industry partners as well as funding, and so this kind of exposure to potential identify partners and investors is why we’re here,” said Animal Biome’s Osborne.

Attending the challenge “allowed us to get insights from people with amazing backgrounds in the industry,” said Ganz, also of Animal Biome.

Animal Biome wasn’t looking for scientific feedback. “We had that,” Ganz said. “We needed the business advisory board and this is really helping us to fill this big gap.”

Carlson agreed. “I love it when somebody from the outside takes a look at what we’re doing because everyone comes at things with different levels of expertise.”

And then there was Mella, whose unofficial motto, Zhang said, is “measuring your dog’s temperature does not have to be a pain in the butt.”

“No one’s happy,” Seidman told the event crowd. “Vet technicians have scratches all
over their arms, parents are upset in waiting rooms, and most of all the pets are not fear free.”

The feedback from other businesses and pet experts was crucial, Seidman said.

“We examined how to best educate pet parents as to why a Mella Thermometer will be beneficial to them. We had excellent input from multiple participants. We walked away with dozens of potential blind spots to consider as well as many solutions we had not thought of before.

For example, one of our team members suggested we target specific communities such as “pet moms,” high-needs dogs/cats, and even social media influencers in order to narrow our base and grow,” Seidman said.

“We can’t wait to take to the drawing board.”

PIDA loans to fund two major area economic development projects

Jeff Tyber, president & CEO of Tyber Medical, left, with an employee at the company’s Lehigh Valley facility. (Photo courtesy of LVEDC) –

A number of economic development projects around the state, including two in the Greater Lehigh Valley, are getting a boost from low-interest loans that have just been approved by the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority.

Tyber Medical LLC in Hanover Township, Northampton County, a private label orthopedic device company, will receive a $400,000 10-year, 2.75 percent PIDA loan through the Lehigh Valley Economic Investment Corp. to purchase machinery and equipment for its new 35,000-square-foot leased manufacturing facility, next to its current facility. The company will soon be using that space to bring manufacturing and packaging in house in hopes of gaining greater control of its supply chain and improving quality control.

The total cost of the project is $800,000 and Tyber Medical said it plans to invest a total of $3.8 million into the facilities, which is expected to create 44 new, full-time jobs and retain 35 existing jobs over the next three years.

The Greater Berks Development Fund will receive a $2.25 million, 15-year, 2.75 percent PIDA loan to help it acquire a 66.29-acre tract of land in Ontelaunee Township towards the development of an industrial park there.

According to the governor’s office, the land was previously agriculturally zoned land owned by F&G Family Farm but was recently rezoned industrial commercial. It would be part of a more than 122-acre parcel of land that would be used to create the Ontelaunee Industrial Park II at the southeast corner of the intersection of Routes 61 and 73.

The project is expected to take 5 to 7 years, ultimately creating more than 1-million square feet of manufacturing and warehousing space and bringing between 800 and 1,000 jobs to the region.

Disruption is coming to GAAP-based financial statements

The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) is implementing two new major standards that will affect every for-profit entity issuing financial statements using Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. They are the new revenue recognition standard and the new lease standard.


The transition to using these new standards has been a long time coming.  For non-public entities, the revenue recognition standard became effective January 1. The new lease standard was set to begin January 1, 2020, but on August 15, a FASB-issued exposure draft announced a delay in implementation for one year. There is still a chance for a change in this plan prior to a final ruling, but it seems like a pretty safe assumption the effective date will be delayed to January 1, 2021.


New revenue standard establishes industry-neutral method to recognize revenue

The objective of the new revenue standard is to establish an industry-neutral method of recognizing revenue, which is one of the most important measures used by users of the financial statements. The new standard focuses on completion of performance obligations and calls for more robust disclosures within the financial statements, providing more information on the company’s revenue streams, policies, procedures, and risks in dealing with revenue.


New lease standard provides clearer view of future liabilities

The new lease standard serves to bring all contractual lease liabilities onto the books. Users of the financial statements will now easily see all the future liabilities the company is contractually obligated to repay.

Under historical standards, it was quite common to have lease liabilities “off the books” if the company did not lease the asset for most of its useful life or pay for the purchase of the asset through the lease. For example, if your business entered into a five-year lease for office space from an unrelated entity, you neither used the building for a majority of its life, nor did you pay for the purchase of the building through the lease, so the lease would not have been recorded as a liability on the books. With the new lease standard, a liability like this will appear on the balance sheet.


Potential for disruption


At a minimum, these standards will have extensive disclosure requirements. At their worst, both standards have the potential to disrupt the continuity of the financial statements.


The revenue standard has a special provision that allows the presentation of comparative financial statements with the earliest year prepared under historical accounting standards and the recent year prepared under the new standards. With the change in timing between the old and new standards, there is a real possibility certain revenue may not be recorded in either year, which would be extremely disruptive to any trend analysis and ratio analysis that includes revenue as a factor.


With the lease standard, new liabilities are brought onto the books for certain leases based on the present value of future obligations. So, if there is an SBA loan that requires a 20-year lease of your facility at $200,000 per year, you will now have a “new” $2.6M liability on your balance sheet. Your debt-to-equity, debt service ratios, and the like, are not going to be anywhere close to acceptable using historic calculation methods.


It follows that banks will have to revise their measures on loan evaluations to compensate for revenue dropping off income statements, liabilities appearing out of nowhere, trend analysis skewed, and ratios drastically changing. Keep in mind, nothing has changed in reality. The only change is how this information is presented on the financial statements.

Since loan officers and credit analysts do not have mandated education requirements, they may not yet have a deep understanding of these changes. The banks are left with two choices: back out the changes resulting from these new standards to see the historical calculations, or determine a new acceptable ratio or measure going forward.


What can you do to prepare? Consult with your accountant sooner rather than later to determine exactly how these two provisions are going to affect your financial statements, keeping in mind these financial statement accounting changes do not change tax return accounting methods. Then, present everything to your bank to make sure they are up to speed on this new normal.


Brent Thompson, CMA CGMA CPA is a Director with Canon Capital Management Group located in Harleysville providing Certified Public Accounting, Payroll Services, Wealth Management, and Technology Services to thousands of businesses and individuals. 


A Conversation With: Robert Hackenberg of Northeast Financial Group Inc.

Robert Hackenberg –

Robert Hackenberg is the founder and co-principal of Northeast Financial Group Inc. with his business partner Josh Laychock. They serve clientele nationwide from three offices in Pennsylvania including South Whitehall and Wyomissing with their main office located in Tannersville.

NEFG, Inc. is a SEC Registered Investment Advisory Firm providing advice and management to high net worth clientele.  The Firm specializes in private wealth management and conservation, along with retirement plan services.

As Accredited Investment Fiduciaries they provide clients with investment management guidance that is grounded in industry best practices to support fiduciary standards of care for their clients. Under their direction, Northeast Financial Group Inc. has been named by the Financial Times as one of the Top 300 Registered Investment Adviser firms nationally for both 2018 and 2019.


LVB: What are some of the things people need to understand about wealth and asset management?


Hackenberg: All of the basic clichés apply – from starting a savings program early, to managing debt.

Individuals need to realize that there is no one item that will create financial success.  It is a multitude of items that need to be implemented and continually practiced.  Starting with accumulating adequate cash, and working your cash positions to maximize returns no matter how little they may seem.  When referencing “cash”, we refer to cash and cash equivalents, such as checking, savings, money markets, CD’s, and Treasury Bills.

Investors need to utilize their advisors for more than asset management.

The primary job of a good advisor is to provide financial guidance, with the main objective to prevent their clients from making poor or uninformed financial decisions that can be costly or devastating to their financial success.


LVB: How do you work out what investments and plans are best for each family or individual?


Hackenberg: It starts with the details:


Know your client


  • Personal demographics: As detailed as possible – Age, health, family, etc.
  • Goals and objectives: Includes their needs, wants, wishes, and the time frame for each
  • Tolerance for Risk: Identify their downside threshold. How far they will allow their investments to decline in value, and for how long?


The details regarding all of the aforementioned information identify the opportunities that may be appropriate to develop a portfolio of investments to assist them in achieving their goals and objectives, working within the timeframes identified, meeting their liquidity needs, and remaining within their personal range of acceptance in regards to risk that they may incur.


LVB: With talk of a downturn, do you have any advice to people about protecting their wealth?


Hackenberg: The current volatility has brought us back to more of a norm based on history.  Prior to the last recession, and until the tax reform measures were implemented, we had an economy experiencing a very slow growth rate with minimal fluctuations in our markets. The recent concerns and uncertainties in our economy has exacerbated the volatility in our markets.  That volatility has also created opportunities in various investment categories and industries.


We have to understand that whatever one does to work to protect themselves in one way, can be financially detrimental in another.  For example, I could buy all fixed investments, with the belief that I am “safe.”  Then interest rates rise, and my “safe” fixed investments go down in value.  What happens if I need to liquidate capital while the individual investments have declined in value?  That loss can never be recouped.


There are no categories of investments that have always performed well.  Our economy and investments have all experienced both positive times, and negative times.  By maintaining the proper amount of cash within a portfolio, an investor can initially utilize the cash to meet any liquidity needs, and then review other positions to determine what may be appropriate to liquidate to replenish the cash positions.


LVB: If you could give one piece basic piece of financial advice to people, what would it be?


Hackenberg: There is no one piece of advice for all investors.  Each level of our financial development has its specific investment rules to live by.


In our working and accumulating years: Save all you can! The old saying – “pay yourself first” still applies today.  I have never seen anyone get hurt by saving.  As a matter of fact, only those that have saved enough to take care of themselves in the future, can also take care of others.

Diversify not just within investment categories, but build a mix of retirement accounts utilizing your IRA or company sponsored retirement plans, and non-qualified investments (all accounts outside of your retirement accounts).  This gives you control of the taxation of your future retirement income.


In our retirement and distribution years: We need to maximize the net income we will live off of.  By having funds accumulated in both retirement plan assets and our individual savings and investments, the retiree can plan their income distributions efficiently and effectively. If possible, distribute the maximum amount of retirement account funds within your current federal tax bracket. By controlling the taxation of your retirement account assets, your retirement account savings will effectively provide for more years of retirement income.

If you do not need the funds to meet your income needs, reinvest them along with your other savings and investments outside of your retirement accounts.


-By Stacy Wescoe


Keystone Cement to be sold for $151M

The Keystone plant makes portland cement. (Photo submitted) –

Keystone Cement in East Allen Township near Bath is getting a new owner.

HeidelbergCement of Germany said its North American subsidiary, Lehigh Hanson Inc., will be buying the plant from Giant Cement for $151 million.

The Keystone plant, which has been operating since 1928 according to a news release, supplies the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York markets with bulk and bagged portland cement.

The company noted that the plant operates with a kiln line which was modernized in 2009 and has a capacity of 1.1 million tons of cement per year.

Bernd Scheifele, chairman of the managing board of HeidelbergCement called it a good acquisition for the company.

“The acquisition of one of the most modern and environmentally sustainable cement facilities in the United States will further help Lehigh Hanson reduce its carbon footprint by safely substituting alternative fuels for traditional fossil fuels such as coal. In addition, we anticipate a number of operational efficiencies as a result of this transaction.”

The sale is subject to standard antitrust regulatory approval and is expected to close in the coming months.

Four Points by Marriot hotel opens in South Whitehall

One of the 120 recently renovated guest rooms in the Four Points by Marriott hotel in South Whitehall Township. (Photo submitted) –

The former Comfort Suites Hotel across the street from Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom on Hamilton Boulevard in South Whitehall Township, has now officially reopened under the Marriott International brand as Four Points Allentown Lehigh Valley.

Owned and managed by the Joshi Hotel Group, the hotel has 120 guest rooms and over 1,380 square feet of meeting space to accommodate meetings of about 80 people.

All spaces in the hotel, including a new heated indoor pool and 24-hour fitness center, were part of a roughly $3 million renovation project that began in September 2018.

Andrea C Weismiller, vice president of sales for the Joshi Hotel Group, said the company purchased the old Comfort Suites in 2013 and ran it under that brand for five years before deciding on the upgrade.

She said the Four Points brand is a much more upscale experience that is geared toward independent travelers that want to experience the local flair of the community they’re staying in.

Which, she said, is where the local Lehigh Valley breweries come in.

As part of the hotels curated Best Brews and BBQ program, the Four-Points will have regular appetizer and beer features in the Linx Restaurant and Bar, featuring beers from Fegley’s Brewworks, Saucony Creek Brewing Company and Funk Brewing – all of which will be on tap at the bar.

She noted that the Joshi Hotel Group is locally and family owned.

“It was a father and son that founded it and the hotels continue to be owner operated,” she said.

Weismiller said a big challenge for the hotel is being able to serve a diverse clientele.

During the summer months, a large portion of the hotel’s guests come from travelers to Dorney Park, but year round, the hotel houses business travelers and executives.

She said there are reserved executive floors for business travelers so that they can enjoy all the amenities of the hotel, “but they still have that peace that they seek if they need to do work,” she said.

Hotel Group owner, Vikas Joshi, noted that the hotel is the first Four Points brand hotel in the Lehigh Valley, and has other noteworthy distinctions.

“Our hotel is one of the first Pro-Type conversions with the latest Marriott brand design specifications,” he said. “We look forward to a timeless partnership with Marriott and exceeding our valued guests’ expectations.”

A grand opening celebration is planned for Oct. 23.


A Conversation With: Richard Hobbs of the Manufacturers Resource Center of the Lehigh Valley

Richard Hobbs, president and CEO of the Manufacturers Resource Center of the Lehigh Valley (Photo submitted) –

Richard Hobbs is the third president and CEO for the Manufacturers Resource Center since its inception, some 30+ years ago. Edie Ritter started in the role, followed by Jack Pfunder. The MRC covers Berks, Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon and Schuylkill. It is one of the seven ‘IRC’s’ (Industrial Resource Centers) that cover Pennsylvania, each with a different, non-conflicting geography. Hobbs has more than 35 years in various manufacturing roles. This is his first time running a nonprofit organization.


LVB: What is the main goal of the Manufacturers Resource Center of the Lehigh Valley?

Hobbs: The main goal is to help manufacturers in our five-county area to improve and grow their businesses. In short, we seek to help them improve and accelerate their efficiencies, provide key feedback to them while helping to solve their problems, while at the same time providing training and opportunities for them to network and engage with other manufacturers in the area.


LVB: What is the state of manufacturing nationally and in the Lehigh Valley and right now?

Hobbs: Good question! I think that ultimately it really depends upon the markets that are being served and the micro-geography involved. In some areas, it’s a boom, in others it’s a bust. Many are concerned about the future uncertainty in the markets that are being driven through various tariff discussions. Locally, we see many companies that are growing dramatically, whereas others are starting to cut back. We do hear very consistently about workforce skills gaps and trouble finding staff almost universally.

LVB: There has been a lot of talk about the skills gap in manufacturing, but what are some other challenges in the industry?

Hobbs: There are multiple challenges in this area that are coming together to create a huge problem in manufacturing. First, many ‘boomers’ are leaving the workplace daily – as many as 12,000 per day, I’ve heard. Next, many younger workers aren’t looking to start off in a manufacturing career, for many different reasons, so most manufacturing companies are struggling just to hold on to their workforces. As workers leave with lots of skills, new workers come in and immediately need training, but with the brain drain that is happening, there are fewer and fewer skilled workers remaining to do the training, which is creating a need for trainers/training in general. Tied into all of this is efficiency, too. With many new workers and the training demands it places on existing workforces, we see declines in productivity/safety/quality likely to occur, unless manufacturers focus on carefully eliminating potential gaps in these areas.

LVB: Where do you see Lehigh Valley Manufacturing in the next 10 years?

Hobbs: I believe that many of the existing Lehigh Valley manufacturing companies will either transform from traditional to advanced manufacturing, or if they don’t, they will risk not being as competitive as they will need to be to stay on top. The MRC can definitely help in this area. Companies that don’t continually transform their businesses, will face increasing pressures, in terms of staying competitive as well as being able to hire their next round of employees. Being less competitive introduces all kinds of undesirable pressures onto a business over time, such that many smaller independent owners may sell off or need to close/downsize. Ten years is a long time horizon right now given everything that appears so uncertain, so it’s tough to predict.

-By Stacy Wescoe


Pet industry startups hoping to fetch ideas at Bethlehem Innovation Challenge

The Factory founder Richard Thompson and his dog. (Photo submitted) –

With existing manufacturing facilities like PetFresh and Ocean Spray operating in the Lehigh Valley, and Keurig Dr. Pepper operations on the way, the region is fast becoming a hub for food, beverage and pet care industry manufacturing.

Pet food and pet care industry is a booming industry nationally, with growth expected to continue.

And so, The Factory, a manufacturing industry startup incubator in Bethlehem, which focuses on the food, beverage and pet care industries, is attempting to put the Lehigh Valley on the pet care industry map with an event planned for next month.

The Pet Innovation Challenge, a two-day event, is being organized in cooperation with New Hope, a promoter of natural foods expos. The event will bring thought leaders, innovators, experts and investors to Bethlehem to discuss challenges in the pet-care industry and solve them.

“What we’re trying to do here is bring together innovators and experts in the industry to share challenges they are facing and match them with solutions,” said Tara Ortiz, director of entrepreneurial engagement for The Factory.

On day one, 10 pre-selected pet health companies will kick off the event with a live pitch slam competition. The presenting brands include:

  • Animal Biome, microbiome testing and supplements for health and wellness.
  • Because Animals, a biotechnology company creating pet food made with cultured meat.
  • Chippin, the “Beyond Meat of Pet Food.”
  • Hachi Tami, a smart-cat litter box that offers early detection of chronic kidney disease.
  • Jiminy’s, dog food and treats using insect protein.
  • Maranda, veterinary-approved lab tests from home.
  • Mella Petcare, a first-generation thermometer that allows non-rectal temperature readings.
  • Obe, a patented pet health and wellness system using smart technology for personalized dog wellness and nutrition.
  • Primal Health, a patented, clinically-proven drinkable dental prebiotic.
  • Shameless Pets, the first brand to focus on upcycling within pet treats.

“These brands represent the most innovative and advanced trends in the pet health industry,” Ortiz said.

On day two the 10 pet-health brands will present their biggest challenges to the larger group, and assign attending participants to groups based on their experience and skillsets to brainstorm and collaborate on finding real-time solutions.

Awards will be given out for best ideas and best collaboration.

The top winner of the pitch slam will receive a cash prize, six months of entrepreneur services from The Factory, and a free booth at New Hope Natural Products Expo East 2020, a major natural product event.

By hosting such events, The Factory, hopes to establish the Lehigh Valley as a hub of pet, food and beverage expertise, Ortiz said.

“We have all of these experts and a good place for the creation of that hub here at The Factory,” she said.

The event will also feature a keynote address by animal health expert Dr. Katy Nelson, veterinarian and host and executive producer of “The Pet Show with Dr. Katy,” who will discuss the state of the pet industry, and her work with pet-related companies from Fortune 500 corporations to pet start-ups.

The Pet Innovation Challenge will be held Oct. 2 and 3 at The Factory in Bethlehem. The limited ticket event is open to the public, all proceeds will go to the Center for Animal Health and Welfare.

For more information go to  newhope.com/petchallenge.


National and local small business owners show strong economic confidence

Financial stock market investment trading graph. Candle stick graph chart. Currency exchange rates. Bullish point, Bearish point. trend on technology abstract background –

Trade wars. Brexit. There’s plenty to be nervous about in the global economy.

But, not everyone is worrying apparently, at least not in one of the economy’s most important areas — small business.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is out with its third quarter Small Business Index and it’s showing employers are experiencing high levels of confidence in their state and local economies and about their own financial future.

According to the report, which is put out in cooperation with MetLife, the index overall score increased this quarter to 70.7, up two percentage points from the second quarter, placing the index at its highest number since it was started.

That means that nearly 71 percent of U.S. small business owners currently have a positive outlook on their companies’ financial future and business environment.

But what do small businesses in the Greater Lehigh Valley think?

John Hayes, chair of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, said most small business owners he’s spoken with express some “cautious optimism” for the overall and local economies, but they feel there is reason to worry.

He said many seem to believe an economic downturn or recession is imminent.

“The people I have talked to in the small business community in the Lehigh Valley are a little more cautious,” Hayes said. “Everyone’s simply expecting a slowdown because we’re due.”

In Reading, Pamela Shupp, executive vice president and COO of the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, said small business is currently where the bright spot is the Berks-area economy.

“Our Berks small businesses are continuing plans for growth and lead the way in requests for expansion assistance,” Shupp said.

To the north, Marlyn Kissner, executive vice president with the Carbon Chamber and Economic Development, said she too is seeing great activity among the region’s small businesses.

“Once a month, the Small Business Development Center at Wilkes University meets with prospective business owners at our office in Lehighton and the days are booked solid,” Kissner said.

U.S. Chamber officials said small business is where they want to see strength.

“Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy,” said Tom Sullivan, vice president of small business policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a release. “It’s important that we provide them with a sense of certainty and work towards finding solutions that enable business growth and create an environment where Main Street businesses can continue to thrive.”

Overall, though, local business leaders said they believe the region can withstand a global or national downturn, largely due to its ability to protect itself from many of the global market trends.

“We’re in a great geographic location,” said Hayes. “We have the benefit of pure location, which helped us weather the last downturn. We’re a logistics center.”

He said construction remains a strong driver of the economy in the Greater Lehigh Valley, which is a good core for a strong economy because it impacts so many different industries from the retail and wholesale of building products to manufacturing and real estate.

Shupp said besides small business, other aspects of the Berks economy remain solid.

“Our manufacturing sector remains steady as it responds to and develops strategies for attracting skilled workers,” she said.

And those local results add up.

“Strong local economies have a ripple effect, and create stronger state, regional, and national economies,” said Jessica Moser, senior vice president and head of MetLife’s Group Benefits Small & Specialty Business organization in a release. “Increased small business confidence will allow them to continue to hire and to invest in their businesses, which ultimately helps everyone.”

The results of the MetLife & U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index were from a survey of 1,000 small business owners. The Index is part of a multiyear collaboration by MetLife and the U.S. Chamber to elevate the voice of America’s small business owners and highlight the important role they play in the nation’s economy.