Lutron names two execs to serve as co-president

Ed Blair, left, and Ramin Mehrganpour have been named co-presidents of Lutron Electronics in Coopersburg. –

Lutron Electronics, a manufacturer of smart controls, has named two men as co-presidents of the Coopersburg-based company.

Ed Blair and Ramin Mehrganpour, who were both previously executive vice presidents, have been named as co-presidents as part of the company’s development of its leadership team.

Current president Mike Pessina, meanwhile, will continue to serve as co-CEO alongside co-CEO Susan Hakkarainen.

Pessina joined Lutron in 1976. He was appointed co-CEO in 2015.

Mehrganpour has been with Lutron for 20 years and has held a number of leadership positions in key sales and business areas, including director of international human resources and vice president of global sales.

“His leadership, operational and engineering backgrounds, high standards for service, and ability to scale our business globally, positions him for great success as co-president,” Hakkarainen said in a release.

Blair, who has been with Lutron for 23 years, previously was vice president and general manager of Lutron’s business development office and senior vice president of the residential systems business unit.

He was also responsible for leading Lutron’s 2018 acquisition of Ketra, which offers LED lighting solutions to homes and workplaces.

Fraud risks on the home-office front

More and more companies are allowing employees to work from home for a variety of reasons. While it is a popular option, the opportunity to telecommute can raise questions for forensic accounting.

As a result, it requires some preparation and planning so the employer can account for the work activity of remote employees, according to forensic accountants in the Lehigh Valley. A work-from-home employee needs a computer with strong anti-virus protection, and he or she should be required to document their time and establish a safe home-office environment.

“On the surface, I would be concerned with accountability. Any project should have a budget,” said Meg Holland, a CPA and partner at Morey, Nee, Buck & Oswald LLC in Bethlehem Township. “You need to have appropriate software to monitor at-home computers, and should require the employee to have specific hours.”

Holland said that the employer needs to set goals and deadlines for the remote employee and have the employee to call into the office and participate in conference calls.

These steps help account for time spent on the job, since falsely accounting for time hurts the employer’s bottom line and can cause resentment among other employees, she said.

“It is payroll fraud to say you are working when you are not,” the accountant added.

Holland, who is also a certified fraud examiner, cited an online article from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. The article lays out the pros and cons associated with an employee who works from home.

While working from home may reduce overhead costs in the office, for example, the employer should consider issuing a company laptop with a strong password system in place. They should also make sure that the telecommuter’s laptop or home computer has the best anti-virus software and firewalls.

Holland said that the article also covers workers’ compensation issues that may crop up when an employee works remotely.

“If an employee falls at home, you are limited as to who sees it, so there could very well be some fraud happening there,” Holland said. “The company should ensure furniture and equipment are ergonomically sound. The solution may be to provide the computer and the chair, and if an employee is using his own (personal) computer, the employer needs to have access to it.”

The accountant added that an employee’s privacy rights come into play in a situation where an employer is wary of suspicious activity or fraud and a search and seizure may be necessary.

“So, an employer should have an attorney draft a privacy agreement for these provisions,” Holland said.

Glenn Block, senior managing partner and CPA at Block & Aldinger in South Whitehall Township, said a company-issued laptop is the best route for a company with employees working from home. It minimizes the risk of fraud, protects company data from nasty viruses and can better track employee activity.

“Most companies today have a two-way password authentication system. So only the employee has one password and another code gets sent to his cell phone,” Block said. “So if the computer should get stolen, the thief cannot access data (and the company server) without passwords.”

As far as a remote employee’s daily activity, Block noted that software can be installed to take screenshots of what employees are working on and count keystrokes to determine an acceptable amount of output.

In addition, an employer should assign specific hours and assignments to employees working from home, and since everything gets uploaded to a server, daily activity can be monitored that way. Make the employee turn in time reports or submit a plan when they request to work from home.

But, he added: “If you hire based on the trust factor, you should not have to worry about fraud.”

Todd Newcomer, a partner and CPA at GBB & Co. LLP in Upper Macungie Township, said it can be difficult to track remote employees through forensic accounting. He said he is not so much worried about the theft of paper and pencils as he would be with a fake employee or what he refers to as a “ghost employee” working at home.

He said there is always a chance that someone can create a fake employee and have paychecks going that so-called employee.

“There needs to be two people involved, payroll and a supervisor or manager, to confirm the person is an actual employee,” Newcomer said. “Maybe my world is too small but there always needs to be a human involved.”

Volunteer Center hopes to boost worker retention with intern service program

Interns from PPL Corp. volunteer with some painting work at Southside Arts & Habitat ReStore in Bethlehem. (Photo submitted) –

This time it’s the interns’ turn.

As an expansion of its Day of Caring – when area businesses send employee volunteers to area nonprofits for community service projects – the Volunteer Center of the Lehigh Valley Friday is holding its first-ever day of volunteering for corporate interns.

Around 175 interns from companies such as Aesculap, Air Products, Lehigh Valley Health Network, Olympus, PPL and Victaulic will be volunteering at 11 nonprofits.  They will be painting, streetscaping, landscaping, gardening, and helping to organize and sort donations.

Karen Smith, CEO of the Volunteer Center, said the idea for the program came from working with representatives from corporate talent acquisition and human resource departments and through focus group discussions led by the Volunteer Center, which revealed volunteering as a means of engaging interns to be active in the community.

Attracting and retaining talent is a top concern for major employers in the Lehigh Valley. They hope that encouraging volunteerism will give interns a greater sense of community, as well as new connections and friends, all of which could be decisive factors in their staying and working locally.

While this year is a sort of “pilot” for the new program, Smith said the goal is to create a more formalized intern community volunteer program and to expand the program every year.

“Volunteers are critical to the nonprofits we serve and having the ability to mobilize 175 interns to work with the various organizations is a win-win for all,” Smith said.

In 2018, the Volunteer Center said it recruited more than 25,000 volunteers to serve more than 400 agencies across the Lehigh Valley.


A conversation with Shelley Brown of Easton State Theatre

Shelley Brown – Submitted

Shelley Brown is president and CEO of Easton State Theatre.

Prior to joining the theater 28 years ago, she worked for 18 years as executive producer and vice president of WLVT-TV.

She has a bachelor’s degree in English from Tufts University in Boston, and honorary doctorate degrees from Lafayette College and Cedar Crest College.

Outside of work she enjoys cooking and spending time with her husband, children, grandchildren and pets.

LVB: The State Theatre has been a premier theater in the Lehigh Valley for many years. What types of programs does it offer and what are some of its most notable events each year?

Brown: The State Theatre is known for presenting top entertainment in the Lehigh Valley with 75 or more performances each season. We have been in continuous operation since 1926. Broadway shows are our calling card, along with major entertainers. We also present the Freddy Awards every May, a seventeen-year tradition that has changed the lives of high school students in our region. The television special that we produce annually from our venue along with WFMZ-TV is a much-watched live show that has garnered countless broadcasting awards, including two Emmys. Our venue is also home to countless special events, weddings, business meetings and smaller performances in our ballroom and gallery.

LVB: How does the State Theatre directly stimulate the local economy? How does it get involved with the local community?

Brown: When our marquee lights are on, there are people flooding the downtown. Theater patrons fill our wonderful local restaurants, and get to know downtown Easton, sometimes for the first time. Out-of-town fans stay at local hotels and inns, as do our artists and their entourages. Some of our larger shows need as many as 60 local stagehands, and catering, lodging and local musicians are utilized on a regular basis. Not to mention the staff of 15 full-time employees and hundreds of part-timers that are busy at the State Theatre and contributing to the local economy.

LVB: If you could change one thing about your industry, what would it be?

Brown: When I came to the State Theatre, there were three local venues. Now there are more than 20 and almost all of us compete for the same entertainers. People have the chance to see a couple of shows every night here in the Lehigh Valley. It’s great for patrons, but rough on venues who need to program and fill their seats. We need more audiences. Live entertainment is an amazing treat, and much more fun than watching an act on television or video.

Hellertown café blends ice cream, fantasy themes

People looking for a unique way to cool off this summer may want to head over to Hellertown for a scoop of Paradise Island or Mermaid Lagoon ice cream. Those and other flavors are being served up from medieval-style cauldrons at Mystical Treatsss Café, which opened earlier this year.

The shop’s ice cream is made using liquid nitrogen, which co-owner and COO Sherry Warren said yields a treat that is both creamier and denser than regular ice cream. The liquid nitrogen also gives off a mystical fog, making the ice cream look like a witch’s brew as it is being served.

The Café offers a fantasy theme to match, one that includes dragons, unicorns and mermaids. Patrons can also enjoy expresso, coffee, a cold brew or smoothies, such as Medusa’s Mango. Light meals such as a rainbow grilled cheese are also available.

But food and treats aren’t the only things available at Mystical Treatsss. Warren and co-owner Bob Weill also opened a boutique inside the café stocked with gifts, a Create a Stuffed Dragon or Unicorn station, and a room for birthday parties and special events.

Neither owner is from the Lehigh Valley, but both felt Hellertown was an ideal location for the venture. Weill, who is originally from upstate New York, was traveling in the Netherlands several years ago when he came across a fantasy shop that enticed him to set a goal to create his own.

Weill, also a golf enthusiast, frequented the Saucon Valley Country Club. A back injury kept him off the course but led him to Warren, who was working as a massage therapist at the time. Warren spent 15 years in the spa and skin industry, including time in St. Croix.

The pair realized they shared a similar vision as Warren has also been a fan of unicorns, fairies, mermaids and carousels. Mystical Treatsss was born.

Starting their own business was a challenge, Warren said, but was eased with the help of a consulting firm and architect.

Local officials see the store as a welcome addition to the Northampton County borough.

“They are bringing people from all over the Lehigh Valley to the borough, which is a win for all businesses on Main Street,” said Jessica O’Donnell, executive vice president, affiliated chambers of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce. “Bob and Sherry offer a whimsical experience for both kids and adults; making adults feel like kids again. It is a real gem for Hellertown.”

Lehigh Valley Children’s Centers names new CEO

Charles Dinofrio is the new president and CEO of Lehigh Valley Children’s Centers. (Photo submitted) –

Lehigh Valley Children’s Centers of Allentown has appointed Charles Dinofrio as its new president and CEO. He will be the third person to lead the organizations since it was founded in 1970.

Dinofrio joined Lehigh Valley Children’s Centers, or LVCC, in 2013 and held several administrative roles before his promotion to vice president of early education and child care in 2016.

“I’m very passionate about the deep roots that LVCC has in the Lehigh Valley. We have a bright future ahead of us and I truly believe our organization is well equipped for the journey,” said Dinofrio. “We will continue to offer innovative programs that respond to the needs of each child and family.”

The board of directors of the organization said Dinofrio played a key role in establishing 12 new locations for LVCC and expanding its services.

He succeeds Susan Williams, who served in the post for 14 years before retiring in 2017.  Karen Kemmerer, LVCC’s CFO, had been serving as interim president and CEO.

LVCC provides early education and child care services for nearly 1,400 children throughout the Lehigh Valley.

The organization operates 30 locations in Lehigh, Carbon, and Northampton counties and has approximately 230 employees.

What can we learn from Target’s recent outage?

There is a lot to be learned from Target, which recently underwent a huge cash-register outage that reportedly caused the company to lose out on nearly $100 million in sales over a two-day period.

On a Saturday afternoon, for roughly two hours, Target cash registers across the country stopped working, preventing customers from making purchases in stores. The next day, a similar outage occurred, causing registers to go down for 90 minutes. The problem, the company said, was not caused by Target’s software but by a third-party that provides its point-of-sale system.

Disgruntled customers, some of whom only learned of the issue as they got in line to check out, left stores and shared their dissatisfaction across social media.

This is a prime example of how businesses can be impacted by downtime. Not only does it affect the hard sales from customers unable to make their purchases, but it also leads to brand damage, data loss and lost productivity as employees stand around unable to work.

Downtime can cause more than an inconvenience; it could drive a company out of business altogether, especially the smaller businesses that have fewer resources behind them. According to a report on data center outages, unplanned downtime costs $8,851 per minute in 2016, up from $7,908 in 2013.

So what can we learn from Target’s recent mishap?

– Don’t panic if an issue occurs. Document everything and work towards a solution.
– Know who to contact if technology fails.
– Notify customers of the issue right away. Be upfront with what’s going on and provide a timetable for fixing the problem (but don’t lie if you are not sure!) Apologize and sympathize.
– Offer coupons, snacks and beverages to customers for the inconvenience.
– Prepare for backlash from disgruntled customers.
– Once the problem is resolved, examine your system for internal and external weaknesses and find out where the problem originated. (Did someone trip over a power cord or was it a more widespread failure?)
– Moving forward, monitor your IT system so that you know about an issue before your customer does.
– If you are using a lower-grade hardware system, upgrade to an enterprise-level network infrastructure. Higher-grade equipment helps maintain reliability so that productivity will not be lost.
– Have a plan B/backup system in place, as well as a backup power supply in case weather is the culprit. Businesses can invest in an uninterruptible power supply, or UPS. A UPS provides backup battery power to your IT systems and it kicks in the moment regular power goes offline. Through a UPS, any loss of power will immediately transfer to the battery supply, without any noticeable interruption for the user.
– Consider using cloud servers, which are housed in colocation centers. They are more convenient and reliable due to their easy accessibility, but they’re also safer since they create automatic backups to prevent data loss for the client.

Follow these tips and don’t let downtime take your business down.

Murtaza Jaffer is the co-owner of EBC Printing of Trexlertown. He can be reached at [email protected]

Friday is last trip to Philly for Trans-Bridge

Downtown Skyline of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at twilight in USA –

Trans-Bridge Lines of Bethlehem has announced that it is ending service to Philadelphia effective July 1.

The last run between the Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia will be on Friday, June 28.

Trans-Bridge had picked up the extra service earlier this year after Bieber Transportation Group closed, ending its service to the city.

Trans-Bridge said in a memo to its customers that its goal had been to help former Bieber commuters with reliable service to Philadelphia.

However, passenger counts were low, with some trips attracting as few as two passengers. There were never more than 17 passengers.

The company said with no possibility of receiving any kind of subsidy for the runs, it was not financially feasible to continue them.

The company said any passengers with unused tickets to Philadelphia can use them with Martz Trailways of Wilkes-Barre or Fullington Trailways of Lewisburg through a cross-honoring system that Trans-Bridge operates with those companies. A $5 surcharge will be charged for commuter book tickets, because those tickets are discounted.

According to their websites, Martz has stops in Allentown and Quakertown, while Fullington has stops in Allentown and Jim Thorpe.

Trans-Bridge said it will also offer refunds to anyone holding tickets to Philadelphia after July 1.

Freshpet breaks ground on expansion, 200 new jobs expected

Secaucus, New Jersey-based Freshpet Inc. is expanding its Lehigh Valley operations with the groundbreaking of a second manufacturing plant, which it refers to as a Freshpet Kitchen.

Employees in Freshpet Kitchens blend fresh meats, vegetables and fruits from local farms in an environment modeled after facilities that make food for people.

The new 90,000-square-foot plant will add to an existing 50,000-square-foot Freshpet Kitchen building, which is also undergoing renovations as part of a more than $84 million project on Commerce Way in the Lehigh Valley Industrial Park IV in Hanover Township, Northampton County.

“The expansion of the Freshpet Kitchens campus reflects our commitment to continually improving the way we make Freshpet – and will help us achieve our goal of changing the way people feed their pets,” said Billy Cyr, CEO of Freshpet in a release.

The expansion includes a number of improvements to the facilities’ operations, which have a goal of improving the quality of the pet food made by Freshpet and the safety of the equipment used by its employees.

Similar to the existing Freshpet Kitchen facilities, the site will recycle all rainwater and rely on wind power for energy. Cyr noted that Freshpet Kitchens also send no waste to landfills.

Freshpet said it plans to have the new space operational in the third quarter of 2020. It estimates hiring around 100 people by the time production begins and an additional 100 when the two Kitchens are operating at full capacity.

Freshpet received funding for the expansion from the state Department of Community & Economic Development, including a $500,000 grant and $300,000 in tax credits that the company will receive upon creation of jobs.

Additionally, the project will receive support from a state manufacturing tax credit program, as well as the Pennsylvania Workforce Development Board and Pennsylvania CareerLink. There was also a $100,000 Job Creation Grant that was awarded to Freshpet by the Northampton County Industrial Development Authority.

Cyr noted that the company is growing. Freshpet has nearly doubled its sales every three years since 2009.