Voting to begin for ‘What’s So Cool About Manufacturing’ student video contest

Students participate in a statewide ’What’s So Cool About Manufacturing?’ contest. PHOTO/SUMBITTED –

It’s that time of the year again. 

Voting will soon begin for the 10th annual What’s So Cool About Manufacturing student video contest. 

Organized by the Manufacturers Resource Center of the Lehigh Valley, student teams from 33 Lehigh Valley area middle schools compete for the most votes to win the coveted “Viewers Choice Award.”  

They have been working with regional manufacturers to learn what they do and then produce a video explaining “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing” at their partner company. 

The videos will also be reviewed by a panel of judges for awards in ten other categories, including Outstanding Career Pathway, Outstanding Editing and Outstanding Creativity. 

Since its inception, the What’s So Cool About Manufacturing Student Video Contest format, created by Manufacturers Resource Center here in the Lehigh Valley, has been replicated by sixteen regional contests, and adopted by stakeholders in 11 additional states. 

Online voting will begin Wednesday March 1, 12:01 a.m. and remain open until Friday, March 3, 11:59 p.m. at www.whatssocool.org.  

Voting is open to contest participants and the public, who may vote for more than one video and as often as they wish. The winner will be announced during this year’s awards event on March 14 at 7 p.m. 

“We are thrilled to celebrate the 10th year of What’s So Cool with the Lehigh Valley community at our annual awards event,” says Rich Hobbs, MRC president & CEO. “While we anticipate a record-breaking voting response, what we love seeing most is the hard work and collaboration between the students, teachers and manufacturers, as well as the impact of sharing their message about manufacturing opportunities right here in our region.” 

LANTA to discuss route changes

The Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority (LANTA) said it plans to hold an open house to receive public comments and discuss proposed service changes.  

The meeting is planned for March 22 at 10 a.m. in Bethlehem City Hall at 10 E. Church Street.  

The meeting, which will also be offered online at www.lantabus.com, will address proposed changes to the LANtaBus system, which are scheduled to take effect in June. 

The transportation authority said roposed changes include EBS Blue and Green Lines, as well as Routes 103, 603, 213/218, and 322.  

With increasing demand, Lehigh Valley Planning Commission raising fees

Citing an increased demand in development, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission said it is raising fees for the first time in six years. 

Starting March 1 fees for filing Subdivision and Land Development and Stormwater Management plan applications will be increasing.  

The new fee schedule is:  

  • $200 — Lot line adjustment
  • $265 — Residential development, plus $20 for each lot above six.
  • $415 — Non-Residential, plus $15 for every 1,000 square feet above 5,000.
  • $415 — Non-Residential without a building, plus $20 for each acre above three.
  • $1,175 — Stormwater Reviews for projects with more than 10,000 square feet of impervious coverage, plus $45 per each disturbed acre between two acres and 40 acres.
  • $4,000 – Escrow fee required for stormwater reviews of projects with more than 10,000 square feet of impervious coverage and more than 40 acres of disturbed land.

All fees were determined through an analysis of the actual time needed to perform the reviews. 

The commission said the increased fees come at a time when development across the region has reached what it described as a fever pace, with the frequency and complexity of plans increasing.  

LVPC Community and Environmental planners and engineers perform reviews for land development and stormwater management plans designed to determine whether the plans meet local planning and zoning regulation and follow the policies laid out in FutureLV: The Regional Plan.  

The reviews are advisory in nature, leaving the municipality the project is located in with the power to accept, reject or request improvements to a project.  

The commission said most plans are filed by developers advancing multimillion-dollar projects, but they can be as small as a two-unit subdivision.  

The LVPC reviewed 547 land development or lot line adjustment plans and 223 stormwater management plans in 2022 – the most since 2008.   


Lehigh Valley housing prices, inventory trend upward for January

While closing sales dipped in the housing market in the Lehigh Valley in January, the good news is inventory is up meaning there’s more houses for buyers to choose from. 

The Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors said January data showed the start of the year in a state of rebalance, with many buyers and sellers remaining cautious while they wait to see where the real estate market is headed. 

“Although home prices remain high, mortgage rates declined steadily throughout January, falling to their lowest level since September, sparking a recent surge in mortgage demand,” said GLVR CEO Justin Porembo. “Lower rates should aid in affordability and may soon lead to an uptick in market activity ahead of the spring selling season.” 

Closed Sales dipped 38.1% to 349 listings, however, inventory, which has been at record lows, increased 12.8% 

There were 571 available housing units in January for Lehigh and Northampton counties. That increase in inventory led to months’ supply of inventory trending upward 28.6% to 0.9 months.  

With inventory still not at sufficient, comfortable levels, the median sales price increased 10.9% to $300,000.

Also in January, new listings slipped 9.2% to 492. Pending sales were down 4.2% to 453. 

Percentage of list price received tumbled 2.7% to 99%. 

 Homes sold on average in 27 days, an increase of 22.7% or five days. 

Looking at Carbon County, the median sales price increased to $231,000. Closed sales were down to 37. Pending Sales dropped to 42. New listings dipped to 58 – a change of just four listings. Inventory increased to 101 units, leading to a months’ supply of inventory that increased to 1.6 months. Days on market jumped to 46 days. 

“Demand for housing persists, and many would say higher mortgage interest rates have cut into housing affordability,” said GLVR President Howard Schaeffer. “But with homes spending a little longer on the market, buyers have more time and negotiating power when shopping for a home. Seller concessions are making a comeback, too. At the end of a deal, it all balances out, and my clients are notably seeing in real-time the affordability story isn’t quite as alarming as it seems on the surface.” 

Updating a cement plant

ZAP Engineering and Construction Services undertook a project in which a cement plant required the replacement of heat exchanging cyclones in the preheater tower. PHOTO/COURTESY ZAP ENGINEERING
ZAP Engineering and Construction Services undertook a project in which a cement plant required the replacement of heat exchanging cyclones in the preheater tower. PHOTO/COURTESY ZAP ENGINEERING –

The cement industry has a long and storied history in the Lehigh Valley with some of the country’s earliest cement manufacturing taking place right here.   

With concrete being the most widely used construction material on earth, it is no surprise that the need to produce cement, a critical component in concrete, would be ever increasing.   

As production at cement plants continued to increase over the generations, so did technological advancements, which resulted in larger and more complex systems being created for cement manufacturing.  Now, cement manufacturing facilities are truly an engineering marvel in the size and scope of the equipment needed for modern cement production.   

These plants operate in tough conditions and even the largest and most advanced equipment succumbs to the millions of tons of raw materials that can run through them each year.   

The maintenance and eventual repair of the equipment poses its own engineering challenges, especially when key pieces of equipment need to be replaced.  For those situations, it takes an experienced team of multi-discipline engineers to tackle the problem from evaluating solutions, engineering complex modifications, and working closely with construction contractors to carefully plan a project.   

ZAP Engineering and Construction Services, a Colorado based company with a soon to open, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania office, undertook a project in which a cement plant required the replacement of heat exchanging cyclones in the preheater tower. 

The design process started with an evaluation of the tower structure with the aim of determining the structural constraints and determining how structural design codes and standards have changed since the tower was built, requiring a complete and detailed analysis of the tower to determine the structural limitations for the cyclones.  

From this model it was determined that before the new, larger refractory lined vessels could be installed in the tower that structural reinforcement would be required to bring the preheater tower into compliance with current building codes, including seismic and wind requirements.   

After the completion of the structural analysis and determination of the structural limitations as they applied to the cyclones and the inlet and outlet ducts, the process team was brought in to analyze the existing cyclones and connecting ductwork.   

As part of the replacement of the cyclones, ZAP was also asked to evaluate advancing the design to increase the cyclone efficiency of which the operational evaluation identified gas velocities and pressure drop as key improvement areas. 

The design process commenced with taking a 3D scan of the project area.  At the completion of this process a CFD model of the existing stage 2 to stage 1 risers, stage 1 cyclones and stage 1 exit ducts was developed.   

The new cyclones and ducts were to have refractory lining to provide wear resistance and insulation protection to the steel.  The refractory design would add weight to the vessel and was therefore limited in thickness by the structural limitations of the tower.   

As the needs of the project grew, so did the complexity of the modification which engaged all engineering disciplines to come up with an integrated solution.   

This final solution integrated the needs of the installation contractor who was actively engaged in the planning aspects of the project. 

The installation of the new cyclones and ducts was a challenging portion of this project and involved the demolition of the concrete tower roof, removal of two concrete roof beams as well as the old ducts and cyclones.   

It was decided to use a single contractor for the fabrication, demolition and installation. This gave the contactor the freedom to fabricate the cyclones and ducts in a manner that not only met the design criteria but aided in installation.  

The plant had a very tight shutdown window of 21 days during which the demolition of the old cyclones and installation of the new could occur. This required careful planning and sequencing to ensure that the schedule was met without any compromise to safety or quality of the finished product. 

These types of large, complex engineering projects are becoming more common across the heavy industrial space as the growing base of aging heavy industrial equipment that needs repair and upgrades.   

It takes a high level of competence and teamwork amongst an engineering team that spans disciplines to successfully execute it in a safe and effective manner. 


Jeff Kutz is vice president of East Coast Engineering for ZAP Engineering & Construction Services 


LVHN to build behavioral health hospital in Hanover Township

Rendering of the planned 144-bed behavioral health hospital Lehigh Valley Health Network begans to build starting next spring. IMAGE/COURTESY LVHN
Rendering of the planned 144-bed behavioral health hospital Lehigh Valley Health Network begans to build starting next spring. IMAGE/COURTESY LVHN –

Lehigh Valley Health Network has announced plans to build a 144-bed behavioral health hospital that would create more than 300 jobs to the Lehigh Valley 

LVHN said it is partnering with Universal Health Services to build the hospital.  

The proposed new joint-venture facility will be located on Macada Road in Hanover Township, across from the Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Muhlenberg campus. 

UHS, headquartered in King of Prussia, is one of the nation’s leading providers of behavioral health care. 

Groundbreaking for the new 97,000-square-foot facility will be held in spring 2024 with the hospital expected to open in the fall of 2025. 

“The scarcity of mental health resources is a major national issue that is hitting us hard, right here in the Lehigh Valley,” said Brian A. Nester, president and CEO of LVHN. “The need for a variety of behavioral health programs and services is far outpacing regional capacity, and those needs are only growing. As the region’s leading health care provider.” 

He said the new facility across the street from services currently available at LVH Muhlenberg will nearly triple the number of inpatient beds available to the Lehigh Valley.  

“We are excited to partner with LVHN on the construction of this new facility that will incorporate the latest innovative evidence-based care elements for maximum patient safety and clinical outcomes,” said Matt Peterson, president of the Behavioral Health Division of UHS. “LVHN is an outstanding provider of critically needed services in the Lehigh Valley and surrounding region. Our missions are aligned, and we share a commitment to expand access to compassionate care and treatment for all populations in the region.” 

Edward Norris, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at LVHN, commented on the project. 

“Whole person health is incomplete without comprehensive mental health services, and it has never been more apparent that this is a service our community wants, needs and relies on,” he said. “Our annual Community Health Needs Assessments consistently reveal that access to leading-edge, convenient and compassionate behavioral health care is a top priority. This project addresses that long-standing need.” 

Nester said LVHN provides inpatient and outpatient behavioral health services, including extensive tele-psychiatry programs.  

Demand for services has increased rapidly in recent years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the need for inpatient psychiatric capacity for all populations in the region.  

LVHN selected UHS as its partner because of its long-standing commitment to patient- and family-centered care, strong clinical outcomes and proven track record of partnering with community-based entities. 

UHS is one of the nation’s largest providers of health care with more than 300 facilities. 

The new facility will be operated by the joint venture and will create more than 300 full-time jobs including nurses, clinicians, therapists, technicians and administrative staff. 

Service Electric celebrating 75 years

John M. Walson –

LVB: How does it feel to have your family’s business celebrating its 75th Anniversary? 

Walson: I feel very honored and privileged to be able to continue my grandfather’s and father’s legacies for so many years.  I’m proud to say that Service Electric continues to be a family-owned and family-focused company, and that we have been able to support the communities we serve since 1948.  It’s amazing how quickly the time flies by.  I remember celebrating our 50th anniversary like it was yesterday – It’s hard to believe that was 25 years ago.

LVB: What are some of your earliest and proudest memories of your family’s company? 

Walson: I have very fond memories as a kid of my dad bringing me to work with him. I can recall always looking forward to it and was amazed how many different jobs he had on his shoulders at that time. He basically exposed me to all facets of our company at a very young age, so I guess you can say it’s always been a part of my life. However, he never forced me to get involved in our business; that happened organically. I can recall being very fascinated with the technical end of the company, whether it was at our headend or our TV studio. Other memories I have include the inaugural launches of many popular cable channels in the early to mid 80’s like the Weather Channel and MTV. I can also recall the very early days of pay-per-view movies and sporting events like Wrestlemania and many Mike Tyson fights.

LVB: Tell me about the early days of Service Electric and how the company basically created the cable industry? 

Walson: My grandfather, John Walson, Sr. had an appliance store in Mahanoy City that he ran with my grandmother, Margaret Walson. Back in the late 40’s there were only three TV stations – ABC, CBS and NBC, and television sets were a new thing. The problem in Mahanoy City was that it was in a valley, so an antenna would not pick up the broadcast signal from the stations. My grandfather wanted to sell televisions, and fortunately he had a warehouse at the top of the mountain overlooking the town. I’m leaving out some details, but he basically came up with the idea to build a large antenna tower at his warehouse and then run a cable from the antenna down to his appliance store. He put three TVs in the display window, each showing one of the channels. As the story goes, people would literally gather around the storefront to watch, and the demand for the televisions was huge.

My grandfather devised a system of cables, amplifiers, new antennas plus other innovative technologies to bring the signal down the mountain and into people’s homes. It was the invention of cable TV, and my grandfather was recognized by both Congress and the National Cable Television Association for creating the nation’s first cable television system in 1948. When I think about what that meant for technology and how it would affect the future of the world as we know it, that’s pretty amazing.

LVB: How large of an impact do you think Service Electric has had on not only this community, but the world because of the technology it first developed? 

Walson: I truly believe that the technology that my grandfather pioneered has literally changed the world. I remember when my father and the team at Service Electric first started talking about getting into providing Internet service. At that time, he was really skeptical about the Internet and knew that it would be a huge investment to modify our cable TV systems to handle it. All we really had to go on in the early 90’s was the fact that AOL dialup was becoming more popular. The big difference was that my dad recognized that “the return,” basically being able to have two-way communication, was the future of cable. Actually, in 1986 there was an interview with my grandfather where he stated that he envisioned a day when there would be two-way communication over cable. He talked about using the technology in the classroom and for other services.  That’s the thing about my grandfather and my father, they had a mindset to always look toward the future.

The risky part of bringing Internet to our customers was that we had to quite literally build another system ‘on top’ of the cable TV system to handle Internet.  But we did it, little-by-little starting in 1995. Initially we worked with ProLog and used a cable/dial-up solution.  By 2013 our entire system supported two-way, high-speed Internet over cable. Looking back, the whole idea was a huge risk, but my father and grandfather had a vision and they were determined to make it happen. Luckily, they found some like-minded people along the way and were able to create strong partnerships, like the relationship we have with PenTeleData, to continue pushing for more innovation.

LVB: How has the technology developed and changed over the years? 

Walson: Just since I’ve been involved with the company there have been huge changes to the industry. In cable TV alone, we went from 3 channels to 500 channels and moved to a 24 hour news cycle. I’ve been fortunate to be part of this since I was a kid. Back in 1990 I started coming in after school to roll commercial breaks on our TV2 nightly news show. I later worked my way into shooting news excerpts and press conferences around the Lehigh Valley. I really got into video engineering throughout my career and the innovation in the equipment and the flexibility that gives us is amazing. TV2 is now the Service Electric Network (SEN) and we are doing more than ever with local sports, IronPigs, Phantoms, Musikfest, community events and our own shows.  We’ve got multiple, remote units that allow us to show live games and events with minimal setup time.

On the communications services side, we’ve gone from one-way Internet back in the 90’s to now having a rich fiber network covering our entire service area.  This allows us to offer high-speed Internet, fiber optic solutions for businesses, cloud-based telephone systems and other communications solutions with a very reliable infrastructure that our customers depend on and, quite frankly, expect. As a great example, when COVID hit and everyone was suddenly working and going to school remotely, our network didn’t even flinch. We were easily able to meet the challenge and handle the increase in bandwidth demand. 

LVB: What does the future hold for Service Electric? 

Walson: As everything continues to move toward using a reliable, high-speed internet connection, our focus has been on making sure that we can deliver that to our customers. Our systems are becoming 100% I.P. based, which gives us a lot of flexibility to provide a variety of services to our customers through that high-speed connection. We recognize that our customers are expecting us to continue being innovative and we are up to the challenge. We are constantly implementing new technologies and are looking for the next opportunity to provide cutting-edge services to our customers.

I also want to mention one other thing that a lot of people do not know about Service Electric. My grandparents and parents lived by certain values, the most important being that it is our responsibility to support our community.  I’m very privileged to be part of a company that does so much work in the community and supports so many local organizations. I’m also proud that Service Electric employs more than 450 local people and intends to continue growing as we move toward 100 years in business. I would like to thank our customers for supporting us over the years to make all of this possible

GLVR reports on 2022 Lehigh Valley housing market

The Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors (GLVR) has released its report on the 2022 local housing market.
It shows that pending sales decreased 14.1%, finishing 2022 at 7,515. Closed sales were down 12.1 percent to end the year at 7,675.

Comparing 2022 to the prior year, the number of homes available for sale was up 6.4%. There were 602 active listings at the end of 2022. New listings decreased by 10.5% to finish the year at 8,942.

Sellers received, on average, 102% of their original list price. Year-over-year the original list price increased 0.4%.

Previous forbearance efforts by the government and lenders limited distressed sales activity once again.  

In 2022, the percentage of closed sales that were either foreclosure or short sale finished the year at 0.4% of the market – or 31 properties out of the 7,675 closed for the year.  

Foreclosure and short sale activity may increase in 2023, though the strong gains in equity seen by most homeowners in the last few years will help to limit the number of distressed sales.

Home prices were up compared to the previous year. The overall median sales price increased 12.9% to $293,000 for the year. Single Family home prices were up 11.5% compared to last year, and Townhouse-Condo home prices were up 15%.

In Carbon County, closed sales were down 5.2% to 799. There were 951 new listings, and the year closed with 91 active listings.  

The percentage of list price received at sale for 2022 was, on average, 96.7%. The overall median sales price increased 7.7% to $210,000. 

Looking ahead to 2023, The GLVR said much depends on inflation, mortgage interest rates, and the broader state of the economy. 

While economists predict many of 2022’s housing trends will continue into this year, home sales will soften, price growth will moderate, inventory will remain tight. 

Former GIANT exec hired to impact access to fresh, affordable food

Nicholas Bertram is accustomed to making a giant impact. 

The retail industry veteran and former president of The GIANT Company has joined the leadership team of Flashfood in the newly created position of president and chief operating officer.  

Flashfood is a digital marketplace connecting consumers to fresh, discounted foods such as bakery and deli items, meats, produce, and snacks nearing their best-by date. The Toronto-based company is used in grocers in Central Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley. 

During Bertram’s tenure at GIANT, the company tested the app across four locations in Lancaster in 2020 and announced at the time it would be implementing the app in 170 participating GIANT and Martin’s Markets stores. 

Flashfood Founder and CEO Josh Domingues said in a statement that Bertram brings “an unprecedented level” of first-hand leadership experience with many of the biggest names in retail, including GIANT, Walmart, and Jewel-Osco. 

“His vision and successes around sustainable retailing align perfectly with our company’s mission to reduce food that is wasted throughout the retail sector,” said Domingues. “Nick has seen how the level of waste experienced by grocers represents billions of dollars in lost revenue and understands the massive impact this also has on our planet. 


“More importantly, he understands how this food could have helped families, which is a shared passion he brings to Flashfood that will help fuel our next phase of growth.” 


Bertram has more than 20 years of experience in the retail sector. His tenure with GIANT resulted in reported historic growth via acquisitions, market expansion, new formats, and exponential growth of digital engagement and eCommerce sales. 


“I have never been more excited about the collective impact the food industry, sustainability-minded investors and technology companies like Flashfood can have on our future,” Bertram said. “Josh and the rest of the board of directors have given me an amazing opportunity to join at this stage, with such a talented team and unique product. 


Flashfood enjoyed an historic year in 2022 as it diverted more than 65 million pounds of food from landfills. The milestone was achieved after the company’s expansion to over 1,550 grocery stores in North America. 


Along with providing consumers and retailers with a solution to reduce food waste, Flashfood stated in a press release that it has fed hundreds of thousands of families and saved shoppers more than $150 million on grocery bills at a time when food costs are rising more than 11 percent. 


Flashfood’s free app on iOS and Android operates in over 1,550 grocery locations throughout the U.S. and Canada. The app allows consumers to purchase items from grocery retailers and pick them up in-store at lower prices and at the same time reduce food waste. 


Flashfood works with The GIANT Company, Meijer, Tops Friendly Markets, Loblaw, Martin’s Markets, VG’s, Family Fare, Food Lion, Stop & Shop, Giant Food, Save A Lot, and Giant Eagle. 


“Together with its retail partners,” Bertram said, “Flashfood is already making huge inroads in reducing food waste while helping consumers save money – and now is the right time to accelerate this bold work.” 


As COO, Bertram will seek to accelerate Flashfood’s growth, working with Domingues and internal department leaders to develop capabilities and innovation that impact both food insecurity and food waste. 

After weeks of increases, gas prices finally slip

Motorists are finding a little bit of relief at the pump. 

The average price for a gallon of regular gasoline dropped by nearly 4 cents a gallon this week after rising 8 and 6.5 cents per gallon, respectively, over the two prior weeks. 

The average price for a gallon of gas in Pennsylvania is almost four cents lower this week at $3.756 per gallon, according to the most recent AAA East Central Gas Price Report. 

There was a smaller drop in the Lehigh Valley. The average price for a gallon of gas dropped to $3.659 Feb. 7 as compared to $3.714 Jan. 31.             

The national average for a gallon of gas is almost 5 cents lower this week at $3.457.  

Today’s national average, however, is 1cents more than a month ago and almost two cents higher than a year ago. 

AAA said that last week’s decision by OPEC+ to maintain current production levels and not make any cuts helped lead to this week’s lower oil prices.  

Oil prices account for as much as 60% of the cost of a gallon of gas.  

According to data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), gas demand rose from 8.14 million to 8.49 million barrels per day last week. Meanwhile, total domestic gasoline stocks increased by 2.6 million barrels to 234.6 million barrels. Despite rising gas demand, total supply growth has helped limit pump price increases. 

At the close of Friday’s formal trading session, AAA said West Texas Intermediate decreased by $2.49 to settle at $73.39.  

Crude prices fell last week amid ongoing market concerns that if a recession occurs this year, crude demand and prices would likely decline. Additionally, crude prices dropped after the EIA reported that total commercial stocks increased by 4.2 million barrels to 452.7 million barrels. 


Lehigh Valley office vacancy rate up

The commercial office vacancy rate in the Lehigh Valley was on the rise at the end of 2022. 

According to a report from the commercial real estate firm, Colliers’ Philadelphia office, in the Lehigh Valley the office vacancy rate rose from 16.6% to 18.1% in the fourth quarter of the year. 

The firm said the addition of the new building at The Waterfront in Allentown was the main reason for the vacancy rate increase.  

Overall, leasing activity remains limited in the area.  

Colliers said the most notable transaction was Shift4 Payment’s deal for 74,000 square feet of Dun & Bradstreet sublease in Stabler Corporate Center.  

Shift4 will be moving and expanding from Lehigh Valley Executive Campus.  

With the shift to remote and hybrid work, companies have reevaluated the need for large, back-office operations.  

For example, Aetna shut its call center in an office building at the Lehigh Shopping Center.  

Although still utilizing the building, Guardian Life is offering its full 281,745-square-foot building for sublease. 

Compared to the rest of the Greater Philadelphia Market region that the report detailed, the overall regional vacancy increased from 16.5% to 16.9% in the fourth quarter, lower than the Lehigh Valley rate. 

The region as a whole had an 855,480-square-foot occupancy loss for the year. while significant, it was not as severe as the 2020 and 2021 annual totals.