Lehigh Valley, Central Pa. projects receive new funding for clean transportation

Lehigh Valley  and central Pennsylvania are among the regions hosting projects that were awarded funding Tuesday from the Shapiro Administration for clean transportation. 

In Dauphin County, Aero Corp. is receiving $300,000 for six DC fast chargers at Harrisburg International Airpoirt for Aero’s fleet of rental electric vehicles. The chargers will also be available to other car rental companies. 

In Northampton County, Bethlehem Parking Authority has been awarded $15,000 for two electric cars for parking enforcement. 

The state’s Highland Electric Fleets has been granted $75,000 for 10 electric vans and $225,000 for 20 DC fast chargers. 

In all, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) awarded a total of $1.5 million in 2022 Alternative Fuels Incentive Grant (AFIG) funding to help the state’s businesses, municipalities, and schools switch to clean transportation and improve air quality. 

DEP Acting Secretary Rich Negrin said in a statement that the Shapiro Administration is committed to growing Pennsylvania’s economy while protecting the state’s constitutional right to clean air and pure water. 

“A growing number of organizations and businesses in Pennsylvania want to lower their transportation emissions,” said Negrin. “Today’s announcement demonstrates a shared commitment between the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and our local communities and businesses to improve air quality, address climate change, and increase the use of renewable energy across the Commonwealth.” 

The AFIG program aids businesses, municipalities, and nonprofit organizations in the use of clean transportation to replace older gasoline or diesel fueled vehicles. Recipients of this grant will replace 88 old gas or diesel vehicles with 78 electric and 10 renewable natural gas vehicles and install 36 chargers for electric vehicles. 

Gasoline and diesel vehicles currently generate 47% of nitrogen oxides emissions in Pennsylvania, contributing to ground-level ozone that affects the health of children, older people, people who work or are active outdoors, and people with asthma, emphysema, or other lung conditions. 

In all, the transportation sector comprises 22% of Pennsylvania’s greenhouse gas emissions. 

Putting additional zero- and low-emission vehicles on Pennsylvania roads is aimed at reducing harmful air pollutants and lowering the level of carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases heating the climate. 

Lehigh Valley renters becoming cost burdened

The Lehigh Valley’s median renter qualifies as cost burdened when it comes to housing these days, as affordability plummets. Households are considered cost burdened when they spend more than 30% of their income on rent, mortgage and other housing needs.

In Northampton County, the median housing cost ratio for renters was 30.1% (an estimated 32,729 occupied rental units) while it was 30.7% in Lehigh County (an estimated 48,003 occupied rental units).

Over 19 million U.S. renter households spent more than 30% of their income on housing costs in 2021, according to data from the 2017-2021 American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year estimates.

The burden was especially high in some of the nation’s largest counties where housing is pricier or in areas where incomes are low.

The ACS collects a variety of housing cost information for renters (monthly rent and utility bills) and for homeowners (mortgage principal and interest, real estate taxes, homeowner’s insurance, utilities, mobile home costs, second mortgage payments and condominium fees if applicable).

Homeowners in most of the country had a lower median cost burden than renters.

High housing costs can impact the amount of money households are able to save or use for other expenses. The ACS data show that renters were particularly vulnerable to cost burdens.

Part of the reason that rental housing cost is so high, as a percentage of income, is the lack of homes to purchase, combined with higher interest rates.

Loren Keim, president/broker of Century 21 Keim Realtors, wrote in an email: “There’s an old adage that says you are always buying a house, whether you’re buying one for yourself or you’re buying one for your landlord. And rental rates are a function of supply and demand. The current demand is very high, leading to upward pressure on rental rates. These increasing housing costs directly impact how much money households can save and how much disposable income each household has.”

Consumers have to make a decision whether to buy or rent, he said, and the lack of affordability is affecting home sales, too.

“Housing affordability in the Lehigh Valley dropped to the lowest level since I started tracking it in 2005, at only 79,” Keim said.

An index of 100 means median household income is 100% of what is necessary to qualify for a median-priced home under current interest rates. “A higher number means greater affordability. At a level of 79, that means the median household income won’t qualify with current interest rates for the median-priced home. This index has been at or above 100 since we started tracking in January of 2005, and in fact was above 200 at several points between 2011 and 2015.”

“I expect rental rates to continue to rise, although slower than the last 18 months, for several reasons,” Heim said. “In the Lehigh Valley, although there are several multifamily projects in development or under construction, there is still a low vacancy rate, leading to competition for those rental units. Additionally, developers and investment property buyers are paying more for construction and borrowing at higher interest rates to build projects, which drives their costs higher, which is passed onto the tenant.”

Rising rents can be explained by several factors, he said. The costs to maintain apartments, including lawn care, snow removal, landscaping, repairs and renovations, has also jumped. “The cost of utilities, for those landlords paying for utilities, has risen. All this leads to increased landlord cost, which is being passed along to the tenants in the form of higher rental rates.”

Anecdotally, Keim said, this has led some tenants to move farther from the Lehigh Valley into areas like Carbon and Schuylkill counties in order to find lower rents.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Cryogenics manufacturer moving to Forks Township

A Northampton County Company is relocating and consolidating its operations with some help from the state. 

CryoConcepts, a manufacturer of portable cryosurgery and cryotherapy products, is moving from its current Bethlehem facility to a larger location in Forks Township. 

The project is expected to create at least 61 new jobs, the company said. 

Governor Tom Wolf announced the plan on Thursday. 

“Having an innovative, pioneering company like CryoConcepts chose to grow their operations in Pennsylvania speaks volumes about our business environment and how it empowers companies to succeed and thrive here,” said Wolf. “It’s also a testament to the great work that the Governor’s Action Team has done throughout my administration to attract new businesses and also help keep companies like CryoConcepts in the commonwealth.” 

CryoConcepts will move from its 7,519-square-foot Bethlehem facility to a 23,275-square-foot facility in Forks Township, consolidating operations. 

 “CryoConcepts is committed to expanding its manufacturing capabilities in the Lehigh Valley,” said Sam Niedbala, CEO of CryoConcepts. “The Governor’s Action Team helped us navigate to our new facility, along with support for training our expanding workforce. Because of their great support, we’ve been able to quickly ramp up to meet our production needs.” 

 The Department of Community and Economic Development offered the company a $400,000 Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority loan, a $183,000 Pennsylvania First grant and a $50,000 workforce development grant to train workers. 

 In addition to the new jobs that will be created in Northampton County, the state said CryoConcepts has committed to retaining 28 existing, full-time jobs statewide and investing $1.6 million into the project within the next three years. 

 “I’m glad that DCED and the Governor’s Action Team could help get this project across the finish line and keep this manufacturing company here in Pennsylvania,” said DCED Acting Secretary Neil Weaver. “CryoConcepts is a growing, trail-blazing company that will help bolster economic growth in the Lehigh Valley region.” 



Ag businesses may be eligible for disaster relief

Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding encouraged farmers, small agricultural cooperatives, aquaculture businesses and other small businesses and non-profits to apply for low-interest federal loans to help them recover from losses due to excessive heat and draught between June 18 and Sept. 14 of this year. 

 Following U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s four disaster declarations for New Jersey counties, USDA Farm Service Agency disaster recovery loans and Economic Injury Disaster Loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) are now available in adjacent Pennsylvania counties Bucks, Delaware, Monroe, Northampton, Philadelphia and Pike. 

Farmers and other agriculture producers are eligible to apply for USDA disaster recovery loans. Nurseries are eligible to apply for SBA loans to recover from drought-related damage. Businesses not eligible for USDA emergency loans may be eligible for SBA loans. 

“These vital federal resources can mean the difference between surviving and going under after bouts of increasingly severe weather,” said Redding. “Just as we hope agriculture businesses don’t leave money on the table that helps them assess their risks, diversify revenue and plan for growth, we would encourage Pennsylvania businesses to take advantage of federal loans to help them recover from severe weather.” 

Loan amounts can be up to $2 million with interest rates of 2.935 percent for small businesses and 1.875 percent for private nonprofit organizations, with terms up to 30 years.  

Applicants in Pennsylvania should search for current disaster declarations in New Jersey – four declarations cover different PA counties and date ranges — and follow directions to apply online using the Electronic Loan Application (ELA) via SBA’s secure website at https://disasterloanassistance.sba.gov/ela/s/  



Pair of Lehigh Valley business approved for state loans

Two Northampton County companies have been approved for low-interest loans through the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced the approvals this week, along with four other PIDA loans to support business growth.

Continental Cup Co. LLC, through Lehigh Valley Economic Investment Corp., will receive a 10-year $210,000 loan at 3.75% fixed interest rate to buy machinery and equipment, including a lid automation system; dome lid mold; die cutter and punching machine; forklifts; racking system; pumps; and other small equipment, which will be installed at its manufacturing facility at 1920 Spillman Drive, Bethlehem.

Total project cost is $491,562, and Continental Cup has committed to create 44 full-time jobs and retain 27 employees within three years.

Green Leaf Productions Inc., through Lehigh Valley Economic Investment Corp., will get a 10-year $945,000 loan at a 3% reset interest rate to acquire a 10,450-square-foot office building at 161 North Commerce Way, Hanover Township. The project site, which will be used as a full-service multimedia production facility, will provide Green Leaf with more production space and allow it to expand.

Total project cost is $2.1 million, and the company has committed to create 25 full-time jobs within three years.

So far this year, a release said, PIDA has approved more than $41.5 million in low-interest loans, producing almost $91 million in private investment and supporting 998 created and retained full-time jobs.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer