Two Pennsylvania railroad rehab projects receive $16.4 million in grant funding 

Railroad infrastructure projects in Berks County and Adams and Cumberland counties will receive a total of $16.4 million in grant funding. 

Gov. Tom Wolf announced this week that the Gettysburg & Northern Railroad Co. was awarded up to $1.84 million and the Redevelopment Authority of the County of Berks was awarded up to $14.6 million in Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) grants. 

The grants were made possible by President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, signed last November. The law included $368 million in funding for CRISI grants for 46 projects in 32 states. 

The funding is expected to strengthen supply chains and create good-paying jobs, according to the Wolf Administration. 

“Rail infrastructure is critical to this commonwealth, as we rank first in the nation in the number of operating railroads and nearly top in total track mileage, so this funding will ensure that our infrastructure remains strong and reliable, while creating good-paying jobs,” said Wolf. “I’m grateful to the Biden-Harris Administration for its continued commitment to investing in our infrastructure through the landmark Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which will make a significant difference for not only our physical infrastructure but also our economy and our workforce.” 

Gettysburg & Northern Railroad Co. will use its grant funding for the Gettysburg State and Private Investments Driving Economic Recovery Project, which is expected to rehabilitate approximately 24 miles of the Gettysburg & Northern Railway mainline in Adams and Cumberland counties. 

The Redevelopment Authority of the County of Berks will use its funding for its Colebrookdale Railroad Infrastructure, Safety & Capacity Upgrade. The proposed project will rehabilitate approximately 8.6 miles of track with 130-pound continuous welded rail to ensure compliance with class 2 track standards and the ability to able to handle 286,000-pound railcars between Boyertown and Pottstown. The project will also rehabilitate or replace 14 bridges that are deteriorating, construct two rail-served transload yards, and six new sidings. 

PNC survey shows supply chain plaguing small business owners

Supply chain issues top the list of concerns for small business owners over the last six months, but they see those pressures easing by mid-year.  

In the meantime, inflation pressures are expected to continue to impact these business owners, with a majority planning to further raise their own prices in the near term, according to the latest PNC semi-annual Economic Outlook survey of small and mid-size business owners and executives. 

“The events in Ukraine were not on the minds of business owners when the survey was conducted in January,” said Gus Faucher, PNC chief economist, “There was concern at that time about rising prices, and that worry has likely intensified now given the rapid increase in energy prices, among other factors.” 

In January, a third (34%) of owners who rely on a supply chain said timeliness had worsened in the previous six months.  

Concern about supply chain disruptions was highest in the manufacturing (56%), wholesale/retail (51%) and construction (38%) sectors.  

More than a quarter (28%) of businesses that rely on inventory are faced with the challenge of not having enough supply to meet expected demand. However, six in 10 (57%) expect the timeliness of their supply chain issues to improve in the next six months. 

“Supply chain problems have been a big contributor to the highest inflation the U.S. has seen in almost 40 years. But it is encouraging that most small businesses see supply chain problems easing in the months ahead, which would contribute to a slowing in inflation,” Faucher said. “The wild card now is how long high energy prices and other inflationary factors due to the Ukraine crisis last.” 

Rising prices also are on the minds of business owners. Half (51%) of businesses expect to increase the prices they charge in the next six months, with 36% expecting hikes of 5% or more.  

Nearly two in 10 (16%) of those expecting to increase prices plan to raise them by at least 10%, more than double those respondents who anticipated a similar move last fall (6%). One in three (34%) say their prices already have gone up in the past six months, with four in 10 hiking them by 5% or more. 

Among the 51% expecting to increase their prices, nearly two-thirds (63%) are doing so because they are attempting to keep up with rising non-labor costs, a significant increase compared with 33% in the fall. 

“Six months ago, businesses were raising prices because demand was strong enough that they could. Now it appears they’re raising prices because higher costs are forcing them to,” Faucher said. 


As CFO of Lehigh Valley Restaurant Group, Nikki Bloom has learned to adapt

Nikki Bloom –

The new chief financial officer at Lehigh Valley Restaurant Group didn’t start out looking to be in charge of a company’s finances. Nikki Bloom entered the business world with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology.

She started out as a credit counselor, but when an administrative position opened at the restaurant group 17 years ago, she saw a company she had a chance to grow with.

Eventually, she landed in the accounting department for the company, which runs 21 Red Robin franchises throughout the Lehigh Valley, Harrisburg, Northeast Pennsylvania and Southeast Pennsylvania regions.

Accounting wasn’t her specialty, so she went back to school and earned associate degrees in accounting and business management, and used those skills to build her career.

Her coworkers are glad she did.

Mike Axiotis, CEO of the restaurant group, gives Bloom a lot of credit for keeping the company going during the pandemic and the ongoing worker shortage, supply chain issues and increasing food prices.

The challenges of most of the last two years wasn’t something Bloom, or anyone, was really expecting. She said it has been a delicate dance keeping the company going through such trying times.

“Our goal was not just to survive, but to thrive through the pandemic,” she said.

She used Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) resources to keep as many people employed as she could and implemented cash preservation efforts to control costs as income declined.

“It was about looking at what do we need and what we don’t need and what can we start adding back when things started to come back,” she said.

Working with the other team members, Bloom helped the company improve efficiencies by limiting their menu, a technique many restaurants used to make things easier with a limited staff and a smaller customer base.

The company also brought in tents so they could offer outdoor seating when indoor seating was limited and put an emphasis on improving their takeout business, which they were able to offer through most of the shutdown.

“Any supplies that we could change to make it more cost effective, we changed,” she said. “We had to keep an eye on costs, but we also had to compete.”

The key was to find things they could trim without impacting the customer experience, so people would want to continue to come back.

But keeping customers coming back wasn’t the only challenge. The restaurant industry as a whole has faced massive staffing shortages, which impacted LVRG as well.

The company was trying to hire from the same smaller pool of interested workers as their competitors, and while offering more money was something everyone was doing, she tried wo work to offer other intangible benefits to workers so they would feel more engaged with the company and enjoy their work.

Even with the pandemic restrictions limited, challenges have continued throughout 2021 as the worker shortage lingered, and more recently food prices began to skyrocket.

While LVRG has had to raise prices like most restaurants, prices can only be raised so much before it’s too much for the consumer even if their costs continue to rise, she said. That’s where the company had to get creative.

“We have a great food and beverage guy who worked with our vendors to manage our supply chain to deal with those rising costs and not price ourselves out,” she said.

Depending on how long the supply chain issues last, she expects her job isn’t going to get easier any time soon, but she said she is up to the challenge of keeping those Red Robin franchises in the black.

And Axiotis said the company is lucky to have her.

“Nikki values integrity, ethical behavior, lifelong learning for her and her team, building relationships with team members and our vendor partners, and time with her family and friends,” he said. “She is a true brand ambassador of LVRG, and her many accomplishments are a great example of how passion, empathy, commitment, and continued education are a pathway to leadership and success. I am truly proud and honored to have her on our team.”