Community Action Lehigh Valley gains Wells Fargo grant

Community Action Lehigh Valley has received a $100,000 grant from Wells Fargo. 

The grant will go to help the local anti-poverty nonprofit support its counseling, financial coaching, housing, small business, and neighborhood revitalization programs. 

In addition, Community Action Lehigh Valley Executive Director Dawn Godshall was recognized at Musikfest for the nonprofit’s work to improve the quality of life for Lehigh Valley residents. 

Godshall called the Wells Fargo grant “transformative.” It is part of a 6-year, $300,000 grant from Wells Fargo through the Pennsylvania Neighborhood Partnership Program (PA NPP) aimed at empowering Community Action Lehigh Valley to drive the region’s economic progress. 

“Wells Fargo’s commitment to community enrichment is exactly the kind of partnership that helps Community Action to do the great work that we do,” Godshall said in a statement. 

Community Action’s areas of impact, including business start-up, aligns with Wells Fargo’s community impact and philanthropic focus areas. 

Wells Fargo Greater Pennsylvania Regional Branch Network Executive Laura Haffner noted Community Action’s work to advance economic opportunity in the Lehigh Valley.

“As the Bank of Doing, Wells Fargo takes action to put people and communities first and has long supported Community Action Lehigh Valley,” Haffner said. “And ‘doing’ goes far beyond the investments we make. It is the sum of the impact we have when we work together to tackle societal challenges. Community Action gets this – they make our community stronger, and we are proud to support them in their efforts.”

Wells Fargo to close one of its Allentown branches

Wells Fargo is closing its branch in Allentown’s Airport Road Shopping Center and also consolidating some of its corporate employees in Berks County.

Both changes were reported in the weekly bulletin of the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Wells Fargo said in a statement that it made a “difficult decision” to shutter the branch at 1840 Airport Road, which will close Nov. 1.

“Until then, you can use this branch and bank with us as you always have. After that, you can visit us at our Boulevard branch at 1602 Union Blvd., approximately less than 1 mile away. Other nearby branches are the Westgate Mall and Schadt Avenue. We apologize for any inconvenience this might cause.”

Like other financial institutions, Wells Fargo offers multiple ways to bank, including its network of banking locations, by phone, mail, online or on the Wells Fargo Mobile app.

This is not a move Wells Fargo takes lightly, the company said. “Branches continue to play an important role in the way we serve our customers, and we continuously evaluate our branch network in light of changing customer needs, the increase in the use of digital banking and market factors.”

Wells Fargo also relocated its employees from the corporate office at 600 Penn St., Reading, to 1 Meridian Blvd., Wyomissing.

“As part of our multiyear effort to build a stronger, more efficient Wells Fargo, we continually assess our real estate portfolio to ensure we are best meeting the needs of employees and customers, responding to consumer and economic trends, and managing our costs responsibly,” Wells Fargo said.

“We are committed to our Berks County-based employees. We will continue to have an employee presence in the area, but we had more real estate than we needed to support these employees.”

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Wells Fargo closes West Lawn branch

Wells Fargo has shuttered its West Lawn branch at 2137 Penn Avenue, Spring Township, as it continues consolidation. The banking giant also is set to close its locations in Quarryville and North Seventh Street in Allentown in September.

“Wells Fargo made the difficult decision to close the West Lawn branch on Wednesday, July 12,” a statement from the company said. “Customers can now visit our Spring Township branch in Wyomissing, located about 1 mile away. There are other nearby branches in Shillington and Reading. We apologize for any inconvenience this might cause.”

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Wells Fargo to close two bank branches in Lancaster and Lehigh counties

Due to the increase in digital banking and other reasons, Wells Fargo will close two of its bank branches in Central Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley, the company confirmed.

In a weekly bulletin last month published by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the financial institution said it was shuttering its locations at 702 N. Seventh St., Allentown, and 1 S. Church St., Quarryville.

Wells Fargo said in a statement that it “has made the difficult decision to close the Quarryville … branch on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023, and the North Seventh Street branch in Allentown … on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023, respectively. Until then, customers can use each branch and bank with us as they always have. After that, North Seventh Street customers can visit us at our 5 City Center branch, less than a mile away. Quarryville customers can visit us at our Bridgeport branch, approximately 11 miles away. We apologize for any inconvenience … .”

This is not a decision taken lightly, Wells Fargo said. “Branches continue to play an important role in the way we serve our customers, and we continuously evaluate our branch network in light of changing customer needs, the increase in the use of digital banking and market factors.”

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Wells Fargo closing branches in Bethlehem, Allentown

Wells Fargo is closing two of its branches in the Lehigh Valley this spring “in light of changing customer needs, market factors and economic trends,” a statement from the bank said.

The locations are at 4797 W. Tilghman St., Allentown (South Parkland Branch) and 2555 Easton Ave., Bethlehem (Rodgers Street Office).

Notice of the closures was reported in the March 5-11 Weekly Bulletin of the Office of Comptroller of the Currency. Nearly 30 Wells Fargo branches overall across the country are listed as closing in the most recent OCC Weekly Bulletin.

The bank’s statement said that “Wells Fargo made the difficult decision to close our Rodgers Street and South Parkland branches in Bethlehem and Allentown, respectively, on Wednesday, June 7, 2023, at 12 p.m.”

“We apologize for any inconvenience this might cause, and customers can continue to bank with us at our other nearby locations. For our Rodgers Street customers, they can visit our Bethlehem Square branch, approximately 2 miles away, and for our South Parkland customers, our Cedar Crest branch is also about 2 miles away.”

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

A recession is coming: What does that mean and how did we get here?

Jay Bryson, managing director and chief economist for Wells Fargo speaks at the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce Economic Outlook 2023. PHOTO/STACY WESCOE –

Don’t be afraid of the big bad recession. That was the core message that Jay Bryson, managing director and chief economist for Wells Fargo, had for the crowd at the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce Economic Outlook 2003. 

As the featured speaker at the event, Bryson said a downturn in the economy is nearly certain, calling the likelihood of a recession a two in three chance, but it won’t be a bad one. 

He said when people hear the word recession they panic because they think about the most recent pandemic, which was brought about as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown or the recession that came after the housing bubble burst in 2008-2009. 

But he said those were very different scenarios, both of which came about because of dramatic unforeseen events. 

“This will likely be a modest business cycle downturn, not a financial crisis,” he said. “The fundamentals of the economy are pretty strong right now.” 

Bryson is predicting two or three quarters of economic contraction, which he described as a mild recession. 

Likely scenarios include a slight uptick in unemployment – possibly to around 5% — but nothing dramatic. 

He noted that currently the unemployment rate nationally is around 3.5% and in Pennsylvania it’s around 4% so it won’t be a big upset. 

To help forestall, or at least lessen the impact of a recession, he expects the Federal Reserve will likely raise interest rates, probably starting at its next meeting on Feb 1.   

More hikes are also expected and could raise the core interest rate as much as 75 basis points by midyear. 

Again, he emphasized that all is just speculation on his part. 

“The one thing that is certain is that they’re not going to be bringing them down anytime soon,” he said. 

While the aim of the Fed raising interest rates is to ward off a recession, Bryson did say that they are negatively impacting the economy in some ways. He said housing starts are down dramatically right now, mostly because of the effect of the higher interest rates. 

Also, he noted that there has been a contraction of spending in the manufacturing sector and industrial production is also down because of higher prices and interest. 

So, what brought the economy to the brink of a recession? 

Bryson said several factors have contributed to the current economic situation. 

Wage pressure brought about by low unemployment, inflation and a drop in consumer spending on goods have all been factors. 

Bryson said wage pressure has been one of the contributing factors to inflation, and economists are looking for a moderation in labor costs to address that. 

Inflation has impacted the economy in a number of ways. Consumer good spending is down. While the inflation rate is currently somewhere between 6% and 7% right now – down from its June high of about 9% — higher costs mean people can buy less. 

He noted that the Fed likes to see inflation closer to 2%. 

But inflation isn’t the only culprit in the decrease in consumer spending.  

He said during the pandemic shutdown people were stuck at home and bought more goods than they would have normally, or sooner that they would have. 

“There’s only so many basketball hoops for the kids that you can buy,” he said, and that previous spending is eating into current spending habits. 

Meanwhile, he said, spending on core services is up. People are taking the money they’re not spending on goods and spending it on experiences. 

Still, he said there has been an erosion of consumer purchasing power and people are getting less for the same amount of money. 

That being said, consumer prices are actually going down right now. He said the supply chains have pretty much returned to normal and the lowered demand have both contributed to a slight decline in prices. 

However, the cost of core services is up because of increased demand and labor costs. 

The consumers are being impacted by the higher prices. 

“Peoples’ savings are at an all-time low,” Bryson said. “They’re not socking away as much as they normally do.” 

At the same time, he said credit card debt has increased to a rate that isn’t sustainable. 

Looking to the future, Bryson said he sees brighter days ahead.  

While the next few quarters may still see higher inflation and interest rates, he believes that by 2024 inflation will start going down and consumer spending will return to more traditional patterns. 

Community First Fund gets $3M grant to help small business recovery

Wells Fargo has selected Lancaster-based Community First Fund to receive a $3 million grant as part of its Open for Business Fund, a nationwide small business recovery effort.

A community development financial institution that serves central and southeastern Pennsylvania, Delaware and Camden County, New Jersey, Community First Fund will use the money for a new “Rebuilding Communities Loan Fund.”

An approximately $420 million small business recovery effort, the Open for Business Fund helps entrepreneurs recover and rebuild across the U.S. The focus is on increasing access to capital, technical expertise and long-term resiliency programs especially for racially and ethnically diverse small business owners who have been impacted by COVID-19.

“We are incredibly fortunate to receive this generous donation from Wells Fargo, which will allow us to provide small businesses in our region with much-needed financing to help them recover and rebuild,” Daniel Betancourt, president and CEO of Community First Fund, said in a release. “This partnership with Wells Fargo will drive our efforts to support local entrepreneurs and help our communities bounce back from the pandemic.”

Community First Fund’s “Rebuilding Communities Loan Fund” will initially target existing small business clients who took losses during the pandemic. They will now have access to low-cost capital. Lending efforts will be focused on businesses that add to the vibrancy of their communities, the release said, such as restaurants, retail stores, child care centers, barbershops/salons, grocery stores and bodegas.

Wells Fargo’s Chief Economist predicts economic improvement by Q2 of 2021

COVID-19 continues to take an economic toll as cases and deaths surge across America, causing the outlook for the current quarter and first quarter of 2021 to be downgraded.

However, we should expect improvement in the second quarter, and even better results for the third and fourth quarters of next year, according to Dr. Jay H. Bryson, chief economist for Wells Fargo’s Corporate and Investment Bank.

Bryson, the keynote speaker Tuesday at the Wells Fargo economic forecast breakfast, a virtual event presented by the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, spoke from his home in Charlotte, North Carolina.

He said the pandemic has had a seismic effect on the U.S. economy, and that recent spikes in cases and deaths have harmed what started as a promising fourth quarter.

“We came into the fourth quarter with strong momentum, but we’re leaving it with weak momentum,” Bryson said. “That sets us up for a weak first quarter for 2021.”

The economy should see some improvement during the second quarter and rebound significantly in the third quarter, remaining strong through the fourth quarter and into 2022, Bryson predicted. However, he warned, the speed of recovery is likely to be uneven across different economic sectors and will vary by region.

Service sector disproportionately affected

While the year will end with total consumer spending 2% below where it was in February, the level of pain felt among various sectors varies dramatically. The sales of durable goods such as cars and household appliances has jumped 15% from February, while non-durables are up 5%.

The sale of homes – especially single-family dwellings – has risen significantly since February, and orders for capital goods were strong coming into the fourth quarter. The biggest problem, of course, occurs within the service industry.

While services usually hold up and sales of durable goods fall during a recession, the pandemic has turned that on its head, explained Bryson.

“The big weakness of the economy, which comes as no surprise, is services,” Bryson said.

Overall, the service sector, which accounts for 70% of the U.S. economy, fell 7% since February, with a disproportionate number of service workers, many of whom work in low-paying jobs, being laid off.

More than 8 million leisure and hospitality workers lost their jobs at the beginning of the pandemic, Bryson said, and while more than half have been re-employed, about 3.5 million are still without work.

“Unfortunately, people who don’t make a lot of money have borne the brunt of this recession,” he said.

High-paid workers have tended to keep their jobs throughout the pandemic, while many working in retail, restaurants, bars, hotels and other service areas did not. While that disproportionately affects lower-paid workers, spending by those still working serves to prop up the overall economy.

“The people with high incomes tend to still have their jobs and will continue spending,” Bryson said. “So, it’s not like the economy will crash and burn.”

The loss of those millions of jobs in the service sector and other areas, however, will take years to overcome.

“This has wiped out 10 years’ worth of job gains,” Bryson said. “It will take time to recover all the jobs that were lost in March and April. This 7% unemployment rate is not going back to 3% for a number of years.”

Other predictions and comments

Inflation. Despite indications from the Federal Reserve that interest rates will remain near zero through 2022 to aid economic recovery, Bryson does not anticipate inflation will be a factor. The rate of inflation will vary from sector to sector, he said, but overall should remain low.

Tariffs. Bryson believes that President-Elect Biden will remove tariffs with European allies, and that the U.S. and Europe will join forces to address trading with China. He expects that U.S. tariffs on China will remain.

Congressional aid to those set lose unemployment benefits. If a relief bill isn’t passed by the end of the year and the situation continues to worsen for millions in January and February, Bryson believes that Congress will ultimately come through in the new year.

Major legislation under the new administration. If Republicans can hold the Senate after the upcoming special elections in Georgia, Bryson does not see any major legislation occurring anytime soon. Unfortunately, he believes that a major, much-talked-about infrastructure legislative package won’t happen until we experience more tragedies like the 1997 bridge collapse in Minneapolis that killed 13 people and injured 145 more.

Business outlook for women. The pandemic has resulted in gender disparity as an increasing number of women have left jobs or stopped looking for work to tend to childcare and other domestic responsibilities. However, Bryson said, as more people continue to work from home, it could create greater work flexibility that could be beneficial to women.

National budget deficit. Although we ended 2020 with a record budget deficit of $3.13 trillion, double the previous record of $1.4 trillion in 2009, Bryson said now, with the economy struggling and high unemployment, is not the time to worry about it. “Let’s get through the next few quarters and then have that conversation,” he said. “With interest rates where they are, I don’t really worry about the debt right now.”

Bryson’s greatest concern

While there are many issues to address, what concerns Bryson most is the increasing polarization of society and ever-growing lack of trust in institutions and each other. Those factors affect us negatively in a variety of ways, he said, including economically.

“From a societal standpoint, the situation is pretty ugly,” he said. “But it could start to have some economic consequences, as well.”

Also, during the virtual event Peter Rye, outgoing chair of the Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce and Industry board of directors, said he is grateful for the opportunity to have served and looks forward to the leadership of Michele Richards, currently vice chair, who will assume the leadership position for 2021. Rye is the president and CEO of Brentwood Industries, Inc. Richards is director of treasury sales at Fulton Bank.

COVID-19 Relief fund distributes $350K to Lehigh Valley businesses

The Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce and business leaders in the community raised and granted $353,000 to local small businesses struggling with COVID-19-related expenses.

After two rounds with $150,000 pools of grant money, organizers of the COVID-19 relief fund were able to raise and distribute a third pool of funds totaling $53,000 thanks to an infusion from Wells Fargo Bank.

“It’s unbelievable how much these companies and individuals want to help. We have a big footprint, but our community is tight knit. Matching investment from BB&T, now Truist, Capital BlueCross, Equinox Benefits Consulting, ESSA Bank, David Jaindl, Dynegy, Walmart/Sams Club, Wells Fargo, Nelligan, Unum and individuals like Lehigh student, Angelica Benares along with the chamber funds have made this all possible,” said Tony Iannelli, president and CEO of the chamber.

The third fund was opened and the money disbursed last week. The three funding rounds were set up to provide $1,000 grants to businesses suffering from financial hardship because of the pandemic shut down.

More than 300 businesses received money.