Allentown Economic Development Corporation
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Monthly Archives: May 2015

Furniture Maker Builds Promising Business From Bridgeworks Platform

It’s probably not a coincidence that Andy Vasquez ended up on Lumber Street in Allentown.

The third-floor studio that now houses Andy Vaszquez Furniture – located in an old industrial building in the heart of Center City – is stacked with lumber that ranges from fine cherry and walnut planks to old pallets. The cherry and walnut will be used for thing such as tables, chairs and stools. The pallets will be recycled into register counters and merchandise stands for a friend who owns a skate shop.

In fact, it was his lifelong passion for skateboarding and connections in the field that got him started in business. As he studied the sport and learned more about it, he became interested in drawing and painting to emulate skateboard graphics.

“The things that have gotten the biggest response have been the things related to skateboarding,” says Vasquez, who has made retail furniture for stores in the Lehigh Valley and as far away as New York City.

A graduate of Notre Dame High School in Bethlehem Township, Vasquez became interested in woodworking while studying fine art at Kutztown University, where he earned degrees in Art Education and Furniture Design.

“I fell into woodworking and furniture while I was there,” he explains. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

After graduating in 2011, he spent six months Eindhoven in The Netherlands on a non-paid internship with designer Nacho Carbonell.

“It was amazing,” he says. “I loved it. I learned a lot from doing it, including a lot of unexpected lessons.

One of those lessons from Carbonell’s highly experimental and sculptural studio was the realization that he wanted to make simple, functional and interesting reclaimed furniture. Though he initially thought about creating and selling furniture that would be seen more as art or sculpture, again it was his experience in The Netherlands as well as his work with his skateboard friends that helped steer him in new directions.

“As an artist, you end up making a piece of furniture that people are afraid to use because it looks so much like sculpture,” says Vasquez, who recently completed two credenzas for professors at Kutztown. “Making things that people use switched my agenda.”

He opened his business two years ago and rented room at the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, which he says was invaluable. “I couldn’t have really started without that space,” he says. “I don’t have storage space or a garage or basement. The Allentown Economic Development Corp. gave me a great opportunity, letting me start with clean space and I could make what I wanted out of it.”

Anthony Durante, Program Manager for Bridgeworks, said Vasquez’s success is a great example of how the maker space can help create businesses and jobs.

“He started with in 200 square feet, eventually doubled that and now he is in his own space” Durante says. “Although Andy was never part of our incubation program, we are happy that we were able to give Andy an affordable place to get started and grow. His story is exactly why we created the maker space at the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center.”

Vasquez says he expects his business to grow steadily and he is already moving into new areas, again following Carbonell’s example and experimenting with different types of furniture and materials. He has begun working with molded concrete for furniture footings and used other concrete moldings to create awards that were handed out by the Converse company at a skate competition in Tampa, Fla.

“A lot of it is just trying to show people what you can do,” he says. “For instance, now I am working on a stool. The credenzas helped me see a lot of design possibilities.

“I like any piece, any type of furniture that I can put my spin on.”

PRESS RELEASE: Congressman Charlie Dent Visits Four Allentown Startup Manufacturers

Bridgeworks Enterprise Center Welcomes Congressman Charlie Dent

Allentown, Pennsylvania – The Allentown Economic Development Corporation (AEDC) hosted Congressman Charlie Dent (PA-15) on Tuesday, May 26th as he visited four early-stage manufacturing companies at the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, the small business incubator located on Allentown’s south side.

Congressman Dent, working with the Lehigh University Small Business Development Center, has visits planned throughout the Lehigh Valley this week to get a first-hand look at the vibrant startup and small business community rooted here.

During his visit to the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, Congressman Dent visited The Colony Meadery, County Seat Spirits, ColdEdge Technologies and Gonzo Pockets. These four companies are a part of the twelve client companies that AEDC current houses in its 26-year old small business incubator in the former Mack Trucks plant on Harrison Street.

“We take a very broad scope view of what manufacturing is,” said Anthony Durante, Program Manager for AEDC. “From alcoholic beverages, to cryogenics, to advanced plastics and sporting goods – there is no single definition of what a manufacturer can be.”

The Colony Meadery specializes in making mead; an ancient alcoholic beverage made from honey. The company recently completed an expansion that more than doubled the space of the meadery and will allow the startup to quadruple production over the next couple of years.

County Seat Spirits, another alcoholic beverage manufacturer, is the first distillery to be opened in Allentown since the Prohibition era. The company prides itself on being a grain-to-glass producer of fine spirits and uses several raw materials sourced from Pennsylvania suppliers. County Seat Spirits came on to the scene in early January with its Class 8 Vodka and Sand Island Rum. Over Memorial Day weekend, County Seat released its Lock Keeper Gin which has been very well received.

ColdEdge Technologies builds custom and OEM cryogenic cooling systems for advanced material studies. Their systems can be used in applications like electron microscopes in order to supercool materials, allowing scientists to analyze them at the atomic level more precisely.

Gonzo Pockets manufactures specialty mesh for lacrosse stick heads. Their proprietary rubberized mesh provides superior performance and ball control regardless of playing conditions on the field.

Congressman Dent extended his thanks to the owners and employees of the companies he visited and to AEDC for helping arrange the visits.

“It really is heartening to see these businesses settling in Allentown and growing,” Dent said. “Manufacturing businesses play a great role in providing jobs and improving our local, state and national economies. I wish them continued success,” Dent concluded.

About the Allentown Economic Development Corporation

AEDC is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to a mission of identifying, encouraging, developing and managing strategic business opportunities for the benefit of Allentown, its citizens, and the Lehigh Valley. Its goal is to improve vacant and underutilized properties by assisting manufacturers, business owners and entrepreneurs in obtaining the resources and opportunities they require for success in the City of Allentown. AEDC offers access to financing and incentives, assistance with brownfield remediation, and support for growing businesses within the City.

Over the course of its 26-year existence, the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, founded in the refurbished Mack Trucks Plant 4A in 1989, has helped launch more than 50 companies in Allentown that have created more than 300 jobs. It is a member of the Ben Franklin Business Incubator Network. Today, the Center is home to Architrep, ColdEdge Technologies, The Colony Meadery, County Seat Spirits, Gonzo Pockets, HiJinx Brewing Company, JH Plastics, LightLab International Allentown, MTS Ventures, Netizen Corporation, Polymer Contours and Zzyzx Polymers.

For more information, please visit our website: http://allentownedc.com

Rise from the Ashes Story of Allentown Incubator Takes Best in Show

AEDC Shares its Expertise at NBIA’s Annual Conference in Denver

Denver, Colorado – Anthony Durante, Program Manager for Allentown Economic Development Corporation (AEDC), shared its story of how the organization rebuilt its business incubation program from the ground up with a group of over 50 professionals at the National Business Incubation Association’s (NBIA) Annual Conference in Denver, Colorado on Monday, April 27th. The 75-minute session was among five selected as “Best in Show” at this year’s conference.

“As one of the longest standing business incubation programs in the nation, we need to be sure that we are sharing our expertise with our peers,” explained Durante. “Where the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center is today versus just three years ago is a night and day difference.”

Entitled “Rebuilding the Zombie Incubator: Breathing Life Back into a Struggling Business Incubation Program” Durante shared how AEDC turned its program around by getting back to basics. In 2012, when Durante was hired, there were just a few companies in the program and the center was burdened with more than a decade of deferred maintenance. It may sound surprising, but Durante had never run a business incubator before. But he figured out how to take advantage of that weakness.

“By not having done this before, I came in with no preconceived notions, no bias and certainly no ego,” explains Durante. “Through my involvement with NBIA, I was able to quickly build a base of knowledge.” Within 18-months of taking over AEDC’s program, he earned the NBIA’s Incubator Manager Certificate and had read through several books on the subject of business incubation. Armed with this body of knowledge, Durante and the AEDC staff quickly went to work making significant changes to both the programming and the physical plant.

“We immediately raised the bar in order to set expectations to where we wanted to be rather than always talking about the state we were currently in,” says Durante. “By doing so, we were able to start recruiting some high potential clients who saw the vision of what the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center could really be.”

Today the Allentown business incubator is a bustling hub of activity, boasting 12 clients and more than $1.6 million in recent physical improvements with more scheduled to happen over the next year. Perhaps the most significant of those improvements was a $1.1 million roof replacement project, funded predominantly by Federal EDA and Pennsylvania RACP grants. This project resulted in a 54 percent decrease in energy expenses for AEDC’s 2013-14 fiscal year. It also made the building much more marketable.

With the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center back on its feet, Durante is focusing on the experience that its early-stage companies have while being in the program. AEDC’s goal is to get these startups to be $1-$2 million companies that are profitable and self-sustaining in just five to seven years.

“It is incredibly important that we do everything we can to make sure these companies have the best experience while in our program,” explains Durante. “If the entrepreneur feels that we did everything we could possibly have done to ensure they were successful, then we will have created someone who is a champion and an evangelist of our program.”

Durante sees the presentation he made in Denver as an opportunity to give back.

“Everything I learned about business incubation, I learned though NBIA programs and through my peers at other NBIA member incubators,” said Durante. “We are successful because of the expertise they shared with us. Hopefully we can help other incubators be successful by sharing our story and lessons learned with them.”

Being selected as one of five presentations deemed “Best in Show” through a peer voting process is something that Durante doesn’t take lightly.

“It’s pretty humbling to have our peers think so highly of the information we shared at the session,” he said. “It also validates that we have a great story to tell and that we need to share our lessons learned with our fellow incubation professionals.”

About the Allentown Economic Development Corporation

AEDC is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to a mission of identifying, encouraging, developing and managing strategic business opportunities for the benefit of Allentown, its citizens, and the Lehigh Valley. Its goal is to improve vacant and underutilized properties by assisting manufacturers, business owners and entrepreneurs in obtaining the resources and opportunities they require for success in the City of Allentown. AEDC offers access to financing and incentives, assistance with brownfield remediation, and support for growing businesses within the City.

Over the course of its 26-year existence, the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, founded in the refurbished Mack Trucks Plant 4A in 1989, has helped launch more than 50 companies in Allentown that have created more than 300 jobs. It is a member of the Ben Franklin Business Incubator Network. Today, the Center is home to Architrep, ColdEdge Technologies, The Colony Meadery, County Seat Spirits, Gonzo Pockets, HiJinx Brewing Company, JH Plastics, LightLab International Allentown, MTS Ventures, Netizen Corporation, Polymer Contours and Zzyzx Polymers.

For more information, please visit our website: http://allentownedc.com

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