Allentown Economic Development Corporation
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Monthly Archives: April 2016

New LVEDC videos tell the region’s economic development story

When marketing the Lehigh Valley region’s economic assets to business owners and site selectors outside the area or across the globe, what is the best way to showcase its many communities and key target sectors to convince them to relocate or expand here? Let the power of video tell the story. That’s what Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation is doing through two new video series.

“With online video views continuing to increase each year, the impact of well-produced, captivating footage is vital to any marketing campaign today,” said LVEDC Director of Marketing Michael Keller. “These two video series are a great opportunity to showcase the region’s business amenities in concise, easily digestible segments that can work in tandem or stand alone and still be effective.”

Target sectors, entrepreneurial community, and redevelopment

The first series of six videos, being created by FireRock Productions of Emmaus, focuses on the region’s four target sectors – high performance manufacturing, high value business services, life science research and manufacturing, and food and beverage processing. These focus areas were previously determined from an economic development study performed by Garner Economics. The other two videos will deal with the region’s entrepreneurial community and will highlight redevelopment projects.

The first video in that series focuses on life science research and manufacturing, promoting the area’s natural resources, transportation infrastructure, highly trained workforce and its outstanding healthcare system.

The second video in the series addresses the Lehigh Valley’s long-standing tradition as a manufacturing hub and features leaders Mack Trucks, Victaulic, OraSure Technologies, and Crayola. The remaining videos in this series will be rolled out over the course of this year.

Cities and communities

LVEDC’s other video series, developed by Digital Feast in Allentown, are a collection of six videos promoting the region’s two counties, three cities and the Slate Belt. Together they collected input from elected officials and key stakeholders in each respective sub-region to ensure no critical elements were left out.

“The days of Lehigh Valley’s cities or counties competing against each other are long over,” said LVEDC Executive Director Don Cunningham.” Our competition today is the rest of Pennsylvania, the other 49 states, and the rest of the world. We will win, but we will only win as a region working together. That being said, we’ve also heard the appeals from our local governments to market the specific, unique assets of the various sub-regions in the Lehigh Valley, and these new videos and marketing campaigns do precisely that.”

All of the videos debuted during the LVEDC Annual Meeting in March and can be viewed on the www.lehighvalley.org website as well as on LVEDC’s YouTube channel.

Each video is part of a larger marketing campaign that includes print materials and individual web sites with high-quality photography and information specifically related to its respective sub-region. The campaigns are branded with the action word Select such as “Select Allentown” or “Select Lehigh County.”

“Having high-quality videos on Allentown, Lehigh County and specific industry sectors that we can show to business owners when we are courting them to come to Allentown’s Enterprise Zone is extremely helpful,” said Anthony Durante, Program Manager of the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center. “It’s exciting to have LVEDC make this strategic investment in marketing the region’s economy through these new campaigns. I am sure we will see its impact in the very near future.”

Allentown woos new downtown retail businesses in “Retail Mosaic” competition

Entrepreneurs who have watched Allentown’s rebirth the past two years but were holding off on jumping in were given an incentive last month to get in the game.

The new Retail Mosaic program will award 10 forgivable loans of up to $15,000 each to prospective business owners who propose a viable retail concept in one of six downtown Allentown neighborhoods. The loans can be used for new or used machinery and equipment purchases directly related to their business. The winning proposals need to create at least two full-time jobs that meet low-to-moderate income requirements within three years. Allentown’s federal Community Development Block Grant is funding the program.

The program also includes professional support from a network of area experts in fields like marketing, legal services, and accounting who are offering pro bono or reduced rate services to awardees.

Applications have now closed and the city is beginning the process of reviewing the proposals that were submitted to narrow them down to the top 20 who will pitch their ideas in short presentations to the Retail Mosaic Award Committee, a la TV’s “Shark Tank” show. Then the final 10 projects will be selected based on fit, the need for services, credit worthiness, and uniqueness to the downtown, and the winners announced in mid-May.

Retail Mosaic Logo Finalized

From proposal to pitch to storefront

We interviewed Dan Diaz, Business Development Liaison for Allentown’s Community and Economic Development Department, about what is ahead for the program and winning business owners by asking him the following questions:

1. Will the 10 awardees receive any training together or function as a group in any way so as to cross support each other and thereby each other’s businesses?

We have planned a number of orientations that will offer awardees the opportunity to meet one another as well as the professionals who make up the entrepreneurial ecosystem, or our “incubator without walls,” as we like to call it. The orientations are designed as an open forum to share questions and concerns, as well as ideas. We intend to foster the development of beneficial relationships between everyone involved in the program.

2. How were the professional volunteers with Retail Mosaic selected?

Retail Mosaic committee members representing The Allentown Chamber of Commerce, Community Action Development Corporation of Allentown, as well as the local business community were tasked with identifying volunteers for the entrepreneurial ecosystem. They considered the following criteria when making their preliminary identification:

  • Are they qualified to provide accurate and beneficial advice and services to new business owners based on their field of expertise?
  • Have they displayed a commitment to supporting Allentown’s renaissance in recent years?
  • Does their business reside within the City of Allentown, further validating their investment in Allentown’s bright future?
  • What role will the program play in helping a candidate select the right storefront and neighborhood location for their business from the spaces available?

The Retail Mosaic committee has spent countless hours identifying available retail storefronts throughout the Upside Allentown program area that offers varying locations, square footage, as well as lease rates. Candidates have the freedom and support of the Retail Mosaic network to utilize this inventory when determining the best fit for their new business based on particular needs and budgets.

3. What role will the program play in helping a candidate select the right storefront and neighborhood location for their business from the spaces available?

The Retail Mosaic committee has spent countless hours identifying available retail storefronts throughout the Upside Allentown program area that offers varying locations, square footage, as well as lease rates. Candidates have the freedom and support of the Retail Mosaic network to utilize this inventory when determining the best fit for their new business based on particular needs and budgets.

4. Based on past conversations and surveys, is there a particular type of retail business that downtown Allentown needs, or one that has been requested by residents or downtown workers?

The program is designed to attract all types of retail businesses. Not all business concepts will fit the program model. We do our best to make candidates aware of this prior to applying. We also placed a question in the pre-application asking about key competitors in the area to help our scoring committee determine the need for that type of business within the City of Allentown. This “fit into the downtown” question is also a factor our Retail Mosaic Award Committee considers when interviewing the final candidates. All in all, we feel these questions will help determine if there is a need for a particular business and ultimately set them up for success.

5. How will the city continue to support these new businesses when the program and free/discounted professional assistance ends?

The relationships created by the Retail Mosaic, and more importantly the Upside Allentown network, will ensure these new businesses are supported for many years beyond when the Year 1 program and professional assistance ends. These community organizations are composed of hundreds of volunteers and supporters that continue to work hard at identifying new and creative ways to strengthen the Hamilton and 7th Street Main Street program areas/business district shopping corridor with the objective of driving foot traffic downtown.

 

Hackers Invade Bridgeworks for Annual #LVHack

Venture Prizes added to turn hacking into business

Imagine a roomful of people trying to build things like a 3-D printer that prints in chocolate, a headband that stores and plays music, or a dating app that allows you to play a getting-to-know-you game with a potential match.

These are just a few of the projects that were pitched and worked on during Lehigh Valley Tech’s annual spring hackathon – #LVHack. This year, the event was hosted by AEDC in their Flex Launch and Coworking space at the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center. The participants spent two-and-a-half days at Bridgeworks building their hacks in order to compete for prizes at Sunday evening’s final presentations. The event drew more than 45 people, including dozens of students from Kutztown and Lehigh universities.

“We were very excited to be the host site for the hackathon this year,” said AEDC Program Manager Anthony Durante. “Bringing these folks into the incubator, even if it’s just for fun, gives us the chance to promote what we do and expose them to many of the resources that are available to the community of makers and aspiring entrepreneurs.”

The positive side of hacking

For some people the term “hacker” might bring to mind ominous images of hoodie-wearing, counter-culture types sitting behind a computer trying to steal credit card numbers and break into secure information systems for fun or personal gain. Although this group of hackers does exist, attracting much of the media’s attention, these “black hat” hackers are actually a small percentage of the greater hacking community.

“Hackers are tinkerers, developers, makers, and the like who aren’t satisfied with the way things have always been done,” explains Tim Lytle, head of Lehigh Valley Tech, the nonprofit organization that organizes #LVHack each year. “These hackers – who the community refers to as ‘white hat’ hackers – are willing to try something new, do something different, and just tear stuff apart to see how it works and figure out how they might do something different with it.”

Even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg touted the importance of the hacker culture in his 2012 letter to investors, entitled “The Hacker Way,” which he published at the company’s IPO.

And the prizes go to…

This year’s prizewinners developed new uses of existing technology in order to create new experiences. First place team, Empty Room, utilized Google Cardboard, a downloadable DIY virtual reality viewer, to create an interactive experience that is meant to be a virtual art installation.

Second place team, Artemis Connect, strapped a microcomputer to a sweatband so that music could be downloaded and played for a runner who doesn’t want to carry their mobile device with them. Third place team, BlueFin, created a game meant to be played by people utilizing dating sites. As achievements are made in the game, hidden “facts” are revealed about the other player meant to help one learn more about their potential new mate.

Prizes for the hack competition included remote controlled quadcopters, RaspberryPi microcomputers, and other fun devices.

Turning hacked ideas into a business

#LVHack also included a venture category this year for participants who felt that their hacks could be turned into a prospective business. This group of winners walked away with in-kind prizes that included consulting services from Fitzpatrick, Lentz & Bubba law firm and RLB accounting and tax services.

The top prize in this category went to STEAM Trunk, a leasable party kit full of learning activities for kids. Matt Sommerfield, president of MTS Ventures, came up with the idea when his company sponsored the paper rocket tent at Lehigh Valley Mini Maker Faire two years ago. Sommerfield’s team threw an impromptu paper rocket party in a local park in order to attract parents and kids who were surveyed for customer preferences and market validation data.

What does someone print with a chocolate 3-D printer?

A special prize was awarded to a project pitched by 9-year-old Annabelle Petit. She wanted to build a 3-D printer that printed using chocolate. The pitch attracted help from several “grown-ups” including Caroline Multari, a Lehigh University Ph.D. candidate researching material sciences. The team received a “Learning Curve” prize from the judges because they learned the most during the weekend.

“The team came in on Friday night knowing nothing about 3-D printing,” explains Jared Steckel from Make Lehigh Valley who served as a judge. “They spent most of Saturday learning how a 3-D printer worked and by Sunday afternoon, they had modified an existing 3-D printer so it could safely print with chocolate. That’s a pretty amazing leap in knowledge.”

Cecilia Petit, Annabelle’s mother, feels that exposing her daughter to learning opportunities like #LVHack is an important part of raising her daughter.

“Truth be told, this was also my first extracurricular hackathon, but as I hoped, the atmosphere was very similar to that of a good research environment in that it highlighted the importance of collaboration, the overall problem-solving process, and the joys of the hard-fought technical victory,” explains Petit. “Annabelle may have picked up a few technical concepts along the way, but at her age, I think the most significant benefit was getting a feel for the process of innovation—and having fun doing it.”

 

In addition to FLB Law and RLB Accounting, sponsors included the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation and Lehigh University’s Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation.

“The Lehigh Valley has a long history of innovation and entrepreneurship, and helping foster that innovation is a big part of our organization’s mission to help businesses come here, grow here, and start here,” said Matthew Tuerk, LVEDC’s Vice President of Economic Development and Marketing. “Organizations like Allentown Economic Development Corporation help demonstrate that the Lehigh Valley is rich with resources for local entrepreneurs, all of which help create jobs and contribute to Lehigh Valley’s continued growth into a vibrant, multifaceted economy.”

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