Allentown Economic Development Corporation

Monthly Archives: July 2016

Ken Vance discovers the “personal” side of economic development through job creation

Major life changes can help us discover something about ourselves that we never knew. For Ken Vance that happened when he found himself caught in a wave of cutbacks a few years ago in newspaper publishing. And while he didn’t want to leave the industry and a job he liked, doing so opened the door to a career in economic development where he now enjoys a personal sense of satisfaction in helping create jobs for others.

For the past three and half years Vance has been the Controller at Allentown Economic Development Corporation, where he’s adapted to its high energy, responsive, on-the-move environment.

Handling the finances of the Southside Allentown nonprofit corporation might sound straightforward enough, yet it’s anything but. In addition to AEDC, Vance also manages finances for Allentown Commercial and Industrial Development Authority as well as the Bridgeworks by the Creek manufacturing complex. He also serves on its finance and audit committees, and periodically consults with the startup clients in the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center’s business incubation program.

Of course, there’s the usual finance work like invoicing, collecting payments, paying taxes, and paying employees. But he also maintains its financial systems, and administers the staff’s benefits programs, acting as the organization’s human resources officer.

“My main job is to prepare all financial statements for the entities we oversee and to secure all of the organization’s assets,” said Vance. “I’m the financial gatekeeper for the organization. I’m charged with making sure we turn a profit. Most people don’t realize that 80 percent of our revenue is generated by our leases and rent. Our very infrastructure sustains us.”

When AEDC is awarded a grant or loan, Vance works with the federal, state or local authorities to secure, and then manage, the grant funds. He also handles all of the banking including loan programs that AEDC administers on its own, as well as programs done it does in conjunction with the City of Allentown.

“I’ve come to really enjoy economic development,” he explained. “It’s a dynamic industry where we create something new each day. We assist companies that want to move here with site selection. We rehabilitate old manufacturing buildings so they can once again be used to produce things. We handle real estate development. And we do all of this as a private-public nonprofit organization.”

In the future, Vance would like to see AEDC continue to put more properties into productive use through rehabilitation because occupied properties mean jobs.

“At the end of the day, AEDC is a job creating organization,” Vance explained. “It gives me a good feeling to know that the work I do, that our entire team does here, brings and keeps manufacturing in Allentown, which leads to living wage jobs for our residents. I like contributing to that. This kind of work is different from anything I’ve done before in my career because it’s personal; it directly affects people, and that gives me a sense of satisfaction.”

Anna’s Commercial Kitchen in downtown Allentown helps cooks become entrepreneurs with shared kitchen concept

When Mary Griffin left her job as a caseworker for Lehigh County in 1996 to start The Caring Place Youth Development Center and Taste of Soul restaurant on Hamilton Street in downtown Allentown, it took more than just a leap of faith.

“I’m a religious person and I received a sign that I was supposed to do this to help the community,” said Griffin. “It wasn’t something I felt I could say no to. But I didn’t have a plan in place. I just trusted it to happen. My husband thought I was crazy!

From the time she made the decision to follow her dream, it took six months before it was possible to exit her job. She set out to become an entrepreneur and purchased a building on Hamilton Street between 9th and 10th streets that was formerly the Rileigh’s Hallmark building.

The Caring Place provides programs and activities for young people to teach them skills and keep them occupied when out of school. Its goal is to keep them out of drugs, violent, teen pregnancy and other detrimental activities. Programs include a science lab, mentoring program, college tour program, summer youth programs and more. There is also a food bank.

Taste of Soul was created to support The Caring Place financially through its profits, which are invested into the nonprofit organization. Having a background in catering and restaurants helped Griffin discover that the best way to source the equipment and materials the kitchen and restaurant would need was by going to restaurant auctions. She also approached manufacturers of building supplies to purchase their scratch and dent items like doors and moldings at a discounted price. She was also able to secure donations from some local businesses.

Since the large kitchen was only being used during daytime hours for the restaurant, Griffin had an idea to turn it into a shared commercial kitchen that could be an incubator for entrepreneurs looking to start a food-related business.

“Our clients come to us with a love of and talent for cooking, but little to no money with which to start a business,” Griffin explained. “Since my mother was my inspiration for the restaurant, I decided to name the facility after her, Anna’s Commercial Kitchen.”

The kitchen has a hot side for cooking and a cold side for food prep. Clients have access to the kitchen’s 40-quart fryer, two floor stand mixers, a six-burner range, convection ovens, a vast collection of pots and pans, and other cookware and machinery. Refrigerator space is available to be used for the day only.

Anna’s Commercial Kitchen currently has four clients including a local caterer and small business owners making their own foods to sell commercially. Past clients have included a tea business and also a garlic business.

“Anna’s Commercial Kitchen is a real hidden gem, not only in Allentown, but in the Lehigh Valley as a whole,” said AEDC Program Manager Anthony Durante. “We get incubator prospects looking for commercial kitchen space all of the time. It’s just a resource we haven’t had to this point. Now that we can refer people to Mary for the kitchen piece, it would be great to find ways to help entrepreneurs looking to be in the food industry to build profitable, self-sustainable businesses.”

Anyone interested in using the kitchen needs to fill out an application, provide proof of insurance, a ServSafe® certificate for food safety training, and a certificate from the City of Allentown Health Bureau.

Kitchen time is charged by the hour at $25 with a minimum of four hours required per usage. All cooking must be done after 6 pm when the restaurant is closed, but prep work and packing on the cold side of the kitchen can be done during the daytime. Griffin offers contract options to allow flexibility for her clients.

“For the resources that the client is getting access to, this is an incredibly reasonable rate,” says Durante. “The key is to do production of a product at a level that supports this expense. You can’t be making a handful of pastries and expect to recoup your cost. You need to be thinking about building a real business with sizable production levels.”

One up and coming client is WePrep, which prepares and packages fully cooked meals that are shipped to customers who practice a healthy and active lifestyle. A professional trainer and body builder, the company’s owner calculates the protein and calories of each meal he makes. He taught himself to cook by watching YouTube videos. He sells the meals through is web site and Facebook page. His business has taken off so much in the past few months that he’s been able to quit his job at a mass retailer to focus on making WePrep a success.

Spaces on the second floor of the building are rented to five local churches that hold weekend services there, as well as to small businesses that use office space. Griffin has several upstairs areas marked for future development.

And Griffin’s leap of faith is paying off. The Caring Place, Taste of Soul and Anna’s Commercial Kitchen have been self-sufficient since 2010.

“I’m glad I took the chance when I did and listened to the message I received. I followed by dreams and I encourage all of my commercial kitchen clients and the students who come through The Caring Place to do the same,” Griffin concluded.

State Awards $2M Loan to Redevelop Former Allentown Metal Works Site

Business in Our Sites Loan to be used for selective demolition and building renovation

Allentown, Pa. — On Friday, July 1, Governor Wolf announced over of $152 million in investments to be made across Pennsylvania for business development and infrastructure projects. Included in this pool of investments is a $2 million Business in Our Sites Loan to be made to the Allentown Commercial and Industrial Development Authority to assist with the redevelopment of the former Allentown Metal Works site. ACIDA, in partnership with the Allentown Economic Development Corporation as the developer, will use the funds to continue to prepare the site for industrial use.

“This is terrific news for the Allentown Metal Works project,” explained Scott Unger, executive director of both ACIDA and AEDC. “With this funding from the Commonwealth, significant progress can be made towards getting this site to a development-ready state for an interested manufacturer or developer.”

The Business in Our Sites Loan Program empowers communities to attract growing and expanding businesses by helping them build an inventory of ready sites. The loan funds can be used for all site development activities that are required to make a site shovel ready. The State considers this a “patient” loan in that no repayment is required until the property is sold or leased, or for five years from the date of closing.

Eligible sites must be a previously utilized or undeveloped property that is planned and zoned for development and there must be a substantial likelihood that use of the site, following development, is not for primary residential or recreational purposes.

“The beauty of this loan program is that it falls right in line with the mission of AEDC,” said Unger. “Our goal is to turn factories back into factories so that business can grow or relocate to Allentown, thereby creating living-wage jobs.”

The funds from the Business in Our Sites Loan will be used to finance the total demolition of four ancillary buildings, which will improve site access, circulation, and marketability for the three larger manufacturing building on the site. Additionally, the funds will finance the renovation of either Building A or Building G. These renovations will reflect those of a modern manufacturing facility.

State Representative Peter Schweyer, having provided a letter of support for the loan application, has been an advocate and strong supporter of this project since its inception.

“The Allentown Economic Development Corp. continues to be a vital partner in bringing quality jobs to Allentown,” said Rep. Schweyer. “The Allentown Metal Works site is a fantastic project that will allow the city to be part of the evolution of the manufacturing industry. I am glad to see that the Commonwealth agrees and has awarded the funding for this project to move forward.”

As previously announced, AEDC and the City of Allentown jointly applied for and were awarded $400,000 in supplemental funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct the second phase of remediation at the site. Planned work to be done in Phase II includes the encapsulation of lead-based paint on the steel beams located in Building B; asbestos abatement within Building B, Building 1, and Building 2; and the filling of open sumps and pits located in Buildings B and C.

Unger explained that manufacturers who are looking to locate their businesses in Allentown typically are trying to identify sites that can be occupied within one to two quarters. A site like Allentown Metal Works is several quarters away from being ready to be occupied. By having AEDC do the environmental cleanup and early-stage redevelopment, the site can be brought into a much more attractive state for a developer or manufacturer.


About the Allentown Economic Development Corporation

The Allentown Economic Development Corporation is an independent nonprofit organization, in a private-public partnership with the City of Allentown, whose mission is to improve vacant and underutilized properties in order to create an environment where manufacturers and other companies can flourish throughout their lifecycle, from launch, to rapid growth, and onto long-term success and profitability. By doing so, AEDC is able to advance the economic vitality of Allentown and the Lehigh Valley through job creation and business growth.

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