During the week of October 25, the Pennsylvania Economic Development Association held its Fall Conference in Allentown. The three-day event took place at the Renaissance Allentown Hotel and boasted record attendance with nearly 200 people attending from across the state and surrounding regions.
“We couldn’t have been more pleased with the way the conference played out,” said Joshua Skopp, PEDA Executive Director. “PEDA’s decision to hold this year’s event in Allentown was based not only on the major transformation that continues to take place but also upon the enthusiasm with which Lehigh Valley stakeholders participated in the development of the event.”
AEDC, which was a silver level sponsor of the conference, had several staff members participate in conference sessions, and Executive Director Scott Unger was a member of the planning committee. Sessions covered a wide variety of topics such as entrepreneurship, lending programs, and brownfield redevelopment, but there was a heavy emphasis on workforce issues and the impact that automation is having in the manufacturing sector.
Showing off Allentown and its community of experts
On Monday, conference goers were offered the opportunity to tour several key sites across Allentown. The tour began with a walk-through of the manufacturing business incubator at the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center. Attendees got a firsthand look at how AEDC is supporting entrepreneurs in the manufacturing sector through its programming. From there, tour-goers got a quick view of the former Allentown Metal Works property highlighting AEDC’s efforts to remediate industrial brownfield sites across the city.
Part two of the tour was a walk-through center city Allentown’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone highlighting the PPL Center arena, along with the various mixed-use buildings that have been constructed over the past three years. The entire tour was a testament to the importance of the many factors of economic development.
“Economic Development, particularly in urban areas, involves all aspects of the community,” explained Unger. “This includes workforce availability, education, and land use patterns along with less tangible things like sense of place and an entrepreneurial environment.”
AEDC’s expertise across the various economic development disciplines was highlighted through staff participation in several conference sessions. Anthony Durante, program manager, was part of a four-person panel on “Fostering a Culture of Entrepreneurship.” The panel included Lisa Getzler of Lehigh University, Mike Krajsa of Penn State Lehigh Valley, Wayne Barz of Ben Franklin Technology Partners Northeast, and was facilitated by Jeff Boerner of Northampton Community College.
Program Manager David Dunn was part of a four-person panel that discussed “Strategic Collaboration: Leveraging Diverse Programs for Small Business Development” and was joined by John Kingsley of LVEDC, Sherwood Robbins of Seedcopa, and Chris Hudock of Rising Tide Community Loan Fund.
Scott Unger filled the role of facilitator for the “Employers’ Perspectives on 21st Century Downtowns” session, leading a discussion with Jarrett Laubach of City Center Allentown, Dr. Brian Nester of Lehigh Valley Health Network, Rolf Schlake of Applied Separations, and Doug Pelletier of Trifecta Technologies.
AEDC staff members walked away with several insights in addition to sharing their expertise. “Economic development is not just financial in nature, it has a large social component that helps drive the economics,” said Dunn.
Skopp summarized the PEDA Fall Conference well; “Through conference venues, sessions and tours, we were able to showcase the Allentown community and its many successes in a way that fulfilled local stakeholders’ vision, while providing opportunities for attendees to share best practices that enhance the professional dialogue and support local, regional and state economic development initiatives.”