Manufacturing in America got some good news in recent weeks as studies have shown a steady uptick in production and the news media has been reporting international developments that may spur further domestic growth. Here in Allentown, city and economic development officials are kicking off a new study to bolster manufacturing and help preserve and create sustainable jobs for city residents.
The study is funded by a $3.4 million U.S. Housing and Urban Development grant received by the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation and its primary goal will be developing a strategy for what is known as the Little Lehigh Corridor – that stretch of available land from just west of Harrison Street down to the Lehigh Riverfront.
The three-phase study will first create a re-industrialization strategy for the corridor by providing an assessment of the economic base, workforce, incubator, industrial market and an overview of the industrial lands and buildings. The second phase is forging a master plan for the study are, with recommendations for site-specific redevelopment opportunities and the third optional phase will focus on targeted building or site re-uses.
One of the primary subjects of the study will be the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, the nearly 25-year-old manufacturing business incubator, now home to AEDC offices, which currently house six startup companies that have created more than 24 full-time and part-time jobs. Since its founding, the incubator has graduated almost 30 companies and created more than 200 jobs in the Lehigh Valley.
Eyeing the Incubator
“This gives us the means to do a long overdue sustainability study on the incubator which should be done about every 10 years,” said AEDC Economic Development Specialist Anthony Durante. Durante said the study will also focus on the Bridgeworks Industrial Center that is now home to companies such as Eastern Surfaces Inc. and Terra Group Corp., and Allentown Metal Works across Harrison Street from Bridgeworks, which was recently acquired by ACIDA for redevelopment.
“I think it will reinforce what we have been preaching in regards to the need for more industrial space, as well as the sizes and types of space that is needed,” Durante said. “And it will give us a good look at the incubator – what we do well, what we need to improve, and how we can do a better job recruiting startup companies that can graduate into employers in the City of Allentown.”
But the scope of the study will reach beyond the Bridgeworks complex, say city Planning Director Michael Hefele and Chief Planner Alan Salinger. In addition to helping create a policy direction and strategy, it will give city leaders a better understanding of the city’s economic base and position in the region, the workforce make-up and needs, sustainable reuse for vacant or under-utilized sites and better coordination with regional economic development agencies such as LVEDC.
A National Resurgence
Salinger pointed to recent news stories touting the re-emergence of American manufacturing that is credited to changing conditions overseas, such as growing wages, higher transportation costs for materials and finished products, and concerns about global supply chains.
“There’s a big picture here and (the consultants) are going to determine our position from a national perspective,” Salinger said.
With companies such as Olson Technologies Inc. and Bradley Pulverizer, which each boast more than a century in the city, to newer and much more tech-oriented producers such as Applied Separations and Terra Group, Allentown enjoys a diverse manufacturing base.
Bringing existing and new employers together with city residents who can find solid jobs without the need for auto or bus transportation out to the far suburbs is one of the primary goals of the study and any strategy that emerges from it, Hefele said.
“The future is not going to be like the past,” Hefele said. “We are not talking about a return to smokestack industries. It’s about seeing what is out there and what is right for Allentown.”