Lehigh Valley Hosts Pennsylvania Economic Development Association Conference
By Colin McEvoy on October 25, 2017
It’s no coincidence that the annual gathering of the state’s largest association of economic development professionals was held at the Renaissance Allentown Hotel.
The Pennsylvania Economic Development Association (PEDA) chose the Lehigh Valley to host its 2017 Fall Conference, and organizers said they chose the Renaissance because it is a symbol of the incredible revitalization the city’s downtown has undergone in recent years.
PEDA is the statewide association of local, state, corporate, and non-profit economic development professionals. Its mission is to promote sound economic development policies, provide leading-edge economic development education, and nurture an effective statewide economic development network to foster the economic growth of the Commonwealth.
The 2017 PEDA Fall Conference, which ran from Oct. 23 to Oct. 25, featured professionals representing economic and community development at the municipal, county, regional, and state levels, as well as developers, business incubator operators, project finance professionals, IDA directors, elected officials, and utilities executives.
The Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) was a gold sponsor of the event, and the fall conference committee included Matthew Tuerk, LVEDC Vice President of Economic Development and Marketing, and John Kingsley, LVEDC Vice President of Finance.
Tuerk introduced a panel of company executives for the topic “Employers’ Perspectives on 21st Century Downtowns,” which included Brian Nester, President & CEO of Lehigh Valley Health Network; Rolf Schlake, CEO of Applied Separations; and Doug Pelletier, President & CEO of Trifecta Technologies.
Pelletier discussed the construction of the Trifecta Building at 612 W. Hamilton Street. Formerly the vacant location of the old Schoen’s Furniture Store, it is now a six-story building with the Bell Hall gourmet burger restaurant at street level, loft-style office space, a rooftop terrace, and mixture of historic brick facade and modern glass and steel architecture.
Pelletier said relocating into the building and Allentown’s City Center has been helpful for attracting new talent who are seeking an urban work environment, particularly graduates of the many educational institutions in the Lehigh Valley, such as Lafayette College, Lehigh University, Moravian College, and Muhlenberg College.
“We have a great talent pool locally here, and a lot of my employees have fathers who used to work at Bethlehem Steel or Mack Trucks, so they have a great work ethic,” he said. “I want to get the smart young people who come from this area; people who grew up in the Lehigh Valley and have a reason for being here.”
Jarrett Laubach, Director of Leasing with the City Center Investment Corporation, also spoke at the conference. He said City Center has deployed a time-tested formula in developing the downtown, taking education, wellness, and innovation into account. They are building office space with larger, more collaborative floor plates that work for larger and smaller tenants alike.
“We’re really responding to a national trend,” Laubach said. “People of all ages and backgrounds, and millennials particularly, want to work in an urban, downtown environment. If you’re an employer who believes in the philosophy that talent drives revenues, you want to enhance your recruitment however you can.”
Kevin Hively, founder and president of Ninigret Partners, was the event’s keynote speaker. He discussed the future of manufacturing and what it means for the workforce, and urged that communities build affordable housing, increase transit opportunities, and improve quality of life to attract talent.
The conference also included a panel discussion about how to foster a culture of entrepreneurship, featuring various representatives from the Lehigh Valley entrepreneurial ecosystem.
They included Lisa Getzler-Linn, Executive Director of Lehigh University’s Baker Institute; Mike Krajsa, Penn State Lehigh Valley Faculty Liaison of the Lehigh Valley Launchbox; Wayne Barz, Manager of Entrepreneurial Services of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania; and Anthony Durante, Program Manager of the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center.
Additionally, Andrew Kleiner, LVEDC Director of Redevelopment and External Affairs, hosted a panel discussion about brownfields, with speakers including Troy Conrad, manager of the Pennsylvania DEP’s Land Recycling Program; Kerry Wrobel, President of the Lehigh Valley Industrial Park; and Chad Helmer, Senior Project Manager of Taggart Associates.
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