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LVEDC Event Brings Entrepreneurs and Developers Together for Discussion

By Colin McEvoy on November 15, 2016

There is no shortage of real estate to rent or own in the Lehigh Valley, from shared co-working spaces and business incubators, to warehouses that exceed 1 million square feet.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy for startups or growing companies to find the perfect next space, especially if they lack the right resources or networks.

An event organized by the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) on Nov. 17 discussed this challenge, highlighting the need for smaller footprint space and helping connect brokers and developers with the region’s entrepreneur community.

The event, called “Grow Here: Addressing the Need for Smaller Space for Growing Companies,” was a joint effort of LVEDC’s Brokers & Developers Council and the Entrepreneurship Council of the Lehigh Valley. About 65 people attended.

Held at the Victory Firehouse in Bethlehem, it included a panel of both entrepreneurs and brokers that have practiced in this space, who discussed the challenges and opportunities they see and gave advice to those in the audience on how to address them.

Don Cunningham, President & CEO of LVEDC, set the stage by reinforcing the need for smaller footprint space in the region. When working with prospects, often in very competitive situations across multiple states, there is a lot of opportunity to recruit manufacturers looking to get into 5,000 to 70,000 square feet spaces fairly quickly, that doesn’t have a three-year build to suit lead time. There is a shortage of that product in the Lehigh Valley market. The problem lies in the fact that this space typically needs to be built speculatively, which increases risk for the developers.

Tom Stine, CEO of Viddler Inc., has played leading roles in companies in Boston, D.C. New York, Seattle, and other major cities, yet finds the supportive environment in the Lehigh Valley has an incredible venue of services and supportive organizations to encourage innovation.

“I think the ripeness of the petri dish here for enabling people who want to build their businesses here is just exceptional.”

Perry Petrozelli, Co-founder at Aventr, mentioned that their company did not originally plan on relocating to Easton. After landing here, he said one of the greatest benefits of being here over a larger metropolitan area is the welcoming nature of the region and the flexibility and affordability offered. 

“It’s hard shouting for attention talking about your product even if you have the best product in the world, doing that in New York and doing that on the west coast probably would have been a challenge, but here we were in many ways welcomed with open arms.”

J.B. Reilly, Founder & President of City Center, says that recently their company has been focusing more on the notion of creating a culture of innovation in Allentown. As a developer, they’re trying to create physical space options for early stage startups and also to encourage and promote services that enable those companies to be successful.

“We’re in a really great time right now in the Lehigh Valley; you have three very vibrant robust urban areas that all have great strengths and I think the culture we have is much better today than ever in terms of creating opportunities for innovative businesses.” – J.B. Reilly, Founder & President, City Center.

When asked about the top reasons for his company to choose to stay in the Lehigh Valley, Larry Eighmy, of the Stone House Group, answered “people like to be in a good environment, they like walkability to bars, restaurants, mechanics and lunch spots, and being in South Bethlehem was an absolute no-brainer for us.”  

When it comes to recruiting employees to work at companies here, Tom Stine had positive feedback, stating that it’s a lifestyle choice for employees. “They get a much better quality of life, a slightly different wage level, but they’re getting a lot more per dollar here.”

LVEDC Brokers & Developers Council events offer an opportunity to learn about a timely topic and discuss issues affecting real estate brokers, site selectors, developers, bankers, and other professions. This event was made possible by the generous support of our gold sponsor, First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union, and our host, Originate Ventures.

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