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Southside Bethlehem KIZ Looks Back on a Successful Year, And a Successful Decade

By Colin McEvoy on October 19, 2015

Asher Schiavone, Bethlehem economic development coordinator, speaking at the Southside Bethlehem KIZ Annual Update.

Asher Schiavone, Bethlehem economic development coordinator, speaking at the Southside Bethlehem KIZ Annual Update.

It’s been just over a decade since the Southside Bethlehem Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ) was created, and it’s done a lot to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in the city in that time.

Since 2004, the KIZ has led to 387 jobs created, 227 patents filed, 103 new products developed, and $63 million investment capital and third party grants and loans leveraged. Since the program’s inception, about $6 million have been invested in 80 companies.

These accomplishments were among those highlighted at the Southside Bethlehem KIZ Annual Update on Oct. 19, attended by about 200 people at the Lehigh University‘s Iacocca Hall.

Among the speakers was Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) President and CEO Don Cunningham, who stressed the importance of programs like the KIZ, noting that 69 percent of all Lehigh Valley job growth over the last five years came from existing businesses or startups.

“Part of our slogan is, ‘Come here, grow here, start here,'” Cunningham said. “I think the Lehigh Valley story of starting here, as we’ve seen through the success of this program over more than a decade, is that the Lehigh Valley is a world for startups. We do have the resources to start companies here, to keep young entrepreneurs here.”

KIZs are designated areas within Pennsylvania that foster entrepreneurial growth in coordination with the efforts of institutions of higher education. In Bethlehem’s case, the KIZ provides an incentive for graduating Lehigh and Northampton Community College students with an idea for a startup company to locate in the city, rather than leaving the state for Silicon Valley or another technology hub.

The KIZ is managed by the Bethlehem Economic Development Corporation. The KIZ board, which includes representatives from LVEDC.

The KIZ provides several incentives to qualified businesses, according to Asher Schiavone, Bethlehem economic development coordinator. They include technology transfer grants up to $15,000 per project, student internship grants of up to $5,000 per intern, and KIZ tax credits up to $100,000 annually.

In the past year alone, the KIZ has created 44 jobs, increased revenue by $4 million, and led to $1.2 million in leveraged funding, including $1 million in investment capital and $177,000 in third party loans, Schiavone said.

Several companies that are participating or have participated in the KIZ spoke during today’s event. They included EcoTech Marine, which designs and manufactures high-quality aquarium equipment; CryoConcepts, a medical device developer and manufacturer; and Viddler, which provides interactive online training solutions for thousands of clients in more than 150 countries.

Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez said the Southside Bethlehem KIZ provides vital tools to stop “brain drain,” help entrepreneurs relocate into the city, and support local city businesses and its downtown neighborhoods.

“We are very proud of the economic community and cultural renaissance our city has experience over the last 20 years,” he said. “The Bethlehem of 1995 is very different from the Bethlehem of 2015. Since then, Bethlehem has become a pioneer in the redevelopment of brownfields. LVIP 7, the Sands Casino, the Sands hotel and outlets, ArtsQuest, and PBS39 are all examples of the reuse of former industrial sites that still preserving the history of Bethlehem Steel.”

Cunningham noted that the gross domestic product (GDP) of the Lehigh Valley has now grown to $35.4 billion, higher than the entire state of Vermont and 94 other countries. The GDP is very evenly-distributed across various subsectors, revealing a balanced and diversified economy, and the Southside Bethlehem KIZ is a part of that success, he said.

“This is part of our story,” Cunningham said. “What is happening here in the Lehigh Valley is a fabulous American success story of going from a big industrial-based economy to a multifaceted economy, ripe with startups, entrepreneurs, and growing companies.”

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