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Ben Franklin Venture Idol Preview: Scranton's JUJAMA brings conference attendees together

Keystone Edge is profiling contestants in the upcoming Ben Franklin Venture Idol competition (Nov. 20 at Ben Franklin TechVentures). After earning their way through the afternoon selection process, entrepreneurs pitch their startups to investors and attendees. Ben Franklin will invest $15,000 based on the "crowd-funded" audience vote.

No matter how advanced social communications technology becomes, there is still a human urge to convene to share information and connect face-to-face. Thus the simultaneous proliferation of both social media networks and meetings, tradeshows and conferences.

JUJAMA, based in Scranton and Hyderabad, India, has capitalized on both those divergent realities. Established in 2010, the company is a leading creator of customizable desktop and mobile app-based technologies for business events around the world. 

A core offering of the platform allows participants to schedule one-on-one meetings before, during or after their conferences.

"By facilitating this unique interaction, JUJAMA brings together individuals with mutual business interests and provides them with the platform to leverage these opportunities into business transactions," explains President and CEO Nadia Dailey.

JUJAMA works with a wide variety of industry sectors, from a huge luxury travel event for Virtuoso to the Australian Biotech Association to the Pennsylvania Bankers Association. For the latter, JUJAMA created a customized contact database that allowed conference registrants to interact while meeting strict regulatory concerns. 

Another client, PA Bio, uses JUJAMA to push notifications to attendees, informing them of last-minute changes, and enables members to follow up with promising potential partners once everyone has returned to the office.

"With 24/7 customer support and available onsite customer support, JUJAMA delivers technologies that make events more productive for attendees, exhibitors and sponsors, and more successful for event organizers," adds Dailey.  

Dailey reports that JUJAMA became profitable in 2012 and has doubled its revenue year over year since inception. Since starting as a one-woman operation, JUJAMA has grown to employ 28 at its two locations. 

Source: Nadia Dailey, JUJAMA
Writer: Elise Vider

BFTP to invest $357,100 In Northeastern PA Companies

Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania will invest $357,100 to support regional economic development.

Since its founding, BFTP/NEP has helped create 16,214 new jobs for Pennsylvanians and retain 22,155 existing jobs; they have been instrumental in the formation of 458 new companies and the development of 1,279 new products and processes. The Pennsylvania Ben Franklin Technology Partners network has returned $3.60 to the state treasury for every $1 invested in the program. 

The following early-stage companies will receive investment in the form of loans.
 
HB Custom Media, Inc., Ben Franklin TechVentures, Bethlehem, Northampton County
Ben Franklin Investment: $25,000
This company will expand the commercialization effort for producing and selling custom tissue culture media, reagents, cell culture supplements and mouse embryo culture media to the Research-Use-Only market. These products are essential for life sciences companies in various applications, including drug development, cancer research, nerve cell regeneration investigation and treatments for heart attacks.
 
Medtrics Lab, LLC, Lewisburg, Union County
Ben Franklin Investment: $25,000
Medtrics will conduct an expanded market launch of a cloud-based clinical education management software system. This software is crucial for healthcare institutions training the next generation of healthcare professionals. Work will include completing the web application for physician training programs, developing both Apple mobile (iOS) and Android applications, and building additional features to support nursing schools.
 
Skaffl, LLC, Ben Franklin TechVentures, Bethlehem
Ben Franklin Investment: $100,000
The investment will enable adding additional functionality to Skaffl, a new mobile application through which teachers and students can exchange class materials, assignments, completed homework, assessments and grades. This product addresses the growing use of tablets in K-12 classrooms and the needs of teachers as they develop tools and curricula to enhance real-time educational interaction.

TSG Software, Ben Franklin TechVentures, Bethlehem, Northampton County
Ben Franklin Investment: $50,000
TSG will implement processes to significantly increase marketing and sales lead generation in commercializing software for business cleaning services, property and facility managers, and building management contractors. TSG's Accelerator CC brings traditionally manual processes into cloud software to automate mission-critical processes. This eliminates workflow disruption.
 
Virterras Foods, Moosic, Lackawanna County
Ben Franklin Investment: $50,000
This investment will support the development of a large, state-of-the-art hydroponic greenhouse for climate-smart, year-round agriculture in Pennsylvania. The market for fresh, local food is growing rapidly. The U.S. now imports 65 percent of all fresh produce and Virterras is part of a growing trend to bring agriculture and jobs back to Pennsylvania.
 
Ben Franklin will also invest in the following established manufacturers, providing 1:1 matching funding for work with a college or university partner on tech-based innovation.
 
B. Braun Medical, Inc., Allentown
Ben Franklin Investment: $50,000
University Partner: Lehigh University's Enterprise Systems Center
These funds will support a baseline energy assessment and carbon footprint analysis at this manufacturer and distributor of disposable medical devices. The company is committed to sustainable manufacturing processes while also reducing costs and increasing market competitiveness. The overall goal is reducing energy use by at least 10 percent.
 
Custom Processing Services, Inc., Reading, Berks County
University Partner: Lehigh University's Enterprise Systems Center
Ben Franklin Investment: $15,000
With help from their partner, this company will create new processes to manage internal logistics and minimize material handling costs during its continued growth. CPS provides sophisticated air-jet milling, micronizing, blending and testing of powdered materials on a contract and toll basis. 
 
A. Rifkin Company, Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County
University Partner: Lehigh University's Enterprise Systems Center
Ben Franklin Investment: $17,100
This investment will help improve the cutting operation process and develop labor costs for the company's newly acquired Hope Uniform product line, which is relocating from New Jersey. Rifkin is the leading manufacturer of commercial and financial security bags, and is expanding into specialty apparel.
 
Simplex Industries, Inc., Scranton, Lackawanna County
University Partner: Lehigh University's Enterprise Systems Center
Ben Franklin Investment: $25,000
Simplex will map and analyze the designs of current processes to improve factory automation, material handling, storage and inventory control. Simplex is a regional leader in high quality modular construction, and is positioning itself as an industry-leading builder of energy efficient homes. The company built a prototype Net Zero home that is both environmentally conscientious and economically prudent for homeowners.

 

Scranton's Net Driven puts the pedal-to-the-metal, keeps growing

Growth continues to accelerate at Net Driven -- the company is now parked in new downtown headquarters at the Scranton Enterprise Center

Patrick Sandone founded the company, which offers digital marketing solutions to the automotive industry, with three employees in 2007. Since then, Net Driven has doubled in size every year; today it employs more than 60. The new 15,000-square-foot office is about three times the size of the company’s previous space and big enough to accommodate continued growth.

"We fully renovated the office space, which is now reflective of our technology-driven, Google-esque culture," explains Sandone.

The market for Net Driven’s proprietary website and Internet marketing platform is independent automotive businesses who need help competing with big-box retailers. 

"We now have clients in all 50 states, every Canadian province and a few foreign countries," says Sandone. "And this year, we’ve signed more clients each month than we sold in our entire first year combined." 

To keep up with the strong growth, Net Driven expects to hire at a rapid rate, creating as many as 50 jobs within the next year. The company is also continuing to develop products with a strong focus on service centers and new-and-used car dealerships, while releasing new software and software-upgrades on a monthly basis for its clients. 

"Keeping ahead of the technological curve helps our clients to remain competitive, which in turn keeps them utilizing the Net Driven platform to grow their business," he adds. "Our goal is to help independent automotive businesses thrive."

Net Driven's revenues have grown by 3,000 percent in the last five years; Sandone’s goal is to double revenue year-over-year. In acknowledgement of that growth, the company recently received a Governor’s Impact Award for Entrepreneurship

Source: Patrick Sandone, Net Driven
Writer: Elise Vider

Jump Start Grants to boost state's early-stage life science companies

It’s a classic dilemma: scientists have profound therapeutic or drug discovery expertise, but often lack the comprehensive development, regulatory or commercial expertise -- to say nothing of the necessary funds to engage consulting help -- to commercialize their discoveries. 

The Jump Start Grant, now accepting applications, is aimed at filling this void in Pennsylvania. Early stage therapeutic companies can compete for professional services and expertise in the form of product development and commercialization plans, which are critical to raising venture capital and growing efficiently. 

"Early stage companies often lack the expertise to comprehensively address the myriad commercial development challenges which exist in the life sciences marketplace," says Pennsylvania Bio President and CEO Christopher P. Molineaux. "We are fortunate to have partnered with two industry leaders on this unique grant opportunity which gives our members access to development and commercialization insights required for preparation of funding applications and presentations."

PharmaDirections of North Carolina and New Perspectives in Alabama are partnering with PA Bio, the statewide trade association for the life sciences, to award two grants of about $50,000 each.

Subject matter experts will assess applications based on the following submission criteria: concept, scientific rationale, innovation, market opportunity understanding, management team and impact. Two winners will receive service grants that include an additive development plan and budget, associated Gantt charts, and commercial opportunity assessment.

Applications are due August 21. Winners will be announced in October 2014 at PA Bio's Life Sciences Future Signature Event. 

Source: PA Bio
Writer: Elise Vider

Pennsylvania SBDC reports 2013 results amid a challenging funding environment

Nearly 11,000 aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners benefitted from free, confidential business management advice provided by Pennsylvania’s 18 Small Business Development Centers in 2013, and SBDC can point to an array of success stories and positive results.

But, in releasing its 2013 annual report, SBDC also makes clear that with an 8 percent drop in federal funds due to sequestration, its capacity is diminished.

Altogether, the centers advised 10,966 entrepreneurs and businesses in 2013, providing nearly 110,000 hours of consulting. Most participants were very small ventures, with fewer than six employees, and most requested help with developing a business plan. More than half -- 55 percent -- were operating in the service industry. Many were women-, minority- or veteran-owned. 

SBDC reports that the number of advisees fell by about 1,000 from 2012. The number of educational programs and attendees fell, too.

"Automatic, across-the-board spending cuts to federal funding took a toll on our program last year…directly impacting services to Pennsylvania’s small business owner," said PA SBDC State Director Christian Conroy in a statement. 

Still, client-obtained financing grew to more than $138 million and client government contacts rose to more than $305 million. 

Success stories included the Gannon University SBDC, which helped McKean Veterinary Hospital in Edinboro raise $960,000 to expand operations. The Bucknell University SBDC helped the father-daughter founders of Upper Desk in Hughesville with patent and market research for their product. And in Philadelphia, the Widener University SBDC helped the AAA School of Trucking navigate the federal procurement data system and find new opportunities.

SBDC says it is seeking "stable federal funding" for the 2015 fiscal year in order to "best serve entrepreneurs and small businesses in Pennsylvania and nationwide."

Source: Kelly Cofrancisco, SBDC
Writer: Elise Vider

PA businesses -- large and small, east and west -- to be honored with ImPAct Awards

An array of Pennsylvania companies -- everything from ABEC Inc. in Bethlehem to Zook Motors in Kane -- are finalists in the 2014 Governor’s ImPAct Awards

For the second year, the awards are aimed at celebrating "companies and individuals who are investing in Pennsylvania and creating jobs." The awards will be given at a May 30 luncheon at Hershey Lodge.

The finalists paint a picture of the Pennsylvania economy -- they range from small businesses to vast enterprises, startups to long-established companies, represent geographic diversity and come from a wide array of sectors. Where else would you find Webster’s Bookstore and Café in State College nominated in the same category as financial services giant Vanguard in Valley Forge?

The PA Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) led the process for nominations and selecting finalists. Two panels of judges from different parts of the state chose the 50 winners. Any size company is eligible, as long as they have significant operations in Pennsylvania and have been in business for at least one year. 

The awards will be given in five categories: Community Impact to a company that exemplifies the tenet of "doing well by doing good"; Entrepreneur Impact to recognize leadership via creativity, innovation, managerial ability, leadership skills or turnaround; Export Impact to a company that has significantly increased its export sales and number of new foreign markets since 2011; Jobs First, to recognize consistent job growth and retention; and Small Business Impact to a growing firm of 100 or fewer employees. 

Source: DCED and Laura Eppler, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern PA
Writer: Elise Vider
 

A new project builds on the success of Scranton business parks

Thanks to the success of its Valley View Business Park and Jessup Small Business Center, the Scranton Lackawanna Industrial Building Company (SLIBCO) is moving ahead with the development of a new 23-acre professional plaza.
 
The upcoming Valley View Business Park Professional Plaza will house businesses and amenities -- a hotel, restaurant, bank, daycare center, mini-mart, for example -- to support the existing business parks across the street.
 
"The Valley View Business Park and the Jessup Small Business Center have proven to be successful endeavors and continue to grow and expand," says Andy Skrip, vice president of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce; SLIBCO is the chamber’s industrial development affiliate. "The next phase of development -- creating a professional plaza to serve these companies -- is essential to maintaining thriving business parks."
 
SLIBCO is marketing the four available lots to commercial developers and Skrip hopes to see construction underway next year.
 
Meanwhile, SLIBCO is designing the necessary infrastructure -- the site currently consists of abandoned strip mines, subsurface mines and solid waste deposits, and will require environmental remediation to return it to productive use.
 
SLIBCO has secured $2.5 million in grants, loans and its own funding contribution. According to Skrip, the project will create about 250 construction jobs, and another 250 permanent jobs at build-out.
 
"We're excited about this development and what it means to the ongoing success of the Valley View Business Park and Jessup Small Business Center," he adds. "To be developing a commercial amenity park strictly to support a larger economic development project speaks to the confidence the community has in this major regional commerce center.”
 
Source: Andy Skrip, Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce
Writer: Elise Vider



C3i, a New Jersey life sciences tech provider, adds jobs near Scranton

C3i, Inc., a New Jersey-based provider of technology support services for the life sciences industry, is significantly growing its presence in Pennsylvania with a new help desk facility in Pittston. The new center will create 256 jobs in the next three years, bringing the company's total employment in the Commonwealth to more than 600.
 
C3i came to Northeast Pennsylvania in 2007 with a help desk located in Plains Township. In 2012, C3i opened a second facility nearby -- a hardware services depot located in Jenkins Township. These two centers, combined with positions located on-site at a client in Swiftwater, have led to 354 jobs in the state over the past six years. 
 
The new center will be located at the CenterPoint Commerce & Trade Park, site of the company's hardware depot. Governor Corbett's office reported that C3i will lease about 25,000 additional square feet of space to accommodate its growth plans and will invest $1.95 million in leasehold improvements, new equipment and employee training.

The company received a funding proposal from the state Department of Community and Economic Development, including a $115,200 grant for workforce training. Additional state funding offers include a $500,000 grant that facilitates investment and job creation, and $512,000 in job creation tax credits. 
 
"The expansion is a result of C3i recently winning large contracts with two global pharmaceutical companies to provide help desk support services for campus and field sales-based personnel," said the company. "This help desk will be open 24 hours a day, and while all calls in this center will be handled in English, they can originate from anywhere in the world."
 
Founded in 1993, C3i has grown into the leading provider of technology support services for the life sciences industry. Today, the company has over 1,500 employees and serves over three quarters of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies from global operations centers in North America, Europe, India and China.
 
Source: C3i and the Governor’s Office
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Precision POS/OrderEasyNow expands its software menu

Gino Piccolino grew up in the restaurant business and trained as a software engineer, so it was only logical that he started Precision POS in 2006, a company that supplies point-of-sale software to food and beverage operators. These systems boost productivity by allowing waitstaff to place orders on touch screen monitors.
 
About 50 restaurants in northeastern Pennsylvania, from pizza parlors to fine dining establishments, already use Precision's point-of-sale system. Now Piccolino is expanding his menu with OrderEasyNow (O-EZ),  a new company that develops cloud-based apps for restaurants. 
 
Say you like to eat at Thirst T’s in Olyphant. As an O-EZ client, Thirst T’s pays a monthly retainer, enabling it to offer free downloads of a custom-branded app to its customers. Using a smartphone or mobile device, those customers can browse the menu, view events and place orders for take-out or dine-in. Several hundred eaters have already done just that.
 
In addition, Piccolino continues to expand his point-of-sale software, developing a fully cloud-based system and a hybrid for Android devices that allows restaurateurs to manage from remote locations. But his primary focus now is on O-EZ, which has a large potential national market. The restaurant business, he says, is a notoriously late adopter for technology -- even many of the large national franchises don’t have apps.
 
Precision POS and O-EZ are tenants at the new TekRidge Center technology incubator at the Jessup Small Business Center. The combined companies employ two sales personnel and Piccolino says he expects to grow that number for O-EZ, possibly adding three to five jobs by year’s end.
 
Source: Gino Piccolino, Precision POS/OrderEasyNow
Writer: Elise Vider
  
 

Two new natural-gas-fueled power plants underway in PA

With its Liberty generating station under construction on 33 acres in Asylum Township, Panda Power Funds has announced a second plant. The Dallas investment company expects to break ground immediately on 85 acres in Clinton Township for its Patriot plant.
 
Panda says that each project translates to about 500 construction jobs. When the plants go online in 2016, each will create about 27 skilled jobs (to operate the facilities) and an additional 45 indirect jobs in the respective communities. 
 
Each plant is being "specifically developed to take a advantage of its proximity to the Marcellus Shale," says Panda. Each will power up to one million homes and be cooled with air, rather than water, protecting the Susquehanna watershed by neither drawing nor discharging water into the river. The Liberty plant also incorporates special blade designs, low-output motors and building enclosures to minimize sound.
 
Panda acquired the planned Liberty plant in August from Moxie Energy, a Virginia-based power plant developer. In December, it announced its second acquisition from Moxie, this time for the Patriot plant.
 
Source: Panda Power Funds
Writer: Elise Vider

Green Spirit Farms, a vertical indoor farming operation, comes to East Benton

On a recent frigid day near Scranton the wind chill was well below zero, but inside a newly repurposed industrial building in East Benton, peppers, tomatoes, kale and a variety of lettuces were happily growing at Green Spirit Farms, a new sustainable, vertical farm.
 
Green Spirit, based in Michigan, is building up indoor farming operations at the former Owens-Corning fiber optic plant, vacant for over a decade. At full capacity, possibly by year’s end, the facility will house 1,715 vertical growing stations -- the equivalent of 200 acres of farmland, growing seven million plants (herbs, vegetables, fruit ) -- that can be harvested year-round, creating about 100 new jobs.
 
Green Spirit President Milan Kluko, an engineer, founded the company in 2011 after developing a scalable and commercially viable approach to vertical farming. Accoring to Kluko, his method uses 98 percent less water, 96 percent less land and 40 percent less energy than conventional agriculture. The system employs full-spectrum induction lights, carefully calibrated to create a microenvironment for growing produce on multi-level industrial racks. The lights create enough heat for the growing plants without wasting energy to heat the entire building.
 
Kluko says that the Pennsylvania location appealed to Green Spirit because of its proximity to large local markets. (Most of the produce will be sold within about 75 miles of the farm.)

"Our mission is to provide local communities with high-quality, fresh, pesticide-free, non-GMO and sustainably grown produce at a fair price," he explains. "When we build our indoor vertical farms, we believe they are sustainable and healthy places to grow plants and a workforce."
 
Working with the Governor’s Action Team, Green Spirit received a $300,000 Pennsylvania First Program grant, $303,000 in Job Creation Tax Credits and a $45,450 grant to train its new workforce.
 
Source: Milan Kluko, Green Spirit Farms
Writer: Elise Vider

Contest offers $100K for shale innovation

The Ben Franklin Shale Gas Innovation and Commercialization Center is looking for the four best shale gas-oriented innovations, new product ideas or service concepts. The 2014 Shale Gas Innovation Competition is offering cash awards totaling $100,000, along with exposure to investors, potential partners and industry sponsors. The contest is open to researchers, entrepreneurs or small company innovators in Pennsylvania or West Virginia, or those willing to locate to either state.
 
"We are constantly amazed at the creativity we see from entrepreneurs who want to provide products or services," says Bill Hall, SGICC director. "What’s great about this competition is that a simple online summary is all that’s required to get started. Basically any idea related to the shale energy space is eligible -- even if it has already been commercially developed. In the past, we’ve seen applications related to natural gas utilization products/services, remote site monitoring, well-pad EH&S products or services, natural gas or NGL conversion technologies, and water management or remediation technologies.”
 
The deadline for applications is February 1. Finalists will be chosen by a panel of industry experts at an event in May 2014. 
 
Traditionally a Pennsylvania-focused event, the contest has been expanded to include West Virginia through a grant from the Benedum Foundation. This year the competition is co-sponsored by Ben Franklin Technology Partners and a wide range of partners. 
 
Source: Ben Franklin Shale Gas Innovation and Commercialization Center 
Writer: Elise Vider
 

In the realm of the senses, East Stroudsburg’s Vigon International leads in flavors and fragrances

You may not have heard of it, but chances are you’ve smelled or tasted it. Vigon International in East Stroudsburg is a leading manufacturer of the flavors and fragrances that go into everything from condiments to cosmetics, Pepsi to perfume.
 
The family-owned company makes and distributes over 1,800 items including flavor ingredients, fragrance ingredients, essential oils, synthetic ingredients, natural ingredients, aroma chemicals, oleoresins, botanical extracts, natural aroma chemicals and synthetic aroma chemicals. 
 
When President Steve Somers acquired the company in 1998, ten years after its establishment, it had 10 employees and about $6 million in sales. Today the company has a workforce of 70 – up from not quite 60 a year ago – $85 million in sales and exports to 50 countries. Through a network of partnerships, Vigon also manages sales, marketing, distribution or other U.S. operations for some of the world’s largest flavor and fragrance makers.
 
In a flat market (Somers says demand increases only one or two percent a year), Vigon has based its growth on capturing an increasing market share. And that, he attributes to an efficient, empowered and happy workforce. Somers is deeply committed to establishing a positive workplace culture; “it’s common sense,” he says.
 
Vigon has been recognized twice as a Best Place to Work in Pennsylvania. The company was also a 2013 recipient of the Governor’s ImPAct Award  for small business impact.
 
Looking ahead, Vigon is working on new manufacturing processes to boost its capacity for natural ingredients, a growing market segment.
 
Source: Steve Somers, Vigon International
Writer: Elise Vider
 

From wine stoppers to flower pots, Jessup's Besta Cork turns recycled cork into consumer wares

In only a few months, a Scranton-area startup has kept tens of thousands of corks – 91,750 as of October 8, to be precise – out of landfills. Instead, Besta Cork recycles all those wine stoppers and crafts them into an expanding line of consumer products.
 
Shawn Whitiak founded the company earlier this year with partners Michelle Mendez and Paula Corrales after the trio of young entrepreneurs won the Great Valley Technology Alliance Business Plan Competition. Casting about for an innovative business idea, Whitiak, an undergraduate business major at Keystone College, saw a cork chair designed by Corrales and "was completely blown away by the possibilities of cork."

Cork, says Besta Cork, is the ideal, sustainable material for consumer products: it is highly durable, light, compressible and elastic, non-toxic, biodegradable, antibacterial, non-conductive and not flammable.
 
The competition awarded the trio $50,000 in cash and in-kind services, including business consulting, accounting services, web design and office space at the TekRidge Center, a technology incubator at the Jessup Small Business Center.
 
Besta Cork partners with Cork Reharvest, the nation's largest cork recycler. Besta Cork, Whitiak explains, grinds and mixes the cork with non-toxic materials in his garage. Next, it is packed into molds and heated up in his oven for 40 minutes, emerging as Besta Corks' line of bowls, flower pots and even a stool. 
 
The company's line of "Corkit" flower pots allow plants to breathe, eliminating the need for drainage. The "Acorn Chair" is a stool that can support up to 200 pounds.  
 
Source: Shawn Whitiak, Besta Cork
Writer: Elise Vider

Wanted: shale gas innovators; Reward: $25,000-plus

The Ben Franklin Shale Gas Innovation and Commercialization Center is looking for researchers, entrepreneur or innovators with great ideas in the shale gas space in Pennsylvania or West Virginia.
 
SGICC announced the 3rd annual Shale Gas Innovation Contest, with a purse of $25,000 in cash prizes for each of the four best shale gas-oriented innovations, new product ideas or service concepts that are either in the development stage or recently launched. Besides cash, the winners are also promised exposure to investors, potential partners and industry sponsors.
 
"Any idea related to the shale gas space is eligible - even if the product or service has already been commercially developed," said SGICC Director Bill Hall in a statement. "Examples include natural gas utilization products/services, remote site monitoring, well pad EH&S products or services, natural gas or NGL conversion technologies and water management or remediation technologies."
 
Applications are due February 1, 2014; a panel of industry experts will choose finalists.
 
This year's contest has been expanded to include West Virginia through a grant from the Benedum Foundation. The 3rd Annual Shale Gas Innovation Contest is co-sponsored by Ben Franklin Technology Partners, ANGA, Acorn Energy, AquaTech, Baker Hughes, Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation, Chevron Technology Ventures, CONSOL Energy, Chesapeake Energy, First National Bank, GE Oil & Gas, Little Pine Resources, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, Praxair, Range Resources and Seneca Resources Corporation.
 
Source: SGICC
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Stroudsburg's IER applies its social outreach technology to childhood obesity and more

It all started with the fruits and vegetables that Edward Connors used in the classroom. As founder in 2008 of East Stroudsburg's Innovative Educational Resources to teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), Connors says that having students guess the number of petals on an artichoke, say, was a great way to teach math.
 
But the approach also yielded an altogether different realization. "Our work with inquiry-based math and science using fruits and vegetables as manipulatives in the K-8 classroom led us to discover new educational opportunities related to food choice and nutritional education," Connors says.
 
In 2010, IER won $548,000 in U.S. Department of Agriculture funding to look at how technology could be used to address the problem of childhood obesity.  What ultimately resulted is IER's "virtual social worker," a community-based research method and community engagement platform, aimed at providing underserved and vulnerable populations – low income, low literacy, non-English speaking, for example – with culturally relevant access to information on health and nutrition.
 
Working with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, IER piloted its approach in an application intended to improve access to health and social service resources for the Hispanic community around Charlotte, North Carolina.  IER is also behind the recent launch of PoconoHealth.org, an interactive, online directory of health, social service and education resources. 
 
Now Connors is preparing to establish a new company, Heudia, to apply the same strategy and technology to health literacy. "I realized that health care costs are being driven by the same lack of access to primary care and income inequality," he says. 
 
 
Source: Edward Connors, Innovative Educational Resources
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Entrepreneurs and startups will be eligible for Innovate in PA funding

The state has officially launched its new Innovate in PA program to accelerate high-wage job growth by supporting entrepreneurs and startups.
 
At a recent visit to Innovation Works' Alpha Lab, Gov. Corbett said, “With 98 percent of new jobs in Pennsylvania coming from startups and small emerging growth companies, Innovate in PA is a common-sense approach to economic growth. Innovate in PA’s investments will help forward-thinking companies inspired with vision to become household names, turning Pennsylvania into the next Silicon Valley.”
 
Innovate in PA, effective as of October 1, will offer $100 million in deferred tax credits to insurance companies in the state to raise funds over multiple years. The funds raised will be directed to the Ben Franklin Technology Development Partners, three Life Sciences Greenhouses and the Venture Capital investment program.
 
The governor's office said Innovate in PA is projected to create a minimum of 1,850 technology jobs, nearly 3,500 indirect jobs and more than double the return-on-investment back to the state. For every dollar invested via Innovate in PA in early-stage businesses, it is projected that $2.37 will be returned to the state in additional tax revenues.
 
“With Innovate in PA we offer new ways to support creative thinking and business know-how with vital investment,” Corbett said. “Every great business begins with a bold idea and we are here to give you that initial boost to propel your startups from a plan on paper to a thriving company that embodies the American dream.”
 
The legislature created the new tax credit program this summer to address the seed capital needs of startup companies and small businesses with the goal of supporting growth and expansion in Pennsylvania, facilitating job growth, new patents and products and increasing tax revenues for the Commonwealth. 
 
Source: Governor's Office
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Carbondale's Gentex wins $86.6M defense contract for state-of-the-art helmets

U.S. armed forces will be wearing lighter and more comfortable, high-tech helmets made by the Carbondale-based Gentex Corporation. The company has a new $86.6 million multi-year contract to provide lightweight advanced combat helmets (ACH) to the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. 
 
Gentex has been a helmet supplier to the U.S. government for more than 60 years. Gentex uses advanced technology and manufacturing resources to deliver a helmet that is eight percent lighter than previous ACH helmets and provides "added stability comfort and performance capability for the soldier," the company said.
 
"The award represents our long-standing relationship with the U.S. government and our commitment to continually advance the capabilities of our advanced protective helmet solutions for defense and security forces around the world," said L.P. Frieder III, the company's president, in a statement.
 
Gentex has a long history in Carbondale. It started as the Klots Throwing Company, which relocated its silk processing plant to Carbondale after an 1894 fire in order to engage an untapped workforce – the wives and daughters of coal miners. Later, as General Silk, it became of the largest silk fiber processors in the world. During World War II, the company, again renamed as General Textile Mills, produced parachutes for the military. It began manufacturing helmets in 1948. Today, as "a leading provider of personal protection and situational awareness solutions for global defense and security forces," Gentex has operations around the country.
 
Thetimes-tribune.com reports that Gentex employs about 425 people in Fell Twp. who also manufacture flight-crew helmets, fire-resistant garments and optical products. 
 
Source: Gentex Corporation
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Rainwear, pure air, advanced batteries and more: Innovative companies receive Ben Franklin $$$

Makers of green electrical generators, hospital air purification systems, rainproof materials and advanced batteries are among the innovative companies that have received a total of almost $325,000 in new investments from the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania
 
Four early-stage companies received loans. They are:
 
EthosGen LLC in Wilkes-Barre received $115,000 to continue commercialization efforts for its proprietary on-site, alternative-energy, waste-heat-to-electrical-power generator that produces electricity from sustainable and renewable sources. 
 
LifeAire Systems, LLC  of Allentown got $40,000 to conduct a series of test programs to validate the effectiveness of its air purification technology in a hospital setting, and expand marketing efforts for selling the units to in vitro fertilization laboratories. 
 
Map Decisions, a resident at Ben Franklin TechVentures in Bethlehem, received $13,200 to identify resources for marketing and sales support to help commercialize its field information management software system. Map Decisions’ software platform replaces outdated methods of data collection such as paper forms, cameras, video, spreadsheets and hard-to-use, expensive professional GPS units.
 
Zero Rain, LLC in Mildred received $50,000 to begin operations to apply a new, proprietary chemical to natural fabrics and finished apparel that makes them water-repellant and resistant to stains and odors. The treatment works on all natural fabrics, including cotton, silk, wool, and cashmere. 
 
In addition, these established manufacturers were awarded 1:1 matching funding for work with a college or university partner on technology-based manufacturing innovation:
 
Alpha Packaging of Bethlehem, a maker of plastic bottles and jars primarily for the nutritional, pharmaceutical, personal care, housewares, consumer chemical and food and beverage markets, was awarded $48,000?to work with Lehigh University’s Enterprise Systems Center to implement practices and install equipment to reduce its energy consumption by 20%.

East Penn Manufacturing Company in Lyon Station received $48,000 to develop a complete analysis of front-end considerations in support of the company’s new advanced battery products. Partnering with The Emerging Technologies Application Center at Northampton Community College, East Penn, the largest manufacturing employer in Berks County, will address packaging, transport, storage, safety and precautions in materials handling.
 
Precise Graphix of Emmaus, a designer, fabricator, and installer of interior décor, signage and store fixtures, was awarded $10,300 to work with Lehigh University’s Enterprise Systems Center to improve its production layout and optimize its job cost analysis process. The analysis will lead to more effective scheduling utilization and increased profitability, as well as an improved layout of the manufacturing operations to streamline process flow.
 
Source: Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern PA
Writer: Elise Vider
 

IPart keeps its funding rolling to assist tech startups secure federal grants

Once again, Pennsylvania's Innovation Partnership (IPart) has scored funding in a challenging environment, in order to "assure Pennsylvania's small technology companies that its programs will continue to assist them in generating winning, fundable federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) proposals."
 
Director Kelly Wylam says that IPart secured a $95,000 Federal State and Technology Partnership (FAST) grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration. The funds were contingent on successfully raising a dollar-for-dollar match from the IPart membership: Ben Franklin Technology Partners, University City Science Center, Life Sciences Greenhouse of Central PA, Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, Pennsylvania Small Business Development Centers, Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania State University School of Medicine, BioStrategy Partners, the Innovation Transfer Network, Ben Franklin Venture Investment Forum, Drexel University and Temple University.
 
With $190,000 in hand for the 2013-14 fiscal year, Wylam says that IPart can provide training, assistance and review of proposals and micro vouchers and micro grants to help small companies defray the costs of preparing winning proposals.
 
The potential return-on-investment is high. Wylam notes that in fiscal 2012-13, IPart assisted about 25 companies, two of whom have already received phase 1 federal awards of $250,000 each. Subsequent phases offer money in the millions. Since IPart's inception in 2003, the program, administered by the Ben Franklin Technology Partners, has conducted 505 technical reviews and 92 SBIR/STTR federal awards have been granted, totaling over $25 million.
 
Despite a drop in federal/state funding, Wylam says, "we have not missed a beat here." For a very small amount of money, she adds, "We're helping [Pennsylvania's tech startups] have a better chance of winning these dollars and moving their technologies forward."
 
Source: Kelly Wylam, IPart
Writer: Elise Vider

Small is big: PA businesses rack up accolades in National Small Business Week

The 50th annual National Small Business Week starts Monday and a group of Pennsylvania businesses, businesspeople and development centers are being cited for their contributions to the Commonwealth’s economy and their commitment to their local community and region.  
 
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) National Small Business Week Awards recognize small businesses on a variety of levels including growth of employees, increase in sales, sound financial performance, response to adversity and community contributions.
 
The big enchilada is Zeigler Bros of Gardners, which was named national exporter of the year, the top SBA award for exports. (See accompanying story.)
 
Elsewhere in the SBA’s Philadelphia district, the Widener University SBDC  in Chester won accolades for excellence and innovation, also picking up a regional award covering Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Washington DC and West Virginia. Gresham's Chophouse  in Hawley was named Eastern PA’s family business of the year and David Wise II, owner of G.S. Madison  (owner two 1-800-GOT-Junk? franchises) and BOXAROO  in Reading was named small businessperson of the year.
 
Across the state, Pittsburgh SBA district winners were: Clarion University SBDCGuy Chemical Company of Somerset, exporter of the year, and Jonathan Miller of Dimples LLC in Ashville, which makes software to save printer ink and toner, as young entrepreneur of the year.
 
The Widener SBDC and Zeigler Brothers will be in Washington DC on June 21 to receive their awards. 
 
Source: Pennsylvania SBDC 
Writer: Elise Vider     
 
 
 

For those who give back, a social network to call their own

It is a paradox that volunteers can be expensive and time consuming for the schools, nonprofits and businesses that use them. GiveGab is a social network for volunteers (think LinkedIn for unpaid workers) with features aimed at both those that manage volunteers and volunteers themselves.
 
Volunteer managers use GiveGab to create and manage events, promote their programs, recruit volunteers, track hours and report on all the good they're doing to funders, alumni and other interested parties.
 
Founder Charlie Mulligan offers this example. Marywood University in Scranton strongly encourages volunteerism. Last year, students donated 71,000 hours with each student filling out and submitting written documentation. "At the end of the year, they had 71,000 hours of paperwork," says Mulligan, and, without GiveGab's technology, it took two nuns an entire summer to enter the results into the school's database.
 
Individuals interested in volunteering use GiveGab to find opportunities, log their hours, create a resume and connect with others.
 
GiveGab was founded in 2011 and already has 122 universities (including Ivy League and other big-name schools), about 1,800 nonprofits and more than 10,000 users. Now the company has raised $1.6 million in venture capital and is launching a premium service that will offer more robust reporting, communications and tracking tools. GiveGab is targeting universities as its prime market for the new, subscription service because with their vast number of students and relationships with nonprofits, "each university is its own ecosystem," says Mulligan.
 
The company is headquartered in Ithaca, NY, where it employs 11, and maintains a four-person office in Dunmore. With a  $35,000 loan from Ben Franklin Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania  to boost sales and marketing of the new premium service, GiveGab expects to add about three more to its sales team, likely in Pennsylvania.
 
Source: Charlie Mulligan, GiveGab
Writer: Elise Vider

TekRidge in Jessup joins ranks of PA tech incubators

The Scranton Lackawanna Industrial Building Company (SLIBCO) cut the ribbon earlier this month at the state's newest technology incubator, the $8.3 million TekRidge Center, located at the Jessup Small Business Center.
 
The new facility will house technology-related companies and provide incubator space to startup and expanding small business ventures in northeastern Pennsylvania.
 
Bedrock Technology, an IT consulting firm, is the first signed tenant and SLIBCO is in negotiations with a biotech company, says Kathryn McDermott of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce. Altogether, the 45,000-square-foot building can house 11 startups in its incubator space and up to eight anchor tenants.
 
"TekRidge Center is a testament to our commitment to investing in projects that support and foster entrepreneurism," said SLIBCO vice president Andy Skrip in a statement.
 
Besides locating to the brand-new, glass-and-steel building, designed by Hemmler & Camayd of Scranton, tenants are eligible for Keystone Opportunity Expansion Zone (KOEZ) and Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ) tax benefits through 2020, McDermott says.
 
Source: Kathryn McDermott, Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Ben Franklin Technology Partners of NEPA toasts entrepreneurial and technology achievements

Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania presented its 19th annual Innovation Awards this month, after hearing a few words from economist Todd Buchholz on how creative competition drives success.
 
With that it mind, the 2013 winners are:
 
CyOptics, Inc., Breinigsville for entrepreneurial achievement. A maker of optoelectronics, the company survived difficult economic times by building intellectual property and market share. It was recently acquired for $400 million.
 
Computer Aid, Inc., Allentown, named most successful BFTP incubator graduate. Founded in the early 1980s, CAI has grown from concept to successful operation as a worldwide leader in IT metrics, process and productivity -- "a classic incubator success story," says BFTP.
 
Micro Interventional Devices in Langhorne, which has developed a device used in heart surgery, was honored for product innovation.
 
East Penn Manufacturing Co., Lyon Station, an old-line company that produces and recycles lead-acid batteries, was honored for manufacturing achievement.
 
The partnership award, made to an individual, went to Edward Thompson, a Clarks Summit CPA and "a seasoned finance and accounting advisor to a number of Ben Franklin early-stage clients, [who] is enormously helpful, supportive, and proficient," BFTP says.
 
Source:  Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania

Writer: Elise Vider

BFTP invests $315K in eight innovative Northeast companies

Software, social media, sales and storage are some of the sweet spots for eight companies receiving $315,700 in new investments from the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s  (BFTP/NEP).  

These five early-stage companies will receive loans:

Bison Analytics
of Lewisburg, $35,000 to complete development of its business intelligence software for small businesses that use QuickBooks™ accounting software. Bison will continue software enhancements, develop a sales strategy for the company’s cloud-based product, and analyze follow-on funding tactics.
 
Cerora Inc., a resident of Ben Franklin TechVentures business incubator in Bethlehem, $50,000 to re-engineer software and hardware, and commercialize the Cerora brainwave sensor, a medical-grade, portable, and affordable electroencephalogram (EEG) that measures and records the electrical activity of the brain.
 
EggZack another TechVentures firm, $48,000 to complete efforts to improve the inbound sales process, which promotes EggZack through informative social media content marketing. EggZack markets a patent-pending software as a service (SaaS) solution aimed at marketing small businesses.
 
Everest Business Services in West Wyoming, $50,000 to establish brand recognition and sales by leveraging partnerships and Internet sales strategies. Everest utilizes proprietary software to provide short-run, digital print products.
 
Dunmore's GiveGab,  $35,000 to implement a sales and marketing strategy to begin commercializing premium features of GiveGab's proprietary web-based software platform that facilitates communications between volunteers and nonprofits networks.
 
BFTP also named three established manufacturers as recipients of 1:1 matching funding for work with a college or university partner on technology-based manufacturing innovation. They are:
 
Consolidated Storage Companies, Inc.,  of Tatamy and Lehigh University’s Enterprise Systems Center, $25,000 to help complete a plant-wide production analysis at this manufacturer of storage systems and tool chests in order to optimize manufacturing processes.
 
EcoTech Marine  of Allentown and Lehigh University’s Enterprise Systems Center, $22,700 to complete implementation of a new Enterprise Resource Planning system with features to accommodate expansion and maintain quality. EcoTech makes pumps and lighting for hobby reef aquariums.
 
Hydro Recovery, Blossburg and Penn State, $50,000 to investigate the economic extraction of useful materials from residual “frac” water, used in the development of natural gas wells.

Source: BFTP/NEP
Writer: Elise Vider
 
 
 

Bots & BBQ: Upcoming robotics open house in Lackawanna County aimed at manufacturers, students

Mike Duffy of Keystone Automation in Duryea and John Mele of Jam Works Robotics Solutions in Forest City are both Harley-riding Navy veterans. The companies they founded, Keystone in 1999 for automated machinery, and Jam Works in 2007 for robotics, collaborate frequently. "There's nothing that can't be done with these two systems," says Mele.
 
Now the two are joining forces on Bots & BBQ, a fun-sounding, two-day robotics open house  with some ambitious goals in mind. From 9-5 on Thursday, April 18 and Friday, April 19, Duffy and Mele hope to make Pennsylvania manufacturers aware of the huge advancements in robotics and automation and generate orders, sure. But equally important, they want to impress upon students and educators the appeal of a job in modern manufacturing.
 
"There's a major problem with the perception of manufacturing," says Duffy. "We want to showcase that it's not working in a dirty, nasty foundry … You're going to be using your mind, as well as your hands."  Most advanced manufacturing jobs today, he adds, require a two–year degree and they pay far more than most jobs available to those with just a high school diploma.
 
On both days, the agenda includes plant tours for students, seminars on topics ranging from pneumatics to data collection and seven demonstration robotics work- cells, performing typical operations such as measuring, palletizing and high-speed handling. Fanuc, a major robotics maker for whom Jam Works is an exclusive integrator and distributor, will be on hand, along with Rockwell AutomationPenn-Air & Hydraulics,  Norgren  and Bimba.  

The BBQ part? The organizers will be bringing in roast pig each day for lunch.
 
Source: Mike Duffy, Keystone Automation, and John Mele, Jam Works Robotics Solutions
Writer: Elise Vider

How Lackawaxen's GK World survived the Great Recession

Still in high school, Greg Legnini started his business in 1997 selling Pokémon items on EBay. By the time he graduated, his GK World  was an early online retailing success, with four full-time employees. 
 
For more than 10 years, Legnini says, relying on entrepreneurial instinct, trial and error, his sales grew nicely on an expanding stock of anime, cartoons, comics, movie and TV memorabilia.  Until 2010 that is, when socked by the recession and increased competition from Amazon, sales fell nearly 40%. 
 
Now, says Legnini, GK World, based in Lackawaxen, is once again on a roll. 2013 sales so far are strong and Legnini is cautiously optimistic that they'll be nearly back to pre-recession levels this year. What's more, he has been able to reinstate the two full-timers whose hours were drastically cut. 
 
The process by which Legnini saved GK World, thoroughly reworking his business and marketing plans, is a great case study for any imperiled small business, 
 
For the first time, Legnini got professional help. Meeting weekly with University of Scranton Small Business Development Center business counselor Stephen Ursich, it became  clear, for example, that "there is no way to compete any more on price" with giant e-tailers like Amazon. Instead, GK World is now rebuilding its brand on attentive customer service and loyalty, "more of a personal touch." To respond to economic reality, Legnini adjusted his product mix to include more lower-priced items.  He has added about 10,000 new products, and is now is at about 30,000 items.  
 
On the marketing side, Legnini relaunched his website as a mobile-optimized app "so we look great on smartphones and tablets."
 
"It's really a process," says Legnini. "But with better planning and organization, and by working out a solid business plan, it fell into place."
 
Source: Greg Legnini, GK World
Writer: Elise Vider

PA is hot among site selectors and a new tool heats things up even more

We may not mess with Texas, but Pennsylvania ranks third in new facilities and expansions – and first in the Northeast – according to the prestigious annual rankings published last week in Site Selection magazine
 
The 2012 Governor's Cup went to the Lone Star State, which led the nation with 761 projects in 2012. (The publication counts private-sector projects that meet one or more of these criteria: a minimum $1 million investment, creation of 50 or more new jobs or construction of new space of at least 20,000 square feet. Equipment upgrades, additions and construction jobs don't count.)
 
Ohio was second with 491 projects and Pennsylvania was next with 430 in the national rankings. Ranked by region, the Keystone State's 430 easily beat the number-two state, New York, which came in at 119. In new manufacturing, Pennsylvania had 130 projects, compared to New York's 26; in manufacturing expansion, the Commonwealth's 97 beat the Empire State by 49.
 
Site Selection was also upbeat about Pennsylvania in a January profile assessing the impact of the energy sector on the state's economy. 
 
With such fertile ground for new and expanded commercial ventures, new features on Team PA's SiteSearch website are well timed. The site now includes heat maps that provide a visual representation of demographic statistics. The new business search allows for queries of businesses statewide by geography, type, number of employees and annual revenue.
 
"The enhanced functionalities of PA SiteSearch puts more information at the fingertips of site selectors or company officials looking to locate to, or expand their operations, in PA," says Matt Zeigner of Team PA. 
 
The race is on for 2013.
 
Source: Site Selection magazine
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Stroudsburg's A Sound Strategy stays in tempo with software developments, could double staff in 2013

As a jazz musician – he was at one time Wynton Marsalis' director of touring and special projects – Dennis Jeter knows a thing or two about rhythm changes. And few rhythms have changed as fast as those on the Internet.
 
Since founding A Sound Strategy, a software and web development firm, in 2004, Jeter has stayed in tempo with changes in technology and marketing, steadily introducing new products and markets for his Stroudsburg company.
 
ASSi's siteMaster started out as a proprietary content management system. "There was no software-as-a-service market," says Jeter, "So we used it to build websites and sell licenses for its use."
 
Today siteMaster is a cloud-based business management suite. Over the years, ASSi has built in new modules and new functionality to its core product: document management, multi-media, membership and subscriptions and e-commerce among them. 
 
ASSi rolled out its newest product, siteMaster Touch, late last year. With the premise that "the keyboard is obsolete," it is a cloud-based platform for keyboardless devices such as touchscreen mobile phones and tablets. 
 
Jeter is also focusing on new markets, especially hospitality and entertainment and associations. Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern PA  invested $30,000 last year to help ASSi build the infrastructure necessary for a national sales effort. 
 
Reflecting its growth and the arrival of two new partners, ASSi recently moved to bigger space and to be nearer to the business district in Stroudsburg. The company currently employs eight and Jeter projects that the staff could double this year to accommodate more software engineers, sales and marketing personnel. 
 
Source: Dennis Jeter, A Sound Strategy
Writer: Elise Vider
 
 
 
 

High-tech new products and low-tech networks at Carbondale's Prova Systems

Since its launch in 2010, Prova Systems  has been steadily building its product line and opening up new markets for its fleet-management hardware and software. But CEO John Collins is equally proud of a more low-tech success as lead sponsor of Net-Tech, a growing network for tech professionals and entrepreneurs in northeastern Pennsylvania. "We're interested in building a nice tech community here," says Collins.
 
Based in Carbondale, Prova launched Fleet Genius PRO, its new, cloud-based fleet management application, in October. A microcomputer plugs into a vehicle's onboard computer and allows for 24/7 monitoring of that vehicle's speed, mileage, fuel consumption, maintenance needs, driver behavior and more. 
 
The new application builds on Prova's innovative hardware and software tools that offer cost-effective fleet management, especially for the modest fleets operated by local governments and small businesses such as construction or landscape companies. 
 
And Prova has more new products in the pipeline. A new Bluetooth wireless device for Androids will be launched within weeks, says Collins, and a passive GPS system that doesn't require an active cellular connection is coming.
 
On the sales and marketing side, Collins is looking to expand into direct consumer sales. Households with several cars – especially those with teenage drivers – can monitor driver behavior such as speeding, acceleration, deceleration and dangerous driving. The company is also looking at expanding its market to the West Coast and abroad to South America.
 
For now, Prova, which has been bolstered by funding each of the past two years from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania, has three full-timers: Collins and his founding partners John Yaron and Franco DiRosa. Within 12 months, he expects to add as many as five new positions: engineers, administrative help and, as sales grow, shipping personnel. 
 
Source: John Collins, Prova Systems
Writer: Elise Vider
 

So cool: Lakeville's innovative Sculpted Ice Works

In 2007, Mark Crouthamel, founder of Lakeville's Sculpted Ice Works, launched Crystal Cabin Fever, with its ice log cabin and ice-carving demonstrations, as a self-preservation tool to carry his company through its winter doldrums.
 
Since then, the February event has grown into a community-wide tourist happening that drew 12,000 visitors last year and helps fill nearby restaurants and hotels. "Businesses have winter blues, too, especially in the tourism sector," says Crouthamel. "It's more than cabin fever, it's more like cabin bubonic plague." 
 
Where once Sculpted Ice Works had to shut down production and lay off staff in winter, Crouthamel now more than doubles his permanent workforce of 16 to keep up with Cabin Fever and other February happenings such as the Clarks Summit and Stroudsburg ice festivals.
 
A former chef, Crouthamel was introduced to ice carving in culinary school. He founded his company in 2000, selling ice sculptures for wedding and events and blocks of ice to other carvers. The business has steadily grown, and innovated, ever since.
 
Recognizing the tourism potential of his craft, Crouthamel opened his plant year-round to factory tours and added attractions like the onsite museum interpreting the Poconos' pre-refrigeration, ice-harvesting industry. On the production side, Crouthamel went green, reclaiming heat from the huge compressors and instituting a slow-feed water system.
 
Sculpted Ice Works is now nearing settlement on its 4.5-acre, seven-building facility, a former lumberyard, is looking at adding solar panels and is planning purchase of new equipment that will boost boost production by 30% and add three more positions in the next six to 12 months.
 
Crystal Cabin Fever runs from February 8-24.
 
Source: Mark Crouthamel, Sculpted Ice Works
Writer: Elise Vider

East Stroudsburg's SuccessTSM helps disaster-proof companies

If recent history has demonstrated anything, it is that companies need to be better prepared for calamity. Notes Rick Bailey, founder of SuccessTSM in East Stroudsburg, "most companies become very interested in our product once they've had a disaster."
 
Small wonder, then, that in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, several New York firms have become strong prospects for SuccessTSM's disaster management software.
 
SuccessTSM sells and services its proprietary Maggie Bare Server Restore (MBSR), which Bailey says "can restore back up infrastructure within minutes" after a man-made or natural disaster, power loss or other catastrophe.   The current industry standard is at least four hours.
 
The software is designed to restore data and get company computers back up and running by restoring so-called "B" failover sites that take over when "A" production sites' primary servers are down. Bailey established the company in 2010 after retiring from IBM and his niche market is companies that use Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM), a widely used IBM product.
 
This fall, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern PA loaned SuccessTSM $85,000 to implement a repeatable sales process for its MBSR software. The company also has several new products in development. One, to be launched in late 2013 or early 2014, will dramatically reduce recovery time for "A" servers; another launch anticipated for 2015 will be a version that opens up overseas markets, Bailey says.
 
The company currently employs five; by the end of 2013, Bailey hopes to be up to 15 or 20.
 
 
Source: Rick Bailey, SuccessTSM
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Northeastern PA bioscience industries get shot-in-the-arm with new grant $$$

Northeastern Pennsylvania' biosciences industry – direct patient care, medical equipment, research and testing, pharmaceutical and more – got a massive shot-in-the-arm this month with $492,000 in grants intended to grow the sector and its economic impact.
 
"We have a unique opportunity here in northeastern Pennsylvania to capitalize on our many intellectual resources and our geographic proximity to major metropolitan areas in developing an effective and productive bioscience region," said John Wiercinski, an executive with Geisinger Health System, in a statement. "The success of this initiative can pay dividends for decades to come."
 
The funds -- $305,000 from a state "Discovered in PA, Developed in PA" grant and $187,000 from the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority  – will be used by the Northeastern Pennsylvania Regional Bioscience Initiative (NEPA RBI) to support a web-enabled database; expand bioscience career awareness, education and training; enhance the region's research capacity and retain and attract bioscience workers, businesses and entrepreneurs.
 
NEPA RBI was established in 2010 to grow the biosciences in a region comprised of Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike, Schuylkill, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties.  Its focus is on linking college and university research and development programs, supporting biosciences career development, workforce attraction and retention, entrepreneurial support systems, real estate availability and business outreach.
 
Source: The Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce
Writer: Elise Vider

Statewide consortium does its part to keep IPart around for technology grant support

Like the young tech companies it serves, the Innovation Partnership (IPart)  did some creative problem solving earlier this year when its state funding evaporated. With a new membership funding model and a recently acquired $80,000 federal grant, IPart now says it "can assure Pennsylvania's small technology companies that its programs will continue to assist them in generating winning, fundable federal SBIR and STTR proposals."
 
To the uninitiated, the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs make highly coveted federal grants to small businesses to conduct research and development and to commercialize their innovations. IPart's role is to assist Pennsylvania's emerging, technology-based companies in the Commonwealth in making their submissions. Since its founding in 2003 by the PA Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), IPart has provided 489 technical reviews to Pennsylvania companies; 90 companies have been awarded over $25 million in federal grants.
 
Among IPart's success stories are ChromaTan in State College, RE2 in Pittsburgh and Y-Carbon in Bristol. 
 
Director Kelly Wylam credits increased support from IPart's members around the state -- Ben Franklin Technology Partners, University City Science Center, Life Sciences Greenhouse of Central PA, Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, Pennsylvania Small Business Development Center, Pennsylvania State University, Drexel University and Temple University – for keeping IPart up and running and able to further leverage federal funds like the $80,000 Federal State and Technology Partnership grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
 
Pennsylvania, she adds, consistently ranks as a top-10 state for SBIR and STTR funds: "We're a contender."
 
Source: Kelly Wylam, IPart
Writer: Elise Vider
 
 
 
 
 
 

Socially conscious "B Corps" win a passing grade in PA

The drive to the new economy accelerated last week, when Pennsylvania became the 12th state to officially incentivize corporate activism with the creation of legally sanctioned benefit corporations or "B Corps. "
 
"B Corp certification is to sustainable business what LEED certification is to green building or Fair Trade certification is to coffee," says B Lab, the Berwyn-based nonprofit behind the global B Corps movement.
 
Under the new Pennsylvania measure, passed unanimously by both houses in Harrisburg and signed immediately into law by Gov. Corbett, directors of B Corps can take non-financial interests into consideration without fear of legal repercussion. Until now, those directors were legally mandated to make decisions based solely on maximizing profits. So a B Corp can, for example, lose money on a charitable or socially conscious venture without fear of getting sued by its shareholders.
 
Even without official sanction, there are already 51 voluntary B Corps in the Commonwealth, according to B Lab, including Azavea, a software firm in Philadelphia, Dansko, the footwear maker in West Grove and One Village Coffee in Souderton. Worldwide, says B Lab, there are 643 B Corps including big names like Ben & Jerry's , King Arthur Flour , Seventh Generation and Method  household products.
 
Writer: Elise Vider

Building an online tribe with Scranton's Tribal Media

When Bella Contour, an Australian spa chain, wanted to break into the U.S. market with social media, they turned to Scranton's Tribal Media and gained more than 2,400 fans in the first three months using Facebook and a niche-marketed ad campaign. 
 
The Wilkes-Barre Times Leader grew its page engagement by 450% and earned 519 new fans in its first month. Krispy Kreme and Hampton Inn are other brand-name clients who have turned to Tribal, a marketing firm with a laser focus on social media. 
 
Tribal Media's name itself is deft branding. "A tribe is the earliest form of a social community and we thought it was very fitting since we are committed to helping our clients grow their online tribes," says Ryan Adcroft, the firm's managing partner.
 
Adcroft and his partner Krysty Petrucci were both in sales in 2010 when they noticed how many businesses were lacking a social media presence. Only two years later, the increased imperative for social media has driven their growth. Adcroft recently went fulltime and the company is planning to hire two or three fulltime account executives in the next six months. It also employs a steady stream of freelance graphic designers and was recognized earlier this month as the Scranton Chamber's Small Business Spotlight winner.
 
There is no cookie-cutter model for social media engagement, but Adcroft does offer a few general tips. Facebook is the gold standard and "every business should have a Facebook presence right now." Other key platforms are Twitter, Google+, Linked In and, coming up strong, Instagram and Pinterest. 
 
Source: Ryan Adcroft, Tribal Media
Writer: Elise Vider
 

PA's digital government services get an A-minus, helping business and boosting efficiency

Last year, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) automated food safety inspections, "taking away clipboard, paper and pen and replacing them with a tablet," says Dan Egan of the state's Office of Administration. 
 
The new system, PA Food Safety, helps food businesses by leading to greater consistency, higher quality and faster inspections. The state also now publishes inspection results on a new public portal and uses geographic information system (GIS) software to enable food analysts to visualize contamination and to track and trace it to its source.  
 
And PennDOT now has an online application process for highway occupancy permits, allowing  real estate developers, construction companies and others who need access to state roadways to get their permit in 10 days, instead of the old 30 to 45. Until only a year ago, permit applications were submitted by hand or mailed to PennDOT offices. 
 
It is innovations like these that helped Pennsylvania make the "A" team – well, almost – in a new survey of progress made by state governments in their use of digital technologies.  The Commonwealth earned an A-minus in the recent 2012 biennial survey, conducted by the Center for Digital Government, a national research and advisory institute.    
 
Smart states – and the smartest, according to the survey are Michigan and Utah – use technology to "realize operational efficiencies and strategic priorities," the Center says. They show evidence of meaningful collaboration, they adopt performance measures and metrics and they make cuts strategically. 
 
Source: Dan Egan, Pennsylvania Office of Administration
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Northeast PA innovators get a boost from Ben Franklin

 
The Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/NEP) has once again opened its coffers, this time with a total of $260,000 to support three promising early-stage companies and one established manufacturer.
 
BFT/NEP is loaning $120,000 to Allentown's ZeroTruck Corporation to complete development of ZeroTruck’s next-generation electric drive integration system. The system will be installed in new or existing truck chassis to convert gasoline and diesel trucks to zero-emission, plug-in electric vehicles. With surging fuel costs, expanding environmental protection regulation, and public demand for greener transportation, the electric vehicle market continues to grow. ZeroTruck plans to establish its production facility in the Lehigh Valley.
 
PROVA Systems of Carbondale will get a $50,000 loan to support the launch and commercial development of a new application for fleet management. PROVA manufactures a cloud-based diagnostic device that collects, monitors, and analyzes the performance of every vehicle and every driver in a vehicle fleet.  This device allows proactive management of vehicles using data derived from their usage patterns and collected from on-board computers. Prova's system can reduce fleet operations costs by more than 60% versus current technology.
 
BFT/NEP is loaning SuccessTSM in East Stroudsburg $85,000 to commercialize a proprietary new disaster recovery management software tool, called Maggie Bare Server Restore (MBSR), and establish procedures that will be used to implement a repeatable sales process. This software application supports Tivoli Storage Manager, IBM’s widely used enterprise-wide network storage management solution. The MBSR process requires only a 15-minute down time following a disaster or test, versus the current industry standard of at least four hours.
 
And BFT/NEP is providing a $5,000 matching grant for a partnership between Electro Chemical & Manufacturing Company of Emmaus and Lehigh University’s Materials Science Department. Electro is an established maker of thermoplastic and fluoropolymer lined steel vessels used to manufacture, distribute, and store corrosive chemicals. With Lehigh scientists, the company is working to develop an adhesive primer that will allow lined vessels used in corrosive fluid handling environments to be utilized in applications requiring a greater range of temperature and pressure conditions, allowing the company to broaden its product offerings and promote sales and employment growth.
 
Source: Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern PA
Writer: Elise Vider

PA higher education puts out a welcome mat in Mumbai

With 30,000-plus international students and growing in Pennsylvania, accounting for more than $965 million in annual economic impact, the new Pennsylvania-American Center for Education in Mumbai, India is working to encourage Indian students to pursue their higher education in the Commonwealth. 
 
Pennsylvania ranks sixth in the nation for foreign student enrollment in higher education institutions. Indian students are expected to be the top international student population in the U.S. by 2020. Currently, they account for 17.2% of Pennsylvania’s international students, second only to Chinese students (who make up 24.7%).
 
Opened last month, the Center, believed to be the first of its kind, is fully funded by a Mumbai private school, but is fully open to  the public. Its purpose is to help Indian families who are exploring educational opportunities for their children outside of the country. One of the main challenges they face is the lack of information available on the universities and colleges, and an understanding of the application and admissions process in other countries
 
The Center will send counselors for training in Pennsylvania and to meet with universities and colleges in the state.  
 
"Pennsylvania was one of the first states in the U.S. to open an official office in India to promote trade and investment opportunities," says Kanika Choudhary, Philadelphia's honorary ambassador to India. "Now we are proud to have a dedicated facility that will provide Indian families with information about studying at Pennsylvania's world-class educational institutions."
 
 
Source: Theresa Elliott, PA Department of Community & Economic Development
Writer: Elise Vider

PA's energy sector gets a jolt with new interactive map

It is common knowledge that Pennsylvania has a large and diverse energy industry. But where exactly are the companies and what do they do? Who is doing cutting-edge R&D? And what are the opportunities for partnerships and collaboration across the Commonwealth?
 
Now companies, academics, economic development and public officials have a robust new tool: the Pennsylvania Energy Economy Map that chronicles the state's energy sector in a single, web-based location. 
 
Jim Gambino, vice president of technology commercialization: physical sciences, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern PA (BFTP/SEP), says that the interactive map allows participants in traditional and alternative energy to connect the dots and form the collaborations that drive research, technology transfer, funding and commercialization. "At the end of the day if you really want to drive economic development and success, it always comes down to interaction … that finds common purposes and partnerships," he says.
 
The  map also promises to be an invaluable tool for business attraction, allowing out-of-state and overseas interests to view potential customers and suppliers in Pennsylvania, he adds.
 
The statewide Ben Franklin Technology Partners developed the map, with support from the Department of Community and Economic Development and the governor's office, based on a regional pilot done by BFTP/SEP in 2009.
 
The statewide map already has more than 2,000 entries – companies, universities, capital providers and organizations – with interests ranging from shale gas to renewable energy to pollution reduction and cleanup. Site users can easily add information, which is verified before going live. 
 
Gambino can only guess how many entries the map may eventually hold:  "That really speaks to the value of this map."
 
Source: Jim Gambino, BFTP/SEP
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Shoener Environmental weathers the downturn with help from wind and sun

Wind and sun helped Shoener Environmental  weather the economic downturn. "Renewable energy kept us going through the recession," says president Ed Shoener.
 
The consultancy, with Pennsylvania locations in Portage and Dickson City, along with San Diego, CA. had long focused on helping commercial and residential real estate developers navigate regulatory and environmental mazes. But since the real estate market stalled, a shift to design and permitting of renewable energy projects has enabled the company to stay "steady and slowly growing," Shoener says.
 
Shoener has been working on wind energy projects since 2000; its portfolio includes the Krayn Wind Project in Cambria County, 25 turbines on a reclaimed strip mine and the Allegheny Ridge Wind Farm, one of the largest wind farms in Pennsylvania with 66 turbines on over 200 acres in Cambria and Blair counties.
 
Now, says Shoener, with technological advancements in solar, "utility-scale solar projects are a developing market on the East Coast," says Shoener. "It's sort of like where wind was a few years ago." Solar, he predicts, will be competitive with other forms of energy within 10 years.
 
One of Shoener's latest projects is a 103-acre solar farm in Lurgan Township near the Pennsylvania Turnpike that would be one of the largest solar installations in the state.  Shoener is working with the developer, Orion Renewable Energy Group in Oakland, CA, to secure permits in order for the $20 million project to begin construction.
 
Shoener founded the consultancy in 1994. Today the company employs about 40 and adds one or two jobs a year in Pennsylvania offices
 
 
Source: Ed Shoener, Shoener Environmental
Writer: Elise Vider

Entrepreneurs across PA get a jumpstart from Ben Franklin Technology Partners

An array of firms across the commonwealth, mostly startups, are beneficiaries of investments made in the last week by The Ben Franklin Technology Partners, Pennsylvania's venerable technology-based economic development programs.
 
BFTP of Central and Northern PA (BFTP/CNP) announced investments totaling $1.8 million in 11 firms. In Northeastern Pennsylvania, BFTP/NEP announced nearly $560,000 in investments in six early-stage companies and six established firms working with academic partners on technology-based manufacturing innovation. And BFTP of Southeastern PA is making $1.375 in new investments.
 
The companies funded by BFTP/CNP are:
  • AgIntegrated Inc.,  State College, a tech consultant to the agriculture industry;
  • BRL Solutions, Kane, for a new lubricant for use on boats;
  • Conduit Marketing, Girard, software for purchase of in-home medical equipment;
  • Dataforma Inc.,  York, web-based business management software;
  • ECKey, Lancaster, turning Bluetooth-enabled cellphones into access keys;
  • Eduplanet21,  Mechanicsburg, a social learning platform;
  • Flashpoint Informatics, Bellefonte, cloud-based computing services;
  • Lewis Designs LLC, Waterford, innovative brake designs;
  • Strategic Polymer Sciences,  State College, animation for mobile devices and smart phones;
  • TM Filtration,  Erie, systems to serve the shale gas industry;
  • USIC LLC,  York, a web-based marketplace for artists/entrepreneurs.
The early-stage companies funded by BFTP/NEP are:
  • A Sound Strategy,  East Stroudsburg ($30,000), to roll out a national sales effort on software-as-a-service products;
  • Cernostics, Danville ($100,000) to validate tests for risk of esophageal cancer in certain patients;
  • Micro Interventional Devices, Bethlehem ($100,000) to develop a new, minimally invasive heart repair product;
  • OPTiMO Information Technology,  Bloomsburg ($25,000) for sales and marketing of IT products and services;
  • Pivitec, Bethlehem ($70,000) design and commercialization of hardware and software products for audio streaming;
  • Walton Motivation,  Allentown, ($20,000) sales and marketing of cloud-based employee recognition system.
BFT/NEP is also investing in these established manufacturer/academic partnerships:
In Southeastern PA, the recipients are:
 
ARB Geowell, West Conshohocken ($125,000): The company uses a unique design to promote heat transfer for its geothermal heating/cooling platform, which offers higher energy efficiency and eliminates significant construction costs for commercial buildings, schools and developments.
 
Brad’s Raw Chips, Pipersville ($100,000): Founder Brad Gruno wants others to discover the benefits of eating raw food like he did. He uses an advanced dehydration system to keep raw chips crunchy and tasty.
 
Drakontas, Glenside ($250,000): The company provides mobile collaboration software solutions for police, military, fire, emergency response and public service teams. Its flagship DragonFroce product utilizes geo-tracking and shared media and files to help those teams act faster and enhance public safety.
 
Kerathin, Chester ($200,000): The company previously received $150,000 from Ben Franklin for its PodiaPro nail debridement system for the diabetic population.
 
OneTwoSee, Devon ($150,000): Formerly Mobile Reactor, the company targets television broadcasters and producers to help them deliver interactive TV experiences through connected devices.
 
S4 Worldwide, Doylestown ($250,000): The company provides a variety of safety, security and regulatory solutions for drilling companies working in the Marcellus Shale.
 
Tangent Energy Solutions, Kennett Square ($300,000): Commercial and industrial companies can save up to 20 percent on energy costs thanks to Tangent’s grid optimization technologies.

Source: Ben Franklin Technology Partners
Writer: Elise Vider

Recycling well liners bodes well for PA economy and environment

There are thousands of Marcellus Shale wells in Pennsylvania  -- 9,848 to be exact according to a new study.  And each uses an estimated 20,000 pounds of plaster liner material, almost all of which goes into the dump.
 
So a new venture to collect and recycle plastic well pad liners from Marcellus gas drilling sites has big implications for the state's environment and economy.
 
The two Pennsylvania-based partners, WellSpring Environmental Services  in Orwigsburg  and Ultra-Poly Corporation in Portland are expected annually to remove at least 20 million pounds of plastic from the waste stream for re-use as marketable products such as composite railroad ties and building components.
 
Ultra-Poly, a large plastics recycler, has designed a proprietary process for processing the liner material and has built a plant specifically for that purpose in Berwick. "The market is potentially huge," says David LaFiura of Ultra-Poly.
 
For its part, Wellspring has developed special equipment for separating well pad liners on site to truck them away in a single trailer load; in the past it took eight to 10 trips with roll-off containers to take large sections of the liners from a single site to a landfill for disposal.
 
"There's not one well pad in Pennsylvania where this new approach doesn't make sense," says Jonas Kreitzer of WellSpring. "We can do liner removal more efficiently, at less cost, while cutting down truck traffic, protecting the environment and generating commercially usable material."
 
The new partnership will generate 80 or more jobs for Ultra-Poly; WellSpring will add another dozen employees.
 
Source: Natonia Samchuck, PPO&S
Writer: Elise Vider

Expanding Geisinger-CMC in Scranton increases specialized care, hiring more than 80 full-timers

With the completed merger of Community Medical Center in Scranton and its affiliates with Geisinger Health System, the new Geisinger-Community Medical Center (G-CMC)  is racing to enhance clinical programs, increase physician recruitment, expand and improve facilities, and implement new information systems, adding jobs and physical developments at breakneck speed.
 
"The goal," says Wendy Wilson, associate vice president of marketing and public relations, "is to keep people in this area for specialized care. A lot of money goes out of the area," with patients leaving for Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and other bigger cities.
 
G-CMC is actively recruiting and hiring sub-specialists in a variety of areas including neurology, neurosurgery, surgical oncology and pediatrics. Over the next year, G-CMC expects to hire 25 new physicians and physicians' assistants.
 
In the last month alone, Wilson says, G-CMC also hired 50 fulltime nurses and 17 other positions including support staff, technicians and administrative staff. With the new fiscal year that began July 1, the hospital is budgeted to add another 80 new fulltime positions.
 
The organization is also moving ahead with major capital improvements, approving $125.7 million to enhance patient care in Scranton. An $80 million expansion at G-CMC, now in the design phase, will include 13 large, state-of-the-art operating suites, a new intensive/critical care unit and medical office space and is scheduled to begin construction next spring. Also moving forward is a new $25.7 million physician office building at the Mount Pleasant Corporate Center in Scranton and a $20 million project underway to upgrade G-CMC's information technology system.
 
Source: Wendy Wilson, Geisinger-Community Medical Center
Writer: Elise Vider


Bottoms up with Gatorade in bottles made in Mountain Top

Gatorade, the ubiquitous, brightly hued sports drink, is bottled the world over. But the Gatorade bottled in Mountain Top now comes in bottles made right at the plant, bringing 35 new jobs to Luzerne County.  Amcor, the global packaging giant, opened its new bottle manufacturing facility at the plant last month, capable of producing 650 million bottles a year. 

The new facility makes hot fillable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles at the plant, a technology that Amcor claims to have pioneered. Previously, Mountain Top Gatorade purchased its hot-fill PET containers.

Larry Weber, vice president and general manager of Amcor Rigid Plastics' North American Beverage Group, says that on-site bottle manufacturing is a highly efficient and sustainable business model.  Beverage makers like PepsiCo, which owns Gatorade, "can gain major sustainability benefits and eliminate expenses associated with shipping, including unnecessary handling, secondary packaging and freight costs," he says.

Amcor, which has seven similar hot fill facilities at beverage filling plans throughout the country, received about $100,000 in state and local grants for site development and employee training at Mountain Top, Amcor says. 


Source: Shelley Steele, Amcor
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Developers flexing muscles with Lackawanna County spec space

“If we build it,  they will come” could be the mantra at the Scranton Lackawanna Industrial Building Company (SLIBCO),  where speculative buildings continue to rise despite a lackluster economy.

SLIBCO just announced plans for two new spec “flex” buildings at its Jessup Small Business Center. TMG Health,  a large medical billing and management company, will take occupancy next month of a new, 150,000-square-foot building at the adjoining Valley View Business Park for its national operations center. SLIBCO is also developing a 43,000-square-foot, speculative office building as a small-business incubator.

Why are developers such as Mericle Commercial Real Estate Services of Wilkes-Barre, a major industrial developer in Northeast Pennsylvania, and SLIBCO willing to roll the dice on spec space? Andy Skrip, SLIBCO’s vice president for industrial development, explains: “Companies take a long time to make decisions about expansion or relocation. But once they pull the trigger, they want to move right away.”

Build-to-suit can take a year or more for land acquisition, permitting and construction. So spec space provides instant gratification. And flex space makes sense when building speculatively, since the space can be fit out to accommodate a range of uses.

Skrip anticipates that Mericle’s two new flex buildings will attract office, distribution or manufacturing, joining a roster of tenants that include food distributors, a glass distributor, a military-based manufacturer and offices including the Lackawanna County 911 call center.

Mericle broke ground earlier this month on its first, 96,000-square-foot flex building at Jessup; the second, 160,000-square-foot building will follow when the first is substantially occupied.

Source: Andy Skrip, SLIBCO
Writer: Elise Vider

Fertile Grounds CSA grows crops, new products and jobs in rural Wyoming County

On June 6, about 150 members of the Fertile Grounds community-supported agriculture (CSA) organization will pick up their first boxes of the season, brimming with farm-fresh greens, scallions, herbs and other early-season produce.

But food is not the only thing that Fertile Grounds is growing. In its second season, Fertile Grounds has about double the members it did last year. And with a fresh $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the nearly 40-acre farm in rural Noxen in Wyoming County is expanding its line of "value-added" products such as pesto and vinaigrettes for sale at New York City farmers markets and local retailers. 

Fertile Grounds, owned and operated by women farmers, employs about 14, some seasonal, says founder and project director Deb Shoval. With the grant, a new, full-time outreach coordinator is about to start, charged with running the one-acre, pick-your-own field and talking to groups about the benefits of CSAs and sustainable farming.

Shoval, a native of neighboring Luzerne County, apprenticed on an organic farm as a teenager, later earning a degree in sustainable agriculture and a master's in film directing before returning home to launch the farm and CSA. The goal, she says is not only to make high-quality, fresh food available locally, but "to create jobs in sustainable agriculture and to demonstrate that there are jobs to be created. This is a positive direction for the area to move into on a much larger scale."

"Sustainable and organic farming," she adds, "are ways to make a living in northeast Pennsylvania."

Source: Deb Shoval, Fertile Grounds
Writer: Elise Vider

Automotive websites mean fast acceleration, steady hiring for Scranton's Net Driven

Patrick Sandone has a simple message for entrepreneurs: "The best ideas come when you're intimate enough with an industry and can fill a need."

For Sandone, that insight spawned a company in 2007 with a few part-time employees in 500 square feet at the Scranton Enterprise Center. Today, Net Driven employs 30 full-timers, is steadily hiring and has seen triple-digit growth every year.

Sandone worked at a Wall Street investment bank and a Boston venture capital firm before returning home to a family business that distributes and sells automotive supplies. He quickly realized that tire and parts dealers, auto repair and body shops and used car dealers needed the functionality of a sophisticated website that allowed users to see descriptions, comparisons and availability of products and services, get quotes, schedule jobs and more.

Net Driven builds and maintains customized websites, offering a breadth of Internet sales and marketing tools for their clients, who essentially rent their websites. Sandone says the firm partners with large Fortune 500 companies with vast dealer networks and mom-and-pop retailers, serving a total of more than 3,000 customer locations in the United States and Canada.

Sandone sees a clear road ahead. "Our pace of hiring is accelerating. We'll hire more people this year than last. Our goal is basically to grow the number of new clients by triple digits year in and year out," he says. "We have big plans where we want to go and we need people to help us get there."

Source: Patrick Sandone, Net Driven
Writer: Elise Vider


Wisconsin paper converter comes east to East Stroudsburg with plans to hire up to 80

After 12 years in Wisconsin, Northwoods Paper Converting felt the lure of the giant East Coast print market. After considering locations in New York, New Jersey and throughout Pennsylvania, the company's first expansion is up and running in East Stroudsburg, with an initial workforce of 25 and plans to get to about 80 in the next few years. 

Northwoods President Chad Abel says the company liked East Stroudsburg's central location, accessible to New York, Washington, Philadelphia and other eastern cities. Easy access to major airports helped too. And ultimately, he says, "We thought Pennsylvania would give us the best business climate."

Northwoods has invested about $8 million to acquire and renovate its nearly 250,000-square-foot facility, the former Excel Storage Products facility that laid off 150 when it closed in 2010. The Governor's Action Team coordinated incentives including state loans, grants and tax credits. 

The company is running two sheeters at the Monroe County plant – enormous machines that convert paper to the sheet size needed by paper mills and printers for everything from aspirin bottles to books. Abel expects to be running nearly 24/7 by summer.

Northwoods is occupying about half of its new building so far, Abel says, offering ample room for continued expansion for more production lines, warehousing and distribution.

Source: Chad Abel, Northwoods Paper Converting
Writer: Elise Vider

From apples to apps, Ben Franklin honors NE PA innovators

Makers of an aquarium pump, a mobile phone language translator and fresh-sliced apple products are among the Northeast Pennsylvania innovators to be honored next month at the annual i exchange awards, sponsored by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania

The six 2012 winners, says Ben Franklin's Laura Eppler, exemplify innovation, achievement and a commitment to regional economic growth.

They are:
Entrepreneurial Achievement 
Patrick Clasen, Justin Lawyer and Timothy Marks for EcoTech Marine, Bethlehem 
Founded by the trio of principals as undergrads, this maker of aquarium equipment is today a multi-million dollar enterprise, with 30 employees and plans to grow its workforce and its space.

Incubator Graduate
Net Driven, Scranton  
A graduate of the Scranton Enterprise Center, Net Driven is a leading provider of websites and Internet marketing solutions to independent automotive dealers. In just three years, Net Driven has increased revenue 800% and added 25 new employees.

Product Innovation
RantNetwork, Inc., Bloomsburg   
RantNetwork makes an advanced mobile phone language translation application. The company recently launched its iPhone/iPad, Android, and Blackberry app versions.

Innovative Application of Technology
AMETEK Specialty Metal Products – Reading Alloys, Robesonia 
This company recently opened a new manufacturing facility to support growth in the metal powder market, used in the aerospace and medical industries. It employs 140, up 12% from last year.

Manufacturing Achievement
Appeeling Fruit, Inc., Reading, PA  
A producer of fresh-sliced apple products for food service and retail clients, Appeeling has grown from a staff of 10 to 100, tripling revenue in the process. 

Partnership
Compass Point Consulting, Bethlehem  
This consultant to middle-market family and closely held businesses has a simple mission: to  build high-performance companies that can run without the owner. 

Source: Laura Eppler, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania
Writer: Elise Vider









Planned biotech incubator for Scranton aims to capitalize on region's growing assets

Economic development officials in Scranton are working to lure biotechnology companies into northeastern Pennsylvania, and they're building a new business incubator to aid in that task.

The building and development arm of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce expects construction on the incubator to start in May. It will be located in Jessup, about 10 minutes northeast of Scranton. The 43,000-square foot facility should be finished by the first few months of 2013, says Andy Skrip, VP at the chamber. The incubator will have office space for 10 emerging companies, plus another 30,000 square foot for at least one additional anchor tenant.

Skrip says the incubator in Jessup is meant to capitalize on the success of an existing business incubator inside the Scranton Enterprise Center in the city's downtown. Plus, the city is home to The Commonwealth Medical College, which opened in 2009. "We have the newest medical college in the United States," Skrip says.

The medical school, along with a study the chamber is conducting on the Scranton area's potential for biotechnology businesses, point to a promising future for this sector in the region. Skrip notes that most companies that are coming to the chamber with an interest in moving to area are connected with health care.

Source: Andy Skrip, Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Pike County ripe with potential, says new economic development leader

The new face of economic development in Pike County sees plenty of similarities between his new job in the Poconos and his previous work in upstate New York.

Michael Sullivan started last month as executive director of Pike County's chamber of commerce and economic development authority. He's spent most of his career in Orange County, New York, located north of New York City. When he was working in economic development there in the 1970s, Sullivan says Orange County faced an unemployment rate of about 10 percent. But within a few years it became the fastest-growing county in the state, thanks to new businesses and proximity to New York City.

Sullivan thinks Pike County, on the New York and New Jersey state lines, is similar. "It's not a depressed area, but it has a lot of potential," he says.

Pike County's advantages include how close it is to New York City and the fact that Interstate 84 runs through it. He also notes the Tax Foundation's most recent rankings of the states' business tax climates. That analysis ranked New Jersey as the least business-friendly state in the country and New York was ranked No. 49. In contrast, Pennsylvania was listed as No. 19.

One of Sullivan's major projects is marketing a business park. County economic leaders are strategically targeting specific industries for the park near I-84, but he won't identify them. He also hopes to bring more stores to the county, including a supermarket.

Source: Michael Sullivan, Pike County Chamber of Commerce / Pike County Economic Development Authority
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

High-speed Internet access coming to more places across Pennsylvania

Access to super-fast Internet is one of the building blocks of 21st-century life. Over the next few years, that access is expected to arrive in parts of Pennsylvania that still don't have it.

An organization called KINBER, which stands for Keystone Initiative for Network Based Education and Research Network, is in the process of assembling 1,600 miles of fiber that will form a network of high-speed Web access. When it's completed, the network will connect cities including Williamsport, Mansfield, Bradford and Lewisburg to faster Internet. All told, the network will snake through 39 counties. Its name is PennREN, short for the Pennsylvania Research and Education Network.

Jeff Reel, KINBER's executive director, explains that PennREN is meant to connect nonprofits including libraries, school districts, local governments and public broadcasting stations. These groups often lack the money to get high-speed Internet on their own, and building networks in sparsely populated areas makes little commercial sense.

"At my house, the best I can do is a 300K uplink to a satellite to get something approaching Internet," says Reel, who lives about 10 miles from State College. "That's just not acceptable in the modern world."

The first segment of the network, from Bethlehem to Philadelphia, is expected to be finished in March. The plan is for community institutions, such as colleges and hospitals, to serve as local hubs for the network. Then smaller organizations can connect to the hubs. The effort is being funded by $99.6 million in federal stimulus money, and KINBER plans to help pay for the connections through partnerships with private organizations.

Source: Jeff Reel, KINBER
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Northeast PA-designed fleet management system for small businesses, in a box

Prova Systems sells companies technology that tells them a lot about the performance of their vehicle fleets, like how fast drivers travel and how many miles each car gets per gallon. And many businesses have told the Scranton-area startup that they like the idea of what the system can do for them. Problem was, small and medium-sized businesses found it was out of their budgets.

So last month Prova debuted Fleet Manager in a Box, a scaled-down version of its original product. Like its predecessor, it monitors vehicles around the clock and keeps track of fuel efficiency, diagnoses problems and monitors maintenance schedules. John Collins, the company's president, says Fleet Manager in a Box is targeted at local governments and owners of businesses like landscaping and construction companies. "We fine-tuned it to make it work in this kind of an environment," Collins says.

The company is planning to hold seminars on the new product in northeastern PA. In the future, he hopes that customers can receive discounts on their vehicle insurance for using it, but details haven't been finalized.

Prova, based in Carbondale, is also planning to market Fleet Manager in a Box to households. Parents of teen drivers might find it especially useful, but Collins says anyone would benefit from knowing when fluids need to be changed and tires are due to be rotated. "Everybody is trying to make their vehicles last longer," he says. "It's certainly cheaper than overhauling an engine or buying a new car."

Source: John Collins, Prova Systems
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Wind-powered data backup center, 14 new jobs, planned for downtown area in Poconos

Three buildings that had been left to languish in Honesdale are being transformed into a data recovery center.

The 1800s-era buildings in the town in Pennsylvania's northeast corner were the longtime home of a retail store, but became vacant and were poorly maintained. But a developer in Wayne County saw potential in the structures in the county seat. Their next role will be as a facility where a local company called Offsite Data Backup Services will store business' electronic data for recovery in case of an emergency.

"It is taking buildings that were in need of renovation," says Mary Beth Wood, executive director of the Wayne Economic Development Corporation. Once the new center is complete, it's estimated that 14 people will be needed to work at the site.

Facilities like this use a lot of energy, but Offsite Data Backup Services plans to alleviate that impact by taking advantage of wind power. Plans call for a wind turbine to be installed on the roof.

Wood sees the data center as the beginning of a new wave of technology companies moving into the region. Her organization is luring information technology-focused businesses to Wayne County and hopes to build a business center with a focus on digital technology.

Source: Mary Beth Wood, Wayne Economic Development Corp.
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Five cool websites launched in Pennsylvania in 2011

Your new favorite website just might have been started right here in the Keystone State. Check out these sites we found in 2011:

1. ElectNext: Before you step in the voting booth, answer a questionnaire about your political views and learn which candidate best reflects how you think. Part of DreamIt Ventures' accelerator program in Philadelphia.

2. AreYouCatholic.com: Catholics from more than 120 parishes across the globe post prayer requests and share good deeds they've accomplished. Launched by Brian Pedone, a serial entrepreneur from the Poconos.

3. Bookzingo: Buy textbooks from students on your campus or sell to fellow students. Started by a senior at the University of Pittsburgh.

4. CliqSearch: Crawls social media for what your friends (and their friends) think of businesses like restaurants and hair salons. Based in Philadelphia.

5. Nearbid: Auction your professional services to locals or find a nearby contractor for a job you need done. Run by two brothers from Scranton.

Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Online wedding-planning platform launched in Northeast PA plans to go national

The team behind a wedding-planning website that started in northeastern Pennsylvania is about to launch its idea on a national scale.

The planning platform NEPA Bridal, which started in 2006, gives engaged couples a central place to find local vendors, keep track of guest lists, plan seating charts and set up a wedding budget. Within the next few years similar sites opened in regions including the Lehigh Valley, New Hampshire, Michigan and Illinois. Of those sites, NEPA Bridal is the only site that remains active.

The nationwide website, called IamEngaged.com, is expected to launch in February. Co-founder Chavdar Petkov says it will be accessible on mobile devices and be connected to Facebook. "The system works as a whole," says Petkov, whose company is in Scranton. "They are not disjointed, separate pieces."

Along with all the features that are part of NEPA Bridal, couples will be able to add Facebook friends to their virtual guest lists, set up reminders to pay vendors and have them sent to their email accounts or cell phones. Brides can even set up filters for their guest lists to assist in planning -- for example, "Show me the people at table 10 who are having fish and who are friends of the bride." Petkov and his team have also partnered with The Wedding Report, which researches the wedding industry. IamEngaged.com will provide The Wedding Report with aggregated data.

Later, IamEngaged.com plans to add features, like the capability to show couples graphs estimating which percentage of the people they invite will be at their weddings.
 
Source: Chavdar Petkov, IamEngaged.com
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

In one year, Small Business Development Centers help launch 1,600 new companies statewide

Christian Conroy sees some reasons for optimism during an economic climate that seems to lack positivity.

Conroy, director of Pennsylvania's 18 Small Business Development Centers, points to a recent report that analyzed the impact of these centers nationwide. The results showed that in 2010, Pennsylvania's SBDCs resulted in the launch of about 1,600 new businesses and more than $551 million in new sales. Overall, revenue at companies assisted by the state's centers rose 12.9 percent in that time frame.

More good news can be inferred from Conroy's observation that the performance of businesses his centers assist tends to show where the economy as a whole is headed. "The types of businesses that the SBDCs work with are a harbinger of the larger economy," he says. About half of its clients provide various services, another fifth are in manufacturing and about 15 percent are retailers, he says.

The economic downturn means that quite a few entrepreneurs started their businesses out of necessity, even though others purposefully struck out on their own to take advantage of weaknesses they saw in the marketplace. "You never know whose business model is going to turn into something transformative," Conroy says. "The next Facebook or Google is probably going to be created during this time period."

No matter why they begin, successful businesses are good for the state's economy. The report showed that SBDC-assisted companies created more than 7,100 new jobs last year.

Source: Christian Conroy, Pennsylvania Small Business Development Centers
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

TMG Health building new Scranton-area office, hiring about 250

An eastern Pennsylvania company that conducts back-office work for private and government health insurers is consolidating its Scranton-area offices and hoping to hire another 250 employees.

TMG Health, which is based in King of Prussia, handles tasks such as billing, claims processing and data management. It currently has one office in Scranton and another in nearby Dunmore, which employ a total of nearly 950 people. Both of those facilities are being leased right now, so the firm is constructing a 150,000-square foot building in a Scranton-area business park.

The new facility, which will be TMG's national operations center, is expected to be finished within a year. It will have space for about 1,200 workers and TMG's director of communications, Josh Blumenthal, says the company is currently looking to fill about 250 openings.

"The construction of our new national operations center is a tribute to our dedicated employees, especially our northeastern Pennsylvania employees, who have contributed to both the success and growth of our company," TMG President Jack Tighe said in a statement.

The firm's new site allows room for an additional 60,000 square feet of expansion should the need arise, Blumenthal says.

Source: Josh Blumenthal, TMG Health
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Scranton medical school researcher works to find new treatment for hospital-acquired infection

A robust strain of bacteria infects millions of Americans, especially the elderly, each year with a hospital-acquired infection called Clostridium difficile. It causes diarrhea, inflammation of the colon and other intestinal conditions. The infection is twice as common as it was a decade ago and the most severe cases can be fatal.

The antibiotics that physicians normally use to treat the infection sometimes do more harm than good. The bacteria are resistant to antibiotics and about one-fifth of patients relapse after a few weeks of antibiotics.

Researchers from The Commonwealth Medical College in Scranton and the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston discovered a way to use a protein modification called nitrosylation to prevent these bacteria from entering the human body. The bacteria are rendered inactive if they do end up infecting a patient. These findings were published in the online August issue of the journal Nature Medicine.

Commonwealth Medical College scientist Raj Kumar, who worked on the project, says upcoming clinical trials are expected to determine the best way to use nitrosylation to treat Clostridium difficile. "We are very optimistic," he says. These findings could also be used to develop new ways to treat other forms of diarrhea and bacteria-caused diseases.

Source: Raj Kumar, The Commonwealth Medical College
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Look for the GreenCircle: Independent certification for PA products made with recycled material

You can find all sorts of products, from garbage bags to insulation, labeled as containing recycled material. But how can you be sure that labeling is correct?

This is where companies like GreenCircle Certified come in. The business, based in Schwenksville, Montgomery County, certifies whether products contain recycled components. This week GreenCircle announced a partnership with the Pennsylvania Recycling Markets Center to certify more Pennsylvania-made products.

GreenCircle has already certified more than 400 items, mostly building materials. That means the company has conducted a detailed analysis of how much of a product is made of post-consumer content (like empty soda cans) and pre-consumer content (like manufacturing waste). The analysis also includes reviews of records to verify that a company is actually buying recycled materials and studies of how items are made.

Co-founder Tad Radzinski says the need for an independent verification system became clear when he was working on renovating an office for GreenCircle's parent company, Sustainable Solutions Corp. He wanted to use as many sustainable materials as possible, but ran into plenty of inaccurate labeling.

Bob Bylone, executive director of the Recycling Markets Center, says GreenCircle's third-party verification process means customers can trust the label when they see it. And while the process is completely voluntary for manufacturers, he says Pennsylvania companies are excited about this opportunity to market their sustainable products. Plus, the verification process often shows companies ways to introduce more recycled content into the things they make.

Sources: Bob Bylone, Pennsylvania Recycling Markets Center; Tad Radzinski, GreenCircle Certified

Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Payment-processing company looking to hire sales staff in Scranton area

In search of a sales job in northeastern Pennsylvania? Blue Square Resolutions might be looking for you.

The company is based in Scottsdale, Ariz., and opened up an office in Olyphant in May. It provides businesses with a variety of services, like processing credit- and debit-card payments online and at brick-and-mortar locations, creating customer loyalty programs, and processing checks and gift cards. Anyone who breaks out a credit card more often than using cash can understand why these are useful services. "Plastic is the new cash," says Blue Square Resolutions' national sales director, Mike Schultz.

The company wanted to set up an East Coast office, and northeastern Pennsylvania was a logical place because of its central location in the mid-Atlantic, says Schultz, who happens to be a native of the region.

The Olyphant office is the home base of six employees and about 10 sales representatives. He hopes to add another 40 to his sales staff by the end of July.

Besides providing the necessary services of processing electronic payments, Schultz says Blue Square saves businesses money by not charging referral fees. Plus, the company adds extra services like cash advances and processing of payments on smart phones.

Source: Mike Schultz, Blue Square Resolutions
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen


Statewide information-sharing system for police and courts is finalist in Computerworld Honors

Pennsylvania has 67 counties, each with their own state police stations, local police departments, court systems and probation offices. These agencies all need the ability to share information about people in the criminal-justice system while keeping their own information secure.

Fortunately they have access to the Pennsylvania Justice Network, more commonly known as JNET. The system stores information like driver's license photos and outstanding warrants, with each piece of data available throughout the system when one user uploads it. JNET also includes facial-recognition software and includes data from nearby states. "It's like surfing the Internet for criminal-justice information," says the network's executive director, Dave Naisby. About 38,000 people use JNET, including those who work in welfare, domestic relations and the court system.

Officials from other states often approach JNET for guidance on sharing this type of information. The agency was also recently recognized as a finalist in the Computerworld Honors Program. That award was given for an address-search application within JNET, which allows users to search for a criminal's address in one spot instead of 10. Overall the agency estimates that this saves $1.9 million in staff time each year.

"Address information is critical for criminal justice," Naisby says. For example, probation officers need it to find the people they're keeping an eye on and police can use it to be sure they know who they're arresting.

JNET is planning to roll out other improvements, including applications that allow users to more quickly run background checks and search for people based on just a few pieces of information.

Source: Dave Naisby, Pennsylvania Justice Network
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen


Local wood chips, not oil, will heat Sullivan County schools

School just let out for what's shaping up to be a hot summer, but one Northern Tier school district is deep into a project that will change the way its schools are heated come winter.

Last week the Sullivan County School District officially broke ground on a $1.5 million biomass plant that should be up and running by the end of the year. Of that cost, about $1.1 million was covered by state and federal grants.

The plant will consist of a biomass boiler and hot water storage tank. Since the district is closing one elementary school and its remaining two schools are next to each other, the biomass plant will be able to heat all district facilities. Sullivan County currently uses fuel oil for heating and that system will stay in place as a backup, district business manager Paul Schaefer says. In its first year alone, the biomass system is expected to save between $70,000 and $80,000 in heating costs – a big difference, considering that 2010 figures showed an average annual heating-oil bill of about $179,000.

Not surprisingly, Schaefer says the potential savings were the main reason Sullivan County considered alternative fuel. A few neighboring districts were also using biomass so it looked like a good option. He also points out that with the abundant trees and lumberyards in the area, securing wood chips for the biomass boiler won't be a problem. The potential also exists to build a solar-energy system on the site, Shaefer says.

Source: Paul Schaefer, Sullivan County School District
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen


Scranton company launches tool to save hours in software-development process


Northeastern PA software developer Geoff Speicher was looking for an easier way to build applications for customers. The tool he came up with, Pario, is now available to the general public. Hydro4GE, the Scranton company that released it, is giving developers a chance to try Pario for free during a 30-day trial.

Pario eliminates the need to write numerous lines of code, saving thousands of hours that would otherwise go to coding and debugging software. Developers who use Pario still have to spend some time on coding, but have much more free time to focus on their projects. "There's no bugs because you didn't write any code," says Geoff's brother, Tim Speicher, VP of marketing at Hydro4GE. "You can't create buggy software."

Pario is best suited for database systems. Hydro4GE's sister company, Software Engineering Associates, has quite a few clients that need to keep track of inventory, customer lists and the like.
 
About six people work full-time for Hydro4GE and Software Engineering Associates, with most of their business coming from software and Web development. Speicher says their hope is to transition into a focus on designing and selling products. The launch of Pario is one step toward that.

Source: Tim Speicher, Hydro4GE
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen


Scranton-bred Nearbid auction site connects people to locals who provide professional services

When you need work done on your house, it can be hard to find an honest contractor who will get the job done right. That's what Alex Brunelle and his brother Ted found out when the Scranton residents started investing in real estate with the profits from the first website they developed, AhaJokes.com.

So last month they launched Nearbid, an auction website for professional services from Web design to plumbing to tutoring. Brunelle says the idea is to combine social networking with e-commerce, connecting those who need jobs completed with qualified people nearby. "Think LinkedIn where you can actually do business together," he says.

People wiling to offer services can create profiles, including their rates. Users in search of someone to complete a job can post jobs and peruse other users' profiles. Once a job has been completed, employers can rate the people they hired and post reviews. Unlike similar websites that connect job seekers and employers who need tasks completed, Nearbid doesn't handle payments for work. That's between the two parties who work together, Brunelle says. And the service doesn't cost a penny for anyone to use – the brothers' other ventures are covering its costs now.

At the moment there are a handful of jobs on Nearbid, mostly near its home base in Lackawanna County. Brunelle says the plan is to promote the site in the Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia areas and partner with chambers of commerce. Nearbid's ultimate goal is to create 1 million gigs by the end of 2012.

Source: Alex Brunelle, Nearbid

Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen


Machining entrepreneur finds new home in NEPA business incubator, hopes to expand

Joe Fendrock was trained as a mechanical engineer and has several years of experience in precision machining. "I've just been a tinkerer my entire life," he says. And after working on his own in a small northeastern PA garage for a half-dozen years, Fendrock moved his business, JKF Technologies, to the Carbondale Technology Transfer Center northeast of Scranton.

Fendrock works for JKF full-time and has two part-time employees. The company specializes in precision machine work for industries including semiconductors, food service and medical products. It also serves clients who need prototypes of products in development. JKF has been in the Carbondale business incubator for a little less than a year, and Fendrock says the facility is a good place for his business because it offers a professional atmosphere and the right amount of space.  

In the future Fendrock plans to expand into more advanced manufacturing, as well as making machined parts and products for larger companies on a contract basis. And he would like to add to his workforce, starting with bringing his two employees on full-time.

Source: Joe Fendrock, JKF Technologies
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Historic Northern Tier rail yard turning into hub of transport again

Sayre, a town along the New York border in the Northern Tier, grew around the Lehigh Valley Railroad. For decades nearly everyone in town worked at the rail yard. But in the middle of the 20th century, more goods started traveling in trucks down interstate highways instead of crisscrossing the country on train tracks. As a result, the 25-acre rail yard was used less and less.

"It was just a huge open space," says Kevin Lynn, spokesman for the rail yard's new part-owner, Linde Corporation.

Linde, a construction contractor based in Wilkes-Barre, saw the potential for the Sayre rail yard to be a hub of activity again, thanks to its location atop the Marcellus Shale formation. Companies from states like Texas and Oklahoma were trucking natural-gas drilling equipment to the Northern Tier. Why not fix up the rail yard so they could use trains instead?

The federal stimulus package included $200,000 to the Progress Authority, a local economic development group, to clean up the rail yard, including removing diesel fuel from the groundwater. Linde took on much of the task of reviving the train yard.

The Sayre rail yard is now owned by a subsidiary of Linde and The Railroad Associates Corporation in Mechanicsburg. The two companies took on a similar project on a rail yard in the Poconos town of Carbondale. Trains are using both train yards – and their potential goes beyond bringing in equipment for gas drilling.

Sources: Progress Authority; Kevin Lynn, Linde Corporation
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Scranton-area techies plan pitch days, startup-focused business seminars

John Collins, president of Northeast PA startup Prova Systems, splits his time between New York City and Prova's offices in Carbondale. He noticed that while New York is home to lots of groups of technically-minded people, it's harder for those who live in and around the Poconos to network with others who have similar interests.

"It's very hard for little tech companies to find each other," Collins says. "With such a dispersed geography, it's kind of hard for people to find places to get together."

A drive to fix that led to a group -- organized on Meetup, naturally -- that had its first meeting last week. Collins says about a dozen people gathered at the Scranton Enterprise Center. They included mobile application designers, builders of tech hardware and software developers.

The group is planning to conduct regular pitch days, where techies can present products they're working on and get feedback about concepts they're developing. Also in the works are mini-seminars on the nitty-gritty of running a business, like how to handle financial or legal issues. The group would also like to plan events where equipment suppliers can sell their goods to startups.

For now, the first startup pitch event is set for June 14.
 
Source: John Collins
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

What turns family-owned businesses into philanthropists? Study aims to find out

Is your business a Pennsylvania company or a company based in Pennsylvania?

The Team Pennsylvania Foundation has noticed there's actually a difference between the two, and it boils down to how much effort a business puts into investing in the development and well-being of its community. When the foundation started analyzing its own donors and partners about two years ago, it noticed that small- and medium-sized companies with roots as family businesses tended to be more invested in Pennsylvania's future.

Larger corporations, as a rule, don't share that sense of place. "They don't think of themselves as a Pennsylvania company," says Matt Zieger, the foundation's executive director. "They think of themselves as a corporation that happens to be based in Pennsylvania."

So this summer, foundation intern Becca Geiger, a sociology major at California University of Pennsylvania, will choose 25 Pennsylvania family-owned businesses that are active donors. She'll then study what prompts these companies to devote resources to philanthropy.

Zieger says Winner International, the western PA company run by foundation co-chairwoman Karen Winner Sed, is the perfect example of the type of business it plans to study. Winner has employed generations of workers from the same families at its facility in Sharon and has a history of charitable community involvement.

The foundation hopes the study will identify major corporate players in Pennsylvania communities and show ways to engage small and medium family-owned businesses in state policy decisions.

Source: Matt Zieger, Team Pennsylvania Foundation
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Northern Tier maker of specialty parts and materials expands, looks to hire

Towanda Metadyne has added to its facilities in the Northern Tier five times since moving across the border from Elmira, N.Y., in 1995. The high-tech parts maker's latest expansion is a recently completed 12,000-square foot addition to 34,000 square feet of manufacturing space.

The company makes parts for industries including highway construction, woodworking, mining and drilling, specializing in compounds like tungsten carbide. Towanda Metadyne's president, Raman Daga, says the compound is valuable in these industries because it's one of the hardest materials in existence.

Plus, the company has developed a way to recycle tungsten carbide parts that are worn out too much to be usable. Essentially, treating the used parts with zinc vapor allows them to be crushed into powder so they can be made into new parts.

Perhaps not surprisingly given its location in Marcellus Shale drilling country, Towanda Metadyne is selling a lot of tungsten carbide parts for natural gas drilling. Daga says the company benefits because it makes the parts and takes them back to reclaim once they're worn out.

The company employs about 50 people, including five recent hires. Daga says he's in the market for a few more workers to operate equipment.

Source: Raman Daga, Towanda Metadyne
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Serial entrepreneur from Poconos gives Catholics chance to log on and share acts of kindness

The Roman Catholic Church has received a lot of negative publicity in recent years, but serial entrepreneur Brian Pedone wants the world to know that most Catholics are honorable people who do good things. And in the 21st century, what better way to do that than on the Web?

So AreYouCatholic.com was born. Pedone thought the best way to inspire Catholics and non-Catholics, and to display the positive things Catholics do every day, was to give church members a forum to share their good deeds. "People don't want to be preached at," he says. "They want to see the actions."

Acts of kindness on the site now include "Purchased food for a person in need at the supermarket," and "An elderly lady @ Walgreens was taking her husband with Lung Cancer home to die-she was getting his pain meds,I prayed w her."

Catholics across the United States and as far away as Indonesia and Kenya have posted their good deeds online. The most active church is Pedone's home parish, Our Lady Queen of Peace Church in the Poconos town of Brodheadsville. So far word about AreYouCatholic.com has spread though social media, Catholic blogs and word of mouth. But Pedone says the Diocese of Scranton plans to promote the site in each of its 199 churches this spring. (Pope Benedict XVI has even spoken publicly about the possibilities social media present.)

Although good deeds are posted anonymously, those who register them have to say what church they belong to. Pedone says that creates possibilities for friendly competitions and fundraising among different parishes.

Source: Brian Pedone, AreYouCatholic.com
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Northeast PA startup monitors car fleets' engine performance, fuel efficiency and more

Many businesses that run fleets of vehicles use GPS tracking systems to keep an eye on where their cars are. But there is plenty GPS systems don't tell fleet managers.

Prova Systems, a startup north of Scranton, has developed technology that monitors a lot more than where a car is at any given moment. Its system tracks how the engine is performing, how quickly a driver travels, how many miles a vehicle gets on a gallon of gas and much more. That way, a manager can see if a car has been idling a lot or if a mechanical problem is hurting a vehicle's performance. Prova doesn't require the monthly fees that normally come with GPS tracking, and data about a vehicle is collected when it arrives at the garage, not around the clock.

"It's a lot more affordable than a GPS system," says John Collins, the company's president. He says the idea is to help fleet managers hit their fuel-efficiency targets. The company also hopes to break into the insurance market, allowing vehicle insurers to monitor drivers' performance.

Collins, who lives in New York City but spends part of the week at Prova's offices, says the company located in northeastern PA because it was a nurturing environment for new businesses. Resources including the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania -- which is investing $35,000 in the startup -- and the Carbondale Technology Transfer Center, which is providing office space, cemented Prova's decision.

Source: John Collins, Prova Systems
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

State gives $2M for sodium sulfur batteries meant to replace backup generators

A few years ago Alex Hillman, CEO of Connecticut alternative energy company Environmental Energy Solutions, partnered with a Pennsylvania company called Solar Development Group on a proposed solar panel installation project in Duncansville, south of Altoona. Now they're working with each other again on a venture to develop high-tech batteries that can store energy at places like police stations and hospitals.

That venture, Power Source LLC, is focused on 30-kilowatt sodium sulfur batteries about the size of a compact refrigerator. Customers that use renewable energy sources like wind and solar power will also be able to collect energy when it's windy or sunny out and use it when the weather is less cooperative. "Then you're not pulling it off the grid," Hillman says.

Alternatively, businesses that are closed during off-peak hours, like nights and weekends, will be able to use Power Source's technology to save money by drawing electricity from the grid during those hours and using stored energy from batteries during the day.

It's also notable that these sodium sulfur batteries should be available at one-third the cost of comparable lithium batteries, will be able to store twice the energy, and last three times as long.

Hillman says Environmental Energy Solutions' VP, scientist John Urbahn, designed the new battery technology and plans to move to northeastern PA to work with Power Source. A $2 million state grant will go toward developing these batteries for the market. Power Source plans to start production within three years.

Source: Alex Hillman, Power Source LLC
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Talk of PA manufacturing's demise greatly exaggerated, study says

Ask most people in Pennsylvania what the state's biggest economic engine is, and they probably won’t say it's manufacturing, because many think it is a dying industry. But those perceptions defy what a team of researchers, led by Dr. Ned Hill of Cleveland State University in Ohio, found in a recent report.

The report, commissioned by the Industrial Resource Center network, found that manufacturing was responsible for about 650,000 jobs and 13.6 percent of Pennsylvania's economic output in 2008. That's down from about 19 percent in 1998, illustrating that manufacturers were hit by the recent recession just as most sectors were. Even so, contributions from manufacturing are important but are often not noticed, says Hill, dean of the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State.

"If it wasn't for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, those miners in Chile would have died," Hill says, referring to 33 miners rescued in October after being trapped underground for 69 days. Schramm, a Philadelphia-area company, made a drilling rig used to rescue the miners, and Western PA's Center Rock Inc. made the drill bits.

Pennsylvania manufacturers who most successfully survived the recession did so by continuously improving their operations, empowering their employees and developing new products. However, those in all areas of manufacturing said Pennsylvania should do more to train workers with the skills for industry.

For manufacturing to succeed, Hill says, those in business, government and education need to realize it's not really dying.
 
Source: Dr. Ned Hill, Cleveland State University
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen


Pocono natives open design firm to serve small, local businesses

Amanda Kuhn and Kelly Oppelt grew up together in the Poconos. After school, they ended up working together in the area at Local Flair Magazine, Kuhn as its marketing coordinator and Oppelt as senior graphic designer.

The two women had talked about starting their own business together. They were temporarily laid off from the magazine in the winter, and when they elected to not take their jobs back and resign in early February, they put their idea into action.

Soon after Oppelt and Kuhn launched Smart Blonde Creative (the name is a nod to their mutual hair color), a design firm based in the Monroe County town of Cresco. The business recently received a $15,000 loan from MetroAction, which provides various forms of assistance to small businesses in Northeast PA.

Most of Smart Blonde's projects so far have been websites, brochures and advertisements. The company focuses on serving small, local businesses that usually don't have technical or design expertise in-house.

"Nice business cards and a nice ad go a long way," says Kuhn, co-owner and business director. "It's those kinds of things that are a representation of your business."

Source: Amanda Kuhn, Smart Blonde Creative
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

PPL will pay customers to help them use less power on hot summer days

How would you like to get paid a little extra to use less electricity?

If PPL Electric Utilities is your power supplier, you can do just that. But there's one catch: you have to give the electric company the ability to turn off your heat pump or air-conditioning unit.

Customers who enroll in the E-Power Peak Saver program will have a digital device connected to their air conditioning units or heat pumps. When energy use hits peak demand on hot summer days, the device will tell the compressor on a customer's unit to run half the time it normally would. The units are operated remotely and receive a signal commanding the reduced consumption when demand on the grid hits a critical point.

PPL spokesman Joe Nixon says the difference in temperature is a negligible degree or two. In return, customers will be paid $8 per month. E-Power Peak Saver is available to residential customers, as well as some businesses, in PPL's coverage area in parts of central and eastern Pennsylvania.

Nixon explains that the program is part of the company's push to comply with a state law requiring a 4.5 percent reduction in utilities' peak demand by June 2013. Other utilities, including the Philadelphia area's PECO, offer similar programs.

Source: Joe Nixon, PPL Electric Utilities
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Scranton mobile app entrepreneurs nab $50K investment

The first mobile phone app Adam Ceresko and Andrew Herman made tracked public buses in State College. But their business has since shifted in both focus and location.

In October the duo's company, Appek, moved to Scranton. And rather than concentrating on their own ideas for apps, they're courting businesses that want apps developed for them. That switch came after investor Kristopher Jones of KBJ Capital in Wilkes-Barre told them that no company was focusing on the business-to-business app market.

Fresh off Appek's announcement that it received a $50,000 investment from KBJ, it's lining up business clients. For now the company is focusing on existing products that would benefit from an accompanying mobile application, well-funded startups and companies that want apps for their own purposes, not for the public. Apps for mobile tablets like the iPad are also part of Appek's push.

"We're trying to create a company that has local impact and global reach," says Ceresko, who hails from the Scranton area. Over the next several months Appek plans to hire a "significant" number of full-time employees and summer interns, but specific figures haven't been worked out. An office in Wilkes-Barre might also lie in the company's future.

Eventually Appek hopes to build a platform that would allow smaller businesses – think corner pizza shops – to log onto Appek's website and build their own mobile applications.

Source: Adam Ceresko, Appek
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Brookings report says other states could learn from PA's export-generating strategies

Pennsylvania is a leader when it comes to helping companies sell their products and services overseas, and those efforts have pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into the Keystone State.

So says a recent report from the Brookings Institution, one of the country's most respected think tanks. The paper, which detailed different states' successes in making their businesses competitive in international markets, highlighted Pennsylvania's Center for Trade Development.

One of the center's best attributes is its method of measuring performance, says Emilia Istrate, report co-author and senior research analyst at the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program. The Center has 10 regional partners, each of which is charged with meeting the whole system's goals in proportion with the percentage of the center's budget it receives. In determining how well these goals are met, the center measures such things as the number of companies that have been assisted and how much money clients have earned thanks to exports.

Istrate says this strength serves as a model for other states, especially in this era of tight state budgets. "There are now clear numbers to show the impact of these programs," she says. "In this day and age, it's very important to show performance, to show what the state is spending its money on."

Pennsylvania's investment in export promotion has paid off big. In the 2008-09 fiscal year, the Brookings report says, the state brought in $454.5 million in export sales. That's $60 for every dollar spent.

Source: Emilia Istrate, Brookings Institution
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen


Statewide cooperation helps net Pennsylvania top corporate relocation ranking

Economic development groups in Pennsylvania work together to promote the whole state, not just certain regions or cities. That's just one reason the Keystone State drew hundreds of new companies last year, making it one of the top states in the country.

According to an annual ranking by Site Selection magazine, 337 corporate offices located in Pennsylvania in 2010 – the fourth-highest number in the U.S. Texas took first place, followed by Ohio and Louisiana.

Matt Zieger, recently named president and CEO of the Team Pennsylvania Foundation, says much of this success can be attributed to regional economic development organizations that are good at drawing businesses and cooperating with peers in other regions. At industry conferences, Pennsylvania often has its own table to promote the state's brand – which Zieger says is pretty unusual. "Most other states, you have every little county fighting for themselves," he says.

Zieger also says the Governor's Action Team, which connects with businesses looking to move into Pennsylvania, is a resource many states don't have. Another asset is the website PA SiteSearch, a tool to find available corporate real estate across the state. Zieger says the website's traffic has grown consistently in recent years.

Rankings like the one in Site Selection are more than just a pat on the back, Zieger says. Professional site selectors pay attention to these rankings because it tells them which states will likely be easiest to work with and have the best locations for their customers. This helps lure new businesses and keep existing businesses here.

Source: Matt Zieger, Team Pennsylvania Foundation
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen


New director hopes to build on successes at University of Scranton's SBDC

Before she was born, Lisa M. Hall's parents opened Hall's Auto Parts, a Wayne County automotive repair business that's still operating. So when it was time to find a job herself, she knew she wanted to do something that would help small businesses succeed.

She got her chance about three years ago when she started working as a business consultant at the University of Scranton Small Business Development Center. Now she's settling into her new role as director of the center, replacing Elaine Tweedy, who retired after leading the center since 1989.

Hall says the center has done an excellent job serving small businesses in northeastern Pennsylvania and hopes to continue that. "When I see the work that goes on here, it's really inspiring," Hall says.
Today's entrepreneurs have to cope with new challenges such as keeping up with environmental regulations and learning how to use social media to reach out to customers, she adds.

She'd especially like to offer more programs through the Women's Business Center, a partnership between the SBDC and the university's Kania School of Management. As part of this initiative, business students conduct special projects with female entrepreneurs, such as studying a new business' possible competitors. Hall also wants to expand offerings through the SBDC's agribusiness and food program, which works with small businesses in that sector.

Source: Lisa M. Hall, University of Scranton Small Business Development Center

Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Seven NEPA companies take home combined $875,000 from Ben Franklin Technology Partners

The BioCookie, streaming audio, mobile language translation and electronic trucks are among the technologies supported by the $875,000 round of funding raked in by seven companies from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania, according to a news release issued on Wednesday.

Investments made from Ben Franklin's operating funds went to BioSample Solutions ($70,000) in Bethlehem, Pivitec LLC ($70,000) in Coplay, Prova Systems ($35,000) in Carbondale, and RantNetwork Inc. ($50,000) in Bloomsburg.

BioSample will use the money to complete development and begin commercialization of its BioCookie, a new proprietary sample preperation technique for DNA and RNA extraction technology. Pivitec will complete design of four hardware products and one software control application for developing audio streaming and distribution products. Prova manufactures a wireless diagnostic device that allows real-time field management of vehicles. RantNetwork will expand marketing and development initiatives of its Communicator application for language translation in mobile phones.

Ben Franklin made three investments through its Alternative Energy Development Program--Electrikus Incorporated ($150,000) in Bethlehem, Hydro Recovery ($250,000) in Blossburg, ZeroTruck Corporation ($250,000) in Allentown.

Electrikus will use the funds to produce an initial batch of up to 100 refrigerator power backup units and begin marketing. Hydro Recovery will establish a manufacturing plant in Tioga County to treat water used in natural gas exploration. ZeroTruck will complete develoment of its proprietary continuous variable transmission for medium-duty, all-electric trucks.

Source: Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern PA
Writer: Joe Petrucci


Cross-state effort adds serious bandwidth for PA researchers on special high-speed network

Researchers based at academic institutions in the Keystone State and beyond now have access to a faster Internet connection than they did before.

Drexel University in Philadelphia and the Three Rivers Optical Exchange in Pittsburgh recently joined up to quintuple the bandwidth available through their high-speed Internet hubs. The partnership resulted in faster access to Internet2, a high-speed network available to researchers and educators at colleges, laboratories and government agencies. Drexel and Three Rivers had one-gigabit connections to Internet2 before but now have five-gigabit connections.

Kenneth Blackney, Drexel's associate VP for core technology infrastructure, says the university and Three Rivers wanted to increase their Internet2 bandwidth, but increasing it to 10 gigabits at each place was too expensive. For that reason they split the 10 gigabits between them. He would not say how much the bandwidth increase cost.

And the partnership benefits researchers beyond Philly and Pittsburgh. Between them the two hubs provide Internet2 access to Penn State, Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center and West Virginia University.

"Suddenly, a lot of people have a lot faster Internet," Blackney says.

John Bielec, chief information officer at Drexel, says researchers can now process large quantities of data more easily and collaborate with those in faraway locations.

Sources: John Bielec and Kenneth Blackney, Drexel University
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

State's recycling industry grows to 52,000 jobs, $2.2B in payroll

When you throw old cardboard boxes or empty soda bottles in a recycling bin, you're contributing to an industry that's responsible for more than 52,000 jobs in Pennsylvania. And recycling companies are taking steps to publicize their growing contribution to the commonwealth's economy.

"A lot of people really believe that all this valuable material is being landfilled," says Michele Nestor, chair of the board at the Pennsylvania Recycling Markets Center, which develops markets for recycled materials. Many garbage trucks, she adds, have separate sections for trash and recyclable materials that are later sorted.

Nestor explains that while the industry once dividing materials into things that can be recycled and everything else, now it is shifting to an emphasis on finding new uses for nearly everything the average person considers trash. "The last thing you want to do is throw it away," she says.

Earlier this month the Pennsylvania Waste Industries Association, which represents haulers, recyclers and landfill operators, hosted an event at the state Capitol with the Pennsylvania Recycling Markets Center. The event, called the Pennsylvania Recycling Industries Congress, displayed how companies throughout the state are turning unwanted materials into new products. Nestor says that's the most important step in the recycling process.

And Pennsylvania companies are finding innovative uses for unwanted scraps. USA Gypsum in Reinholds takes scrap drywall and turns it into bedding for farm animals, and FiberAmerica in Allentown converts old newspaper into insulation. LVH Industries in McAdoo makes products like sandblasting material and water filtration media from recycled glass.

In 2009 the Northeast Recycling Council did a study that found recycling generates a little more than 52,000 jobs in Pennsylvania, resulting in $2.2 billion in payroll. That's an increase from 2007, when a study from the Pennsylvania Waste Industries Association found that recycling was responsible for about 31,000 jobs statewide. In recent years private businesses in Pennsylvania have spent $66 million on new recycling facilities and equipment.

Sources: Michele Nestor, Pennsylvania Recycling Markets Center; Pennsylvania Waste Industries Association
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Clean Technology Resource Center provides guidance for alternative energy use and commercialization

Small business owners statewide have heard a lot about alternative energy, but it can be difficult to figure out how they might best be able to use it.

Enter the Clean Technology Resource Center, run out of the Penn State Small Business Development Center. The center, which opened last April, helps businesses across the state that want to use alternative energy sources like geothermal or wind power. The center's director, Heather Fennessey, says it's able to point business owners toward government subsidies for alternative energy use and provide guidance on the best sources of clean power. Businesses benefit from working with an organization that isn't interested in selling a product, Fennessey says.

"If you call a vendor and say, 'I want solar panels,' and they're a solar vendor, of course they're going to say 'OK,' " she says.

Since the center opened it has helped about 45 business owners, including a Snyder County turkey farmer who is now able to generate heat from the birds' bedding.

The center also works with Pennsylvania companies that want to introduce new clean energy technologies to the marketplace, although Fennessey says she can't give any examples.

Next month the resource center is hosting an educational event called the Pennsylvania Clean Technology Forum in Harrisburg. It's also planning informational webinars in the future, Fennessey says.

Source: Heather Fennessey, Clean Technology Resource Center
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Craigslist for manure: Free website connects buyers and sellers of biomass and compost

Have some manure to get rid of? In the market for switchgrass to convert to fuel? If you're in the Keystone State, you might want to bookmark the Pennsylvania Biomass Trader on your Internet browser.

The free website is a sort of classified ad service for people looking to buy or sell materials that could be turned into energy or compost. It's run by the state Small Business Development Centers, which also run a similar website, the Pennsylvania Material Trader, a resource for those in the market for everything from scrap paper to medical supplies.

The Biomass Trader grew out of another website just for those looking to buy and sell animal manure. "A lot of people were interested in manure not just for fertilizer, but as an energy source," explains Nancy Crickman, who runs the Small Business Development Centers' Environmental Management Assistance Program.

The site has been up for about a year, but Crickman still considers it a new initiative because it's not useful unless enough people take advantage of it.

"It's a free resource, and the more it's used, the better for everyone," she says.

So far the Biomass Trader has about 160 members, and it has hosted about 150 listings. Users include a Juniata County buyer in search of scrap wood, a State College supplier looking to sell switchgrass and several farmers with horse manure to give away.

Source: Nancy Crickman, Pennsylvania Small Business Development Centers
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen


Meet the 'higros': Businesses that generate nearly every new job in PA

Would you be surprised to learn that less than 1 percent of all businesses in Pennsylvania created almost every new job throughout the commonwealth?

That's exactly the impact that about 2,300 high-growth companies had on the state, according to research by economic development consultant Dr. Gary Kunkle. His examination of Pennsylvania's economy found that these businesses -- affectionately referred to as "higros" -- generated almost 60,000 new jobs between 2006 and 2009. Out of 757,000 businesses in Pennsylvania, 0.3 percent were considered higros. In about a month, there will be a new list of higros.

"These firms are in every single industry within the state," says Kunkle, president of North Carolina consulting company Outlier LLC. "They're almost randomly geographically distributed."

Focusing on nurturing these businesses and helping them expand represents a new approach to economic development, His research shows that 97 percent of new jobs come from businesses expanding, rather than companies opening or relocating. The most successful businesses hire new workers gradually as they grow.

"It's better to hire 10 people 10 times than to hire 100 people once," Kunkle says.

The Allegheny Conference on Community Development plans to put this research to work to predict which businesses in a 10-county region of southwestern Pennsylvania are most likely to succeed, and how to best ensure their success. Details are still being worked out.

Also, the Team Pennsylvania Foundation is talking with the state Department of Community and Economic Development about how to use Kunkle's findings.

Sources: Dr. Gary Kunkle, Outlier LLC; Matt Zieger, Team Pennsylvania Foundation
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen


Recent Duquesne grad launches website for discussion about Marcellus Shale

Natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation is the biggest thing to hit Pennsylvania in decades, and it can be hard to navigate exactly what it means to each consumer, property owner or business.

That's why C. Arthur West IV saw a chance to create an online community focused on the natural gas deposit that lies under much of the Keystone State. In October he launched a website,
NaturalgasPA.com, as a place for information and discussion.

"It's basically happening in everyone in Pennsylvania's backyard," says West, who graduated from Duquesne University last year with a degree in business and communication. "The most amazing thing to me is the amount of natural gas that's underneath this state."

His site's features include job listings, news articles, a discussion forum and directories of lawyers, financial planners and energy companies. Users can submit content, but West mostly updates NaturalgasPA.com himself in addition to his job as a real estate title coordinator. Some posts on the site
are in favor of drilling and some are against – West says he aims for a 50/50 balance.

"We're certainly not for or against the industry," he says.

NaturalgasPA.com has developed a strong following in just a few months. It has about 200 members and draws between 5,000 and 10,000 people per month. West has also been a guest on "Natural Gas Matters," a weekly show on Pittsburgh radio station FM NewsTalk 104.7.

Source: C. Arthur West IV, NaturalgasPA.com
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Three Northeastern PA towns join Route 6 community-enhancement program

Three towns in the Poconos are the latest to take part in a program that enhances communities along Route 6, a thoroughfare along the commonwealth's northern edge.

Hawley, Honesdale and White Mills are the newest additions to the Heritage Communities Program, which is part of the PA Route 6 Alliance. The program is meant to capitalize on the unique character and assets of small towns along the popular corridor for tourists exploring northern Pennsylvania.

Communities in the program work with consultants to determine how to improve their towns for residents and visitors.

A total of 19 towns, from Union City in the west to Milford in the east, have been designated Heritage Communities. "They're not what one writer called 'Disneyfied,' " says Terri Dennison, executive director of the PA Route 6 Alliance. "They're just wonderful towns."

The north-central PA town of Smethport was named the first Heritage Community in 2005. Through that process, Dennison says, Smethport officials decided to use the town's senior center as a visitors' center, where volunteers point tourists to local attractions. The town also developed a walking tour of Smethport's mansions and local high school students developed an interactive online display of historic Smethport.

Source: Terri Dennison, PA Route 6 Alliance
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Advances in videoconferencing allow psychiatrist to "see" patients in remote areas

Many people with mental health problems benefit from a combination of medication and psychotherapy. This means they have to see a therapist and a psychiatrist who can diagnose and prescribe medication for mental illness. All this is especially time-consuming for those who live in rural areas far from medical specialists.

The ReDCo Group addressed part of this challenge by providing therapists for its clients in the Poconos, but there were no psychiatrists in the area who specialized in children and teens.

Modern technology provided a solution to that problem.

The ReDCo Group found a psychiatrist, Dr. Neville Kotwal, who was willing to speak with patients by videoconference from his office in Lehighton. He's seen about five clients since October, says Leslie Wagner of The ReDCo Group, which provides various health and support services in eastern and central Pennsylvania. The agency tried the technology with young people first, thinking they'd be more receptive to it than adults.

For their sessions, patients go to ReDCo Group offices in Stroudsburg or Milford and, with their therapists close by, sit in front of a camera. Wagner notes that while teleconferencing is nothing new, remote appointments with a psychiatrist are possible because of current technology. Modern videoconferencing allows for real-time conversation and clear images of facial expression. A secure connection keeps each session between the doctor and the patient.

"Psychiatry is about having a connection," Wagner says. "Can you have a relationship with an image on a screen? I think you can."

Source: Leslie Wagner, The ReDCo Group
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Happy trails: Statewide contest seeks smartphone apps using state trail data

The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has a wealth of information about Pennsylvania's trail system, from the trails' GPS coordinates to the location of boat docks on waterways. And these tidbits would be very useful in the hands – or smartphones – of hikers, bikers and snowmobilers, the department thought.

Sounds like a recipe for a smartphone application.

So DCNR asked the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology for help developing an app. From there came the idea for a contest to see who could develop the best one.

"We know there are a lot of bright developers out there, and any app we could have come up with, they probably would have come up with something better," says Charles Palmer, executive director of the
university's Center for Advanced Entertainment and Learning Technologies.

The contest will be open to developers in Pennsylvania and students at all of the state's colleges. It starts Jan. 18 and all entries have to be in by March 1. The winner will get an iPad.

Palmer foresees all sorts of possibilities for smartphone apps. Maybe users could rate different trails and make comments on them for others to see. Or perhaps an app could point out streams that are prone to flooding.

"We really don't know what they will do," he says.

Source: Charles Palmer, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Northeastern PA supply-chain detective firm hires CEO, maps ambitious growth strategy

If you're looking to outsource a piece of your business, you want to know you're working with a company that delivers on time, provides good products and is in good financial shape. And plenty of attention has been lavished on Hawley-based eVendor Check's system allowing companies to go online and check out prospective suppliers. Even better, the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania invested $100,000 in eVendor Check this spring and recently announced another $100,000 investment.

Company founder Doug LaPasta says the latest round of money will support eVendor Check's plans for future growth. A new CEO, Gary Hare, is set to come on in January, and over the next three years eVendor Check plans to grow from seven employees to 25.
 
The ability to hire more people is expected to come from growth in eVendor Check's customer base, which now consists of about 15 large companies including major names like Citigroup and Duke Energy. LaPasta says eVendor Check hopes to increase that figure tenfold by signing up small- and medium-sized businesses. Its system will be fully automated with tutorials and an online help desk, whereas now customers have to talk to someone at eVendor Check when they start using the system. That's fine for big companies, but not small businesses, LaPasta says.

"The person that we're dealing with may not be a full-time procurement person," he says.

Source: Doug LaPasta, eVendor Check

Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Longtime public education advocate honored by Philadelphia Bar Association

Len Rieser says the state of public schools should matter to everyone, because every child has the potential to make the world a better place.

"It sounds cliche, but any child could be the person who comes up with the cure to a disease, or a new environmental approach, or a way to solve conflict and war," says Rieser, executive director of the Education Law Center, which has offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. "I just see it as human potential."

That attitude explains why Rieser, who has been with the center since 1982, was chosen for the Philadelphia Bar Association's Andrew Hamilton Award. Each year the award goes to a public-interest attorney or someone who provides legal services to people who can't afford them.

The Education Law Center started in 1975 to help children facing legal hurdles to access public schools. The organization has evolved to also work as an advocate for improving public education. It was one force behind a new statewide funding formula adopted in 2008 to target state money toward the neediest school districts.

In the future, Rieser says the center plans to continue collaborating with other public-education advocates. "I think we want to keep our eye on what's good for kids and families," he says. "We basically believe that in every political climate, it's possible to keep kids at the forefront of the discussion."

Source: Len Rieser, Education Law Center
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Penn State in national program to install wind turbines at PA schools

Want to install a wind turbine at a Pennsylvania school? Penn State University would like to help.

The Penn State Wind Application Center is one participant in the Wind for Schools Project, a U.S. Department of Energy initiative that's operating in 11 states. Through the program, elementary, middle and high schools can have a small (2.4 kilowatts, to be exact) wind turbine installed to produce electricity and introduce wind power in the classroom.

"It's really not intended to take a huge chunk out of the school's energy costs," says Susan Stewart of Penn State, who is directing the project. "The educational component is really the key."

As part of Wind for Schools, teachers at participating schools will receive training on how to integrate wind power into their lesson plans. One aim of the national project is to develop kids' interest in working in the wind-power industry as adults.

Stewart says each wind turbine will cost around $20,000. Each school will be asked to cover part of the cost and Penn State will help find grants and donations for the rest. Penn State hopes to have between three and five turbines installed each year through the program.

Wind for Schools applications should be available soon. The State College Area School District is already interested in building a turbine at an elementary school under construction.

Source: Susan Stewart, Penn State Wind Application Center
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Freeze! Northeastern PA ice carving business recognized for innovation

Sculpted Ice Works doesn’t just create elaborate works of art with frozen water. It's also been recognized as an example of business innovation.

The Wayne Economic Development Corp. recently gave its Innovator of the Year award to the business based in the Poconos town of Lakeville. Every year Sculpted Ice Works makes about 12,000 300-pound blocks of ice. In carvers' hands they become beautiful displays destined for weddings, corporate parties and special events in Northeastern Pennsylvania and beyond.

Owner Mark Crouthamel explains that a proper ice sculpture needs to be made of clear ice with no air bubbles. To achieve that, Sculpted Ice Works uses circulation pumps to fill huge tanks with water in a way that forces it to freeze from top to bottom, not from the outside in.

And Crouthamel's business works to be as sustainable as possible. Ice shavings are reclaimed and added to the tanks to become part of new ice blocks. The plastic liners inside the block molds are recycled by a local company that turns them into pellets that are made into new products. The location of Sculpted Ice Works – a once-languishing former lumber yard, Crouthamel notes – has an on-site well that provides the water for the ice. Each day's water supply is withdrawn from the well over a four-hour period so the well has a chance to replenish itself.

Source: Mark Crouthamel, Sculpted Ice Works

Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Environmentalists' report urges conservation measures along with energy development

Pennsylvania is a rich source of energy alternatives like wind and natural gas. And a report from a prominent conservation group cautions that those who wish to take advantage of these resources do so in a way that minimizes harm to the forests, wildlife and waterways that are also abundant across the state.

"An intact and healthy natural habitat represents dollar signs, too, in terms of tourism and recreation," says Nels Johnson, deputy director of Pennsylvania's chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

His group completed the report in partnership with Audubon Pennsylvania and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. It predicts the probable impact of energy development throughout the state over the next two decades, focusing on wind turbines, gas and electric transmission lines, wood-based biomass and gas-drilling wells in the Marcellus Shale formation that underlies much of Pennsylvania.

Overall, it estimates up to 60,000 natural-gas wells statewide by 2030, and perhaps more than 3,000 wind turbines. The report also looked at how this development would impact species like the brook trout and black-throated blue warbler.

Johnson says the conservationists' intent isn't to stop energy development or say one source is better than another. Their hope is that government and business work conservation measures into their plans for using the energy.

For example, Johnson notes that one natural gas well pad takes up about three acres, with another six acres or so for pipes, roads and other uses. Putting as many wells as possible on each well pad reduces the amount of land dedicated to drilling. From a conservation standpoint it's best to leave as much contiguous wooded land as possible because many species best thrive in the interiors of a forest.

Source: Nels Johnson, The Nature Conservancy
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Where's the broadband? New map shows availability across PA

Wondering where you can get online? Now you can go to a single website and find where broadband is available throughout Pennsylvania.

Using $7.3 million in federal stimulus money, the state recently launched an interactive map that shows where the Internet is accessible through cable, wireless networks, fiber-optic and telephone lines. Viewers can zoom in on a certain location or search for Internet service providers serving a particular street address. The map stems from a state law passed in 2004, requiring broadband access statewide by 2015.

Sue Suleski, director of broadband initiatives at the state Department of Community and Economic Development, says the main point of the map is to show where broadband service is lacking in Pennsylvania. Most of the need is in northern pockets of the state. Then it will be easier to target government funding for broadband expansion. (The state has already received $28.8 million in stimulus dollars to improve broadband north of Interstate 80). Suleski says Internet service providers are also excited to see the map so they'll have a better idea of where to build up their customer base.

"Broadband is certainly a powerful economic driver," she says, adding that areas without broadband access will be at a disadvantage in an increasingly technologically-driven economy.

Suleski says the map will be updated every six months, as some Internet service providers didn't provide information for the project. The plan is to include Pennsylvania's broadband map as part of a similar national map expected to debut in February.

Source: Sue Suleski, Department of Community and Economic Development
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Bioscience companies across PA receive federal research funds to improve medicine, add jobs

Bioscience firms all over the Keystone State have been awarded grants and tax credits thanks to a federal program aimed at improving medicine and creating jobs.

The Qualifying Therapeutic Discovery Project program made grants and tax credits available for projects expected to reduce health-care costs, advance the quest to cure cancer or result in new treatments for disease. Also taken into account was each project's potential to create or retain high-paying American jobs.

A total of 158 Pennsylvania companies received grants totaling $48.1 million, and four companies got tax credits totaling $1.2 million. According to statewide industry group Pennsylvania Bio, grants went to businesses that are not yet profitable and tax credits were given to companies that have turned a profit.

Recipients are developing treatments for ailments like heart failure, ovarian cancer, diabetes, Parkinson's disease and lymphoma, to name a few.

“The impact of this program on Pennsylvania’s bioscience industry cannot be overstated," says Pennsylvania Bio President Christopher Molineaux in a statement. "The funding it provides will have positive effects on job sustainability, global competitiveness, and on advancing life-saving therapies and cures for patients.”  

Source: Amber van Niekerk, Pennsylvania Bio
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Program assisting PA companies establishing overseas presence receives federal recognition

Pennsylvania companies that want to do business overseas have a partner in state government -- and the chance to open a relatively cheap office in Shanghai.

The Center for Trade Development's Envoy program, which has been around since 2007, works with companies to find the right overseas markets in which to do business and provides help as they establish a presence in those countries.

The Envoy program has representatives in a dozen countries, including Mexico, India, France and South Africa. But it's by far the most active in Shanghai, where a Pennsylvania-sponsored office has so far provided space for about 20 Keystone State businesses. Companies can send employees to work in the office or ask the state to hire a Chinese worker to establish a presence in the country.

"They're your employee," explains Pete O'Neill, executive director of PA's Center for Trade Development. "We're just housing them." He says Envoy is best for Pennsylvania companies that are already doing some business overseas and are looking to expand.

The use of a Shanghai office and a Chinese representative can cost a Pennsylvania business as little as $10,000 a year. So far companies like specialty alloy firm Carpenter Technology and assembly-tool maker Titan Tool Company have taken advantage of Envoy's Chinese presence.

And the program was recently recognized by the U.S. Economic Development Administration, which gave Envoy its award for Innovation in Global Export Promotion.

O'Neill's office plans to use its success in China to expand the Envoy program in other countries. He also sees the potential for Pennsylvania colleges to use it as a way to employ full-time recruiters to bring foreign students to their campuses.

Source: Pete O'Neill, Center for Trade Development
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority receives national award

Hundreds of entrepreneurs and existing companies throughout Pennsylvania have received financial boosts from the Ben Franklin Technology Partners.

Last month the National Association of Seed and Venture Funds gave its Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurial Capital Formation to the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority, which funds key initiatives like Ben Franklin Technology Partners, Keystone Innovation Zones and Venture Investment program. The association gave one private-sector award and one public-sector award. The winners were picked by the association's board, which chose them among nominations from its members.

Organizations chosen for the award were picked based on the track record of their investments, quality of their leadership and recognition among other agencies as a national role model.

Jeannine Marttila, the authority's executive director, says the award came as a surprise and has boosted morale among its board and staff.

"This is another confirmation that we're on the right track," Marttila says.

Sources: Jeannine Marttila, Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority; Kelly O'Day, National Association of Seed and Venture Funds
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Monadnock Non-Wovens completes expansion project, anticipates 15 new hires

Bedbugs, pollen and airborne viruses are among the many things that people do their best to avoid. And that's great for the bottom line at Mount Pocono firm Monadnock Non-Wovens, which makes components for such products as surgical masks, air filters and vacuum cleaner bags. Some of Monadnock's material ended up in containment booms that were deployed after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico this spring.

"There's an increasing demand for filtration in general," says Keith Hayward, managing director of Monadnock Non-Wovens, adding that the recent H1N1 flu pandemic also drove up demand for the company's wares. Production takes place around the clock.

His company is in the midst of an ambitious expansion. Over the last three years it has grown from two production machines to four, with plans to add two more over the next two years. Earlier this month Monadnock had a ceremonial ribbon-cutting on a 7,500-square foot addition to its facility, which Hayward said was a $1 million investment and the culmination of a three-year expansion project.

The site now employs the equivalent of 61 full-time workers, and about 15 more will be hired over the next year as another machine is installed.

Source: Keith Hayward, Monadnock Non-Wovens
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen


The Commonwealth Medical College funded to encourage healthcare careers among low-income students

In Northeastern PA, about half of the region's doctors are expected to retire in the next decade. The assets within the medical community are starting to prepare, and that includes outreach to low-income students.

The Commonwealth Medical College, which opened in Scranton in 2009, is launching a program next spring to introduce underserved local students to the myriad careers in health care.

"We have a very high student population that not only qualifies under the guidelines, but would be the first generation to go to college," says Ida L. Castro, the college's VP of social justice and diversity.
"These are the students that have the aptitude, but haven't been able to visualize the opportunity."

Using federal grants totaling more than $2 million over the next three years, the medical school plans to partner with high schools and colleges to run programs introducing students to medical careers. The programs will be targeted at low-income students, using federal poverty guidelines.

The Regional Education Academy for Careers in Science – Higher Education Initiative (REACH-HEI), appropriately pronounced "reach high," will include programs giving high school students chances to do lab research and shadow health care workers on the job. There will also be programs for interested students at local colleges and low-income students who are about to start at the medical school.

Another program will reward high school students who continue to Luzerne County Community College and finish their bachelor's degrees at Misericordia University. Misericordia graduates who take part in REACH-HEI, earn a 3.5 grade-point average and score of at least 30 on the Medical College Admission Test will receive a $15,000 scholarship to The Commonwealth Medical College.

Organizers hope to serve about 160 students a year – and entice them to stay close to home.
 
Source: Ida L. Castro, The Commonwealth Medical College
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

The Commonwealth Medical College funded to encourage healthcare careers among low-income students

In Northeastern PA, about half of the region's doctors are expected to retire in the next decade. The assets within the medical community are starting to prepare, and that includes outreach to low-income students.

The Commonwealth Medical College, which opened in Scranton in 2009, is launching a program next spring to introduce underserved local students to the myriad careers in health care.

"We have a very high student population that not only qualifies under the guidelines, but would be the first generation to go to college," says Ida L. Castro, the college's VP of social justice and diversity.
"These are the students that have the aptitude, but haven't been able to visualize the opportunity."

Using federal grants totaling more than $2 million over the next three years, the medical school plans to partner with high schools and colleges to run programs introducing students to medical careers. The programs will be targeted at low-income students, using federal poverty guidelines.

The Regional Education Academy for Careers in Science – Higher Education Initiative (REACH-HEI), appropriately pronounced "reach high," will include programs giving high school students chances to do lab research and shadow health care workers on the job. There will also be programs for interested students at local colleges and low-income students who are about to start at the medical school.

Another program will reward high school students who continue to Luzerne County Community College and finish their bachelor's degrees at Misericordia University. Misericordia graduates who take part in REACH-HEI, earn a 3.5 grade-point average and score of at least 30 on the Medical College Admission Test will receive a $15,000 scholarship to The Commonwealth Medical College.

Organizers hope to serve about 160 students a year – and entice them to stay close to home.
 
Source: Ida L. Castro, The Commonwealth Medical College
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Ben Franklin event gives audience chance to vote on venture capital awards

Ever wanted a vote on whether an emerging company should get venture capital money? You’ll have your chance Nov. 16 during Ben Franklin Venture Idol.

The annual event, slated to take place at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, will feature three companies that Ben Franklin Technology Partners will pick from the clients it has worked with for a few months.

Each business will make short pitches to a panel of three investors who will provide constructive criticism, and the audience will vote on their favorites. The top winner will get a $5,000 investment, but it’s unclear how much the second- and third-place recipients will get.

Bob McHugh, manager of capital access at Ben Franklin’s Bethlehem office, says the event usually draws a mixture of college students, investors, lawyers with expertise in intellectual property, and fellow entrepreneurs.

"These companies can see what it's like to be under the gun," McHugh says.

Past winners include Third Eye Diagnostics, a Bethlehem company developing a non-invasive monitor to gather information about patients' eyes, and Apeliotus Vision Science, a Hershey firm working on a diagnostic tool to detect age-related macular degeneration.

The Venture Idol event will be preceded by an invitation-only speed-dating event in which companies can give five-minute presentations to potential investors.

Sources: Laura Eppler and Bob McHugh, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

Innovation Partnership plans workshops on federal funding opportunities

The Innovation Partnership, which helps young Pennsylvania high-tech companies get federal funding, is planning a series of workshops aimed at businesses that are often left out of the race for government dollars.

The workshops will take place in parts of the state that are rural or otherwise removed from the hotspots in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, says Kelly Wylam, director of the Innovation Partnership. The events will be especially targeted at businesses owned by women and minorities, since those firms are nationally underrepresented when it comes to securing federal money.

Since IPart just learned that it will receive $100,000 for the project from the U.S. Small Business Administration, it's too early to say exactly when and where the events will be.

The workshops will give high-tech firms pointers on how to figure out whether, and how, to apply for federal awards. The topics addressed will include writing a good grant application and keeping the meticulous records federal grants often require. Wylam says it's also important for companies to match their skills to the needs of government agencies, which are sometimes very specific about the problems they want grant-winners to solve.

IPart will use some of the money to train its own counselors so they can better assist companies in figuring out whether it is the right time to seek federal money, find the right funding sources and work on securing awards.

Source: Kelly Wylam, Innovation Partnership
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

LVEDC opens the world for business with global marketing event

This week, the Pennsylvania plays host to trade representatives from 21 countries around the world. These representatives will be touring the state searching for business opportunities, perhaps the perfect region for a corporation's global headquarters or a hub for manufacturing.

The Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation rolls out the red carpet with an event entitled "The World is Open for Business." This day-long event on Sept. 23 will give economic development officials the opportunity to meet with foreign trade representatives, answer any questions and present incentives like the Foreign Trade Zone program, designed to smooth any globalization headaches companies may have. Positioned just two hours from New York with access to three major manufacturing markets, the LVEDC hopes to present the region as a hub for American production. 

"In past years, we have focused our keynote speakers and events on certain hot topics relating to growing your business globally," says LVEDC VP of Marketing Margaret McConnell. "This year, we have a theme throughout the day on social media, as social media is kind of taking over the world and companies need to know how to use it to enhance their marketing efforts. We have several local business owners speaking about ways to grow business on the world stage."

This event also allows local business owners the opportunity to meet with foreign trade representatives to discuss doing business in other parts of the world. Lehigh University's Small Business Development Center will be facilitating meetings between foreign representatives from all over the world interested in sharing ideas with Lehigh Valley business owners, making the world seem just a little smaller for representatives looking to do business a long way from home.

"This event allows our local businesses to meet one on one with these trade representatives to talk about business expansion plans in Brazil or Canada or India and it's a way for them to connect and hash out some ideas for expansion in those countries," says McConnell.

Source: Margaret McConnell, LVEDC
Writer: John Steele

Historic Bradford County theater set for rehab thanks to USDA grants, local funding

From its opening in 1886, the Keystone Theater has been the entertainment center of Bradford County. Originally named Hale's Opera House, the theater hosted John Philip Sousa and was one of the first purveyors of silent films when they added projection facilities in 1913. But time has not been kind to the Keystone. When the repairs got to be too much for the original owners in the 1970s, they sold it. It was eventually bought by the Bradford County Regional Arts Council and has since gone through two major renovations; one in 1988, another in 2001.

Today, the theater hosts first-run movies, live performances and neighborhood artist workshops, working its way back to being the neighborhood hub it once was. This process took another step forward this week, as the Keystone received a USDA Rural Enterprise Development grant and a series of local funds to begin two renovation projects. Part of the funding will go for basic structural improvements and re-securing the facade but the rest will create a brick plaza that will allow local citizens to own a piece of their entertainment capital.

"USDA's Rural Business Enterprise Grants are a great source of funding that can be the difference in getting projects accomplished that might not otherwise," says USDA State Director of Rural Development Tom Williams. "This funding will allow for continued restoration of a historic relic in this small town."

The USDA Rural Enterprise Grants have been an integral partner for PA's rural communities, investing over $700 million last year. And while many of this year's projects--from a Community Kitchen for food entrepreneurs in the Lehigh Valley to an energy efficient farm in Lancaster--center around food and health, USDA stands behind the Keystone as a way to support the local economy and strengthen yet another rural Pennsylvania town.

"The arts play an important role in building strong communities and employing local residents while improving small town economies," says Williams. "The theater is a functional landmark in the community and we want it to stay that way."

Source: Tom Williams, USDA
Writer: John Steele

Scranton's Diversified Information Technologies acquires NJ competitor, expands medical services

When Scranton's Diversified Information Technologies was founded in 1982, its name was a bit of a misnomer. After all, database systems technology at the time was nothing more than a disk drive. Even the most forward-thinking technology leaders couldn't have foreseen a storage revolution that would allow entire companies to operate from a single blade server or internet cloud. In fact, in 1981, Bill Gates reportedly stated that 640k was more storage than anyone should ever need.

Fortunately, for the massive data management industry, Gates was mistaken. Today, data management companies operate in every major industry across the world. One industry racing to modernize is health care, which looks to update ancient medical billing and paper medical records. For Diversified, a firm that manages records for energy, financial, insurance and pharmaceutical companies, adding medical services is a must. This week, the firm acquired New Jersey's Commercial Data Processing, a move they hope will improve this segment of their business.

“We are excited to join forces with CDP as we align our business approach with customer interests and market realities,” said Diversified CEO Scott Byers. “This will better position Diversified to facilitate health care providers’ transition to electronic medical records and improve capabilities in work-flow solutions and enterprise content management.”

The acquisition is one of many expansion efforts for Diversified, which has expanded to serve 650 customers from 24 locations. Acquiring North Carolina-based Active Data Services in October 2009 and Bowman Enterprises in February 2010 has expanded its capabilities in business process and information management solutions. After 40 years in business, the sale marks a new direction for CDP, bringing their targeted solutions to wider application for DIT's varied clients. Both companies have come a long way from those early systems and hope to move technology further with the merger.


"CDP has enabled companies to focus resources on core competencies by effectively resolving information management challenges,” said Tom Fahmie, founder and CEO of CDP. “We know Diversified celebrates a similar heritage, and we are pleased to become partners.”


Source: Scott Byers, Diversified Information Technologies

Writer: John Steele


New state grants bring nitrogen tire pumps to 25 state businesses, helps motorists save on gas

In 2007, an article in Popular Mechanics magazine bemoaning a deficiency amongst modern men and women to do common DIY tasks, found that 4 million drivers had called AAA for roadside assistance--to change a tire. With all this fear surrounding basic auto maintenance, you would think Americans would do everything in their power to avoid getting flat tires. Not so says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which, the same year, published "Underinflated Tires In The U.S.," a comprehensive study that found 25 percent of cars and over 30 percent of trucks have dangerously underinflated tires. The study sites dangers beyond blowouts including reduced fuel economy, skidding, and even highway accidents and fatalities. Still, numerous follow-up studies have found American tires remain dangerously underinflated.

In the three years since the NHTSA study, tire pressure has come up in environmental debates, consumer reports studies and even became an issue in the 2008 presidential campaign. In that time, Pennsylvania has done its part to improve this growing problem. This week, the PA Department of Environmental Protection announced another step toward improving tire inflation with the third and final installment of the Nitrogen Tire Inflation Grants program. Tire and automotive centers looking to offer nitrogen for tire fill-up as opposed to traditional air can receive these annual match grants to acquire nitrogen tire pump technology. According to the DEP, nitrogen doesn't escape as quickly, allowing tires to remain fuller longer and saving drivers an estimated 25 gallons of gas per year. 

"Energy issues are becoming more and more important to people as our fuel is obtained from foreign sources and increasingly tied to our security," says DEP spokesperson John Repetz. "This is something that has been out there for some time, more and more studies have been conducted and there has been a definite increase in interest from service providers who are wishing to offer this technology."

Over the course of the Nitrogen Tire Inflation Grant program, DEP spent $300,000, bringing nitrogen tire pumps to 81 institutions state-wide. But while these grants will likely widen the usage of this more inert gas, they won't solve the problem. According to a 2008 Consumer Reports study, nitrogen will help retain pressure longer but not to the point where motorists can forget about tire pressure all together. For true safety, the study states, you should check your tire pressure at least every few months. But for those DIY-phobic drivers out there, these nitrogen grants are a good start. Beyond reducing deflation, nitrogen has been proven to reduce wear on tire treads, making sure you won't have to get your hands dirty for years to come.

"Nitrogen gas is less reactive with moisture at higher temperatures with the rubber of the tire so therefore you are extending the treadwear of your tire using the nitrogen," says Repetz. "So the gas mileage is certainly one thing but there are other aspects to this that really come into play."

Source: John Repetz, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
Writer: John Steele

ARM Oil and Gas opening Pittsburgh and Scranton facilities to expand Shale service footprint

ARM Oil and Gas Services, a division of Hershey's ARM Group, has heard the hoofbeats of national energy firms behind them as Marcellus Shale drilling for natural gas has attracted the largest and most far-flung prospectors. But with 10 years experience in Pennsylvania's energy sector, ARM has created a targeted plan to mine not just natural gas but Pennsylvania's well-trained energy workforce as well. This week, the company announced the opening of new administrative facilities in Scranton and Pittsburgh to increase presence in these well-connected shale gas regions.

"The Northeast is probably the most prolific area in the whole play, best geology, most drilling permits," says ARM Senior Associate Andrew Joyner. "And Pittsburgh helps us because we already have a lot of clients that are drilling in the southwest part of the state. We just saw these moves as a no-brainer. We need to be in these regions. We will cover the whole play by opening these locations."
 
Before deciding to move, ARM hired new engineers with experience working on shale projects in the regions. Since shale fracturing is a relatively new industry, there are few experts, and having geological engineers with experience is invaluable for companies like ARM. The company believes that these facilities will establish a presence and allow engineers to prepare for the possibility of shale activities in West Virginia and even in states like New York and Delaware, where drilling is currently not permitted. For ARM, it's all about staking a claim.

"Our Northeast engineer is licensed in New York and even though they are not drilling yet, we think they are going to be at some point in the future and we can service that area from this new office," says Joyner. "These offices can really expand our service area beyond the state of Pennsylvania to a regional effort."

Source: Andrew Joyner, ARM Oil and Gas Services

Writer: John Steele

USDA grant allows Scranton Chamber to seek Regional Bioscience Plan consultant

Since Paula Abdul, Ellen Degeneres and Simon Cowell aren't interested in hosting American Idol anymore, perhaps they could lend their talent assessment abilities to the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce. Chamber officials announced this week that they have begun their search for a consultant to help draft a Regional Bioscience Plan to lead Scranton's life sciences sector through the next decade. With or without A-list Hollywood judges, the hunt is on for a consulting firm that hits all the right notes.

After receiving a USDA Rural Enterprise Grant in July, the chamber has been finalizing its RFP, outlining in detail the most important tenets of a plan. As one of Pennsylvania's largest industries, bioscience is a field that touches universities, health care centers, pharmaceutical companies, patients and thousands of unemployed scientists. With a broad spectrum of possibilities available, Chamber officials believe that the winning consultant will be one that can distill all of these sectors down and light the path to a better bioscience future.

"Rather than be specific as to what we want to accomplish, its more open ended," says Chamber President Phil Condron. "The RFP asks the professionals to come in, to review what's available and what we already have in place, and tell us what is the best avenue to set up a bioscience initiative here."

Condron and his associates have identified 20 different consulting firms, all with experience in the field of bioscience and strategic planning, to vie for the job. But since releasing the RFP, the Chamber has received interest from a number of additional firms looking to contribute. Plan Administrator Amy Luyster is not counting anyone out as the right collaborator must not only possess unique planning skills and a sense of a prosperous biotech future, but must be able to work with many disparate interests. The Rural Enterprise Grant specifies a bioscience plan that touches an eight-county region, including input and direction from education, business, economic development and government partners from Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Wayne, Pike, Susquehanna, Schuylkill and Wyoming Counties. It's a big job, but somebody has to do it.

"When we originally sat down to develop this RFP, we brought to the table people from economic development, from the colleges and universities, from existing bioscience companies, asking them to participate," says Luyster. "It is extremely important to have all these communities involved for this plan to work."

Source: Amy Luyster, Scranton Chamber of Commerce
Writer: John Steele

Wilkes University launches Sustainability Management program

Last year for Earth Day, Northeast PA's favorite office, Dunder Mifflin Scranton introduced us to Recyclops, Assistant Regional Manager Dwight Schrute's destructive robot sustainability officer, protecting the planet from the forces of wasteful office practices. And while NBC's The Office is known for making us laugh, Recyclops--like most of Dwight's plans to improve his company--eventually caused more harm than good.

Down the road in Wilkes-Barre, a group of educators at Wilkes University have picked up where Recyclops left off, launching a sustainability certificate program for mid-level office managers to improve their carbon footprint and save the company money. This initiative will help businesses throughout Wilkes-Barre go green and save green at the same time.

"Creating a greener office is not something you do once and it's over. People that work in the building still have to be involved to keep the building doing what it was designed to do: operate sustainably," says Sustainability Management program director Dr. Marlene Troy. "Our program will give you the background to implement the programs that compliment working in a green building."

Hoping to capitalize on the large contingent of companies looking to improve their energy usage, Wilkes University is targeting companies looking to start in-house sustainability efforts like recycling programs, ventilation improvements and more efficient lighting installations. Since students will be full-time employees, the certificate program will be conducted online (save for one introductory meeting). With lecture video recordings, online group projects and communication through integrated, online message boards, this course is using office technology in a more responsible way than Recyclops could have ever dreamed.

"No matter what your background--whether you are in finance or healthcare or whatever--just understanding the terminology of sustainability, knowing what the nuts and bolts of sustainability are can always add value to your skill set," says Troy. "We're starting to see more interest in this so I don't think it's going away, I don't think its a fad and the reason is that, not only is it good for the environment but it makes for good business operations. It's all about efficiency and that is always a good thing."

Source: Dr. Marlene Troy, Wilkes University
Writer: John Steele


Higher Ed partnership hopes to create new Marcellus Shale workforce

In the varied news clippings inked about the Marcellus Shale, there are several common threads. Many examine the push-pull between a state hungry for jobs and innovation and a state trying to be an environmental leader. And while the articles are generally well written, they all make a similar comparison between the shale drilling and the gold rush. But this comparison falls apart when you realize that, while it takes just one intrepid prospector to pan for gold, it takes 400 people in 150 occupations to drill a single well on the Marcellus Shale. And as the industry grows, it has become increasingly evident that, while our region has plenty of prospectors, we are short on people to hold the pans.

In an effort to create ShaleNet, a national model for Marcellus Shale recruitment, training and placement, a group of community colleges recently received a $4.964 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. The effort, led by its two hubs at Westmoreland County Community College and Pennsylvania College of Technology, hopes to find and train interested and qualified workers across 69 counties in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

"Right now, most of the drilling force in Pennsylvania is from out of state, which makes sense because there is a lot of drilling in Oklahoma and Texas and Louisiana and energy companies bring their own crews in," says Director of Workforce and Economic Development at Westmoreland County Community College Jim Hayes. "What we are trying to do is build our own workforce because these are skills that are not traditional for the region."

Hayes and his partners have joined with other economic and community development partners, including the 10-county Pittsburgh region’s private sector leadership organization, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development to target nearby regions that might benefit from these training opportunities. The Marcellus Shale footprint is huge and while the industry has not expanded far into West Virginia and New York still holds a moratorium on drilling, ShaleNet organizers know that they cannot do it alone. There are just too many golden opportunities for one state population.

"This program covers pretty much all the shale areas of Pennsylvania," says Hayes. "But if you look at the footprint of the field, you see that this touches more lives than our own."

Source: Jim Hayes, Westmoreland County Community College

Writer: John Steele





International investment firm acquires Luzerne County oil terminal

With millions of gallons of crude still pumped into the Gulf of Mexico and negotiations heating up over troops deployed to Middle Eastern oil fields, it would be easy to believe that nothing good can come from oil. While fossil fuels like oil often result in pollution and many environmentalists believe they should no longer be thought of as a long-term solution, oil creates millions of U.S. jobs every year and in some cases, drives innovation toward a world that shrinks pollution without shrinking employment numbers.

This can be a tough pill to swallow coming from oil companies who are already invested in the worldwide product of oil and would lose millions if America suddenly didn’t need it anymore. Which is why international investment firm El Maniel International’s most recent acquisition of a Luzerne County oil terminal came without a whimper from the media or local environmentalists. A publicly traded company with holdings in tobacco, oil, international banking, mining and the fine arts and collectibles industry, El Maniel purchased the terminal through their new division, El Maniel Energy, and immediately distanced themselves from other oil companies.

“Our long term future business plans include implementation of biodiesel production, says El Maniel Energy representative Jamie Khoo. “Biodiesel as a home heating fuel is an overlooked market."

But El Maniel has made it clear that it doesn't want to distance itself from all the legacies of oil companies. Luzerne County has a history of coal mining but during the depression, relied on oil to heat their homes. El Maniel hopes to serve as a provider to Scranton and other surrounding areas while they get their biodiesel business moving.

“Luzerne County has a population of over 300,000 people. We are fulfilling a need to have a wholesale distribution outlet of petroleum products strategically located in this area,” says Khoo. “Pennsylvania is one of the foremost states in the USA that promotes alternative energy. Incentives offered by the state of Pennsylvania for the production of alternative fuels are being considered.”

Source: Jamie Khoo, El Maniel International
Writer: John Steele

Lehigh Valley’s World Trade Club partnering with Ben Franklin Technology Partners

The Lehigh Valley has grown to become a hub of business and technology for Pennsylvania and is also a second home for many Manhattanites and expatriated Philadelphians. But without a major city designation, how do business developers put up the flag to the world, announcing a wide array of trade and growth opportunities? How can you call the world when you don’t know the number?

For years, Pennsylvania has been working to become a hub for global trade--witness our state-sponsored World Trade Office. Now Ben Franklin Technology Partners is attempting to get in on the act as they announce a partnership with the World Trade Club of the Lehigh Valley this month.

“Ben Franklin Technology Partners is increasingly seeking ways of connecting our clients to international sources of capital; and international exporting opportunities,” says Ben Franklin Manager of Entrepreneurial Services Wayne Barz. “We believe that by having a relationship with the World Trade Club and its members who are involved in international trade, we will provide an important network for our clients and for us to develop new opportunities.”

The business incubator will offer resources and office space to the club in exchange for information regarding international candidates for Ben Franklin’s Tech Ventures program. Created in the early 1980s by Air Products, Mack Trucks, and Bethlehem Steel, the Club has sponsored many events and initiatives over the years, but has never had a formal base of operations. Club president Tim Charlesworth says this will lend some credibility to a group that knows how to raise that coveted international flag like no other.

“This partnership gives our members the chance to have an office off-site if they have people coming in from out of country or out of town,” says Charlesworth. “To have a home adds some sense of permanence and legitimacy, they can say ‘I am a member of this club’ and that’s something that we value.”

Source: Tim Charlesworth, World Trade Club of the Lehigh Valley
Writer: John Steele

NEPA hospital library moves to local medical college, gets technological facelift

Watch any hospital drama on TV and you would not be blamed for thinking that doctors are bottomless wells of medical information with cures up every starched white coat sleeve. The truth is many doctors spend as much time with their nose buried in medical books as they do delivering snappy quips after surgery. But with every patient constantly connected to the Internet, the only cure for WebMD addiction and self-diagnosing hypochondriacs is a digitally connected medical staff, with cures right at their fingertips.

This week, Scranton’s Moses Taylor Hospital announced a partnership with The Commonwealth Medical College that may do just that. As a teaching hospital for TCMC, Moses Taylor previously had its own medical library on-site for all physicians and a smaller library available to the general public. But as none of the 1,200 employees of Moses Taylor are schooled in the Dewey Decimal system, the hospital was ill equipped to make the transition to a more digital catalog. What they needed was a librarian.

“We are a 95-percent electronic library,” says Director of TCMC Medical Library Joanne Muellenbach. “We were able to offer services the hospital never had access to, like e-mail library requests or the ability to search our catalog.”

Since Moses Taylor is a teaching hospital, having educational material more easily accessible is not only convenient, it can save lives. And since Moses Taylor and TCMC, which welcomed its first class of students nearly a year ago, are in the same network, a combined library provides a better educational experience for students as well.

Not only is this partnership good for future medical professionals and current physicians. Since 200 of Moses Taylor’s titles were in their Community Health Information Library--a small library in the hospital lobby that was open to the public--these titles will continue to be available to all Lackawanna Library Card holders, so that patients can dig deeper than a Google search for the next disease on the 11 o’clock news. For the hospital community and the greater Scranton area, hospital president Karen Murphy says, it’s a “natural progression.”

“By combining our resources, Moses Taylor and The Commonwealth Medical College will increase efficiency to improve patient care,” says Murphy. “While at the same time, we’ll enhance the quality and depth of educational resources offered to our employees and physicians and TCMC students and, actually, the whole community.”

Source: Joanne Muellenbach, The Commonwealth Medical College
Writer: John Steele


NEPA Green insulation firm receives Ben Franklin funding

As the former coal manufacturing capital of the world, Pennsylvania has been struggling to bring coal production into the 21st century. But what about the viable coal waste products? Surely some enterprising entrepreneurs can create a home for the by-products and compounds coal leaves behind until a suitable solution has been found.

Cashing in on the most recent round of funding from the Northeastern Pennsylvania branch of Ben Franklin Technology Partners, Advanced-Tec Materials has created an insulation that is not only sustainable but also fire-resistant. Advanced-Tec believes the material, which is made from waste coal by-products and vegetable proteins, to have many applications. But currently, the company seeks to replace insulation for industrial doors, which have been found to be unsafe in the case of fire.

“The more of the coal production waste we put into the product, the more fire resistant it becomes,” says Advanced-Tec CEO Jack St. Pierre. “Because it’s green and fire-resistant and has even been tested to have an increased insulation value over current materials, its shown to be very attractive to our customers.”

Founded as a research and development company four years ago, Advanced-Tec is sitting on a few commercial innovations they hope to commercialize over the next year. With their material set for sale, the Ben Franklin funding will help Advanced-Tec open a facility in Hazleton. The facility will serve as the material’s production headquarters, creating jobs and bringing fire safety to the region’s industrial centers.
 
“Our products have now been developed completely and tested and demonstrated to customers,” says St. Pierre. “It’s time to start taking the whole company into the commercialization stage.”

Source: Jack St. Pierre, Advanced-Tec
Writer: John Steele

VisitPA announces tourism partnership with Foursquare

Former Mayoral Candidates Tom Knox, Bill Peduto and Nevin Mindlin should check out the urban scavenger hunt game Foursquare sometime. Because while their aspirations to lead Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, respectively, may have come up a little short, that doesn’t mean they can’t still be mayor someday. Foursquare allows users to “check in” at different restaurants or shops from their cell phone and earn badges for frequent attendance or adventurous exploring. Go to the same place enough and you will be named the "mayor." And while Foursquare may not have the power that a traditional mayor has, a new partnership may see the game revitalizing Pennsylvania communities in the months to come.

This week, the Pennsylvania Tourism Office launched a partnership with Foursquare, creating 3 new badges that visitors can earn in their travels and making PA the first state to team with the social networking site. The partnership offers businesses the opportunity to create rewards and get in the game. Within hours of the announcement, Deputy Secretary of Tourism Mickey Rowley’s inbox was flooded with requests from regions like the Susquehanna River Valley, which added 20 destinations on the first day.

“Our hope is, by promoting it through social media, that we can get families from our surrounding drive markets who might have some familiarity with Foursquare to think this sounds like fun,” says Rowley.

The Tourism Office’s official website VisitPA.com has partnered with Foursquare to create 3 new badges: PA Shooflyer (for recommended eateries), PA Retail Polka (for recommended shopping) and PA 4Score&7 (for recommended historical landmarks). Using a model pioneered by Chicago, VisitPA has applied the online travelogue game to an entire state, broadening the spectrum of social media’s impact on tourism. 

"We have been pretty cutting edge on social media. I believe we were the first state to tweet, and we continue to rank in the top 3 in terms of followers on twitter. We had a state-wide campaign where we had bloggers traveling around the state and blogging about it," says Rowley.  "Big city sites like Chicago have done things like this but for states to do that kind of thing is a little bit more complex. But we have been out there among the first on a lot of these different things."

Source: Mickey Rowley, Pennsylvania Tourism Office
Writer: John Steele


Pennsylvania reps to help companies participate in the Chilean earthquake relief effort

Chile is beautiful this time of year. It is winter there and, as the summer tourism season begins in the U.S., Chilean businesses would normally be gearing up for visits from skiers looking to venture the world-renowned slopes of Patagonia. But after an earthquake ravaged the south central coast in February, many cities from Santiago to Temuco are still digging out from the damage and subsequent tsunami. To help with the reconstruction effort, the Chilean government has partnered with the U.S. private sector to offer solutions at the Rebuild Chile Expo, set to hit Santiago June 15-17.

As Chile is an active trade partner with Pennsylvania ($155 million in 2009 alone), many local business owners would love to attend. But as the financial burdens on local travel budgets may prevent making the trip, Pennsylvania’s International Business Development Office is sending representatives to deliver marketing materials and open connections for emergency relief organizations. Once targeted to provide services, Pennsylvania trade reps in Chile will conduct one-on-one discussions to identify specific needs and requirements for the companies and country.

“We are one of the only states to have a trade representative office in Chile so we have a face there, already helping Pennsylvania companies get into the Chilean market,” says PA Department of Community and Economic Development Deputy Secretary for International Business Development Wilfred Muskens. “But we wanted to take this opportunity, because of the earthquake, to assist in the reconstruction effort and open up the market there for a lot more Pennsylvania companies.”

The Philadelphia-based Consulate General of Chile and Chilean-American Chamber of Commerce have named specific products and services needed for the relief effort. Companies specializing in building products and construction equipment; telecommunications systems; energy generation and delivery products; sanitation, utilities repair and replacement; and other equipment and materials are especially encouraged to apply. More specialized service providers such as municipal planning, infrastructure needs assessment, financial modeling, and engineering and architectural services are also encouraged to participate.

The Chilean outreach plan is part of an ongoing effort to increase international trade in Pennsylvania. With target numbers for each overseas rep in the International Business Development office, salaries are based on predetermined increases in trade numbers.

“This was not part of our original work plan for Chile because, of course, we didn’t know this was going to happen,” says Muskens. “But now we know there is an immediate need in Chile for certain products and services and we want Pennsylvania companies to be aware of it and, for those that are willing and able, to grab some market share there, and at the same time, help Chile to rebuild.”

Source: Wilfred Muskens, PA International Business Development Office
Writer: John Steele

Two recent funding recipients join Ben Franklin Technology Partners TechVentures program

It has been quite a month for Ben Franklin Technology Partners (BFTP) and their latest roster of funding recipients. A visit from Vice President Joe Biden was just the beginning as BFTP received a $6 million grant to further the efforts of TechVentures, a small business incubator helping new business owners succeed in Pennsylvania. Once the VP had stepped off the podium, it was time to introduce the newest Northeastern business roster, complete with $400,000 in grant funding. Now, two of those companies have been selected to the TechVentures program, giving them business assistance and a temporary home at the newly funded Lehigh University facility.

Electrikus and ElementID will be joining the 23 early-stage firms already at TechVentures. Electrikus has designed a line of smart battery back-up systems for homes and ElementID provides info automation software for businesses. With their facility growing by leaps and bounds, BFTP is excited to offer business services to more companies like Electrikus and Element ID, ones they believe will benefit from an incubator environment.

“Many of our companies are looking for a place to start, like two guys in a garage looking for a real office,” says Laura Eppler, Director of Marketing for Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania. ”The benefits of being in a business incubator are many. There is a shared synergy amongst early-stage firms, referrals to folks in the Ben Franklin solutions network like lawyers and accountants, and everything works gradually as we edge these companies closer and closer to graduating from the incubator.”

Since 1983, the BFTP regional site and TechVentures have graduated 44 successful companies, grossing more than $675 million in annual revenue, and creating more than 4,000 jobs. This new facility will create as many as 200 sustainable, highly paid technology jobs and retain 100 more jobs at new, start-up companies in its first three years. It will also provide job and internship opportunities for up to 20 university students each year.

Source: Laura Eppler, Ben Franklin Northeast
Writer: John Steele

Where are Pennsylvania's best places to work?

How do your employees really feel about your company? How do your company’s policies stack up against your peers? And who’s going to give you an unbiased answer to those questions? To find out, register your firm to participate in Pennsylvania’s Best Places to Work  competition, which annually surveys large firms (with over 250 employees)  and medium-sized companies (with 25 to 250 workers) and selects the top 50 performers in each category.

What’s in it for you? Megan Burns, manager of program operations for Best Places to Work,  says the program isn’t just rankings. “All participants receive  a report card,” she says, with benchmarking data against other companies, employee comments, and a demographic report with the positive and negative responses of employees to 72 questions in core focus areas. They include culture and communications;  goal satisfaction-job rules; work environment; relationships with supervisors; development, pay and benefits; and overall engagement.

Employers go online to supply basic information about personnel and payroll, hiring and employment practices. Their employees answer questions on their view of employer policies on a scale of one to five, with a chance to amplify their thoughts in open-ended responses.

To be eligible, participating companies must be a for-profit or not-for-profit business publicly or privately held, with a facility and at least 25 employees in Pennsylvania. They must also be in good standing with all state agencies, since the program is sponsored by Team Pennsylvania Foundation, the state Department of Community and Economic Development, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, and the Central Penn Business Journal.  The deadline for registration  is May 28.

Source: Megan Burns, Best Places to Work in Pennsylvania
Writer: Chris O’Toole


Ben Franklin Technology Partners announce $100K for NEPA web detectives

Like any good detective, Hawley entrepreneur Doug LaPasta does his homework. When he heard that Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern PA were releasing another round of funding for startups in his hometown, he read the grant, compiled the documents on his first Ben Franklin project--the still-profitable Skill Survey--and pleaded his case. The due diligence paid off as LaPasta’s new venture walked away with $100,000, the largest take for any start-up among the roster of 12 Northeastern PA companies that were recently funded.

LaPasta is no stranger to due diligence. His newest web-based startup is eVendorCheck, an online detective agency designed to track suppliers, manufacturers and investment firms for companies looking to hire them. Basically, it’s a business background check to make sure that everything is on the level. LaPasta believes his system to have great growth potential to combat what he calls a global problem.

“Every organization in the world needs to procure goods and services from a vendor but supply chain failures have been increasing to the point where this has become a global crisis,” says LaPasta. “If I wanted to check into a vendor, it used to be I could only get financial data. Is this a firm that delivers on time? What is their quality like? How is their customer service? Do they operate in an honest and ethical way? These things are opaque to the people looking to buy these services.”

As a Hawley resident since 1971, LaPasta seems the perfect candidate to help bring more jobs to the region. His company has already cemented plans to hire 25 new employees and has no plans to pull from anywhere but his own backyard.

“In 2005, when SkillSurvey received funding from Ben Franklin, they moved it to Philadelphia,” says LaPasta. “But this time, with Prudential offshoring jobs out of the region, I wanted to keep my operation here. Hawley is my home.”

Source: Doug LaPasta, eVendorCheck
Writer: John Steele

Private higher ed fourth-largest payroll in PA, says new study

It’s no secret that corporate executives and doctors do pretty well in Pennsylvania. These highly educated titans were the kings of your college and now they honk at degree-wielding denizens working in academia from their BMWs, grinning ear-to-ear with a smile only ironclad job security can provide. But according to a new study, Pennsylvania’s private college and university employees can smile back as their sector now places fourth amongst the largest industry payrolls in the state.

The economic impact study, released Monday by PA’s Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, finds that Pennsylvania’s 94 private colleges and universities added 16,338 new jobs since 1999, when private education ranked seventh. But as two recessions have marred industry growth in many sectors, the current landscape looks much different. Private education has moved up the list, now boasting 79,213 jobs and $4.583 billion in payroll, while other industries have dropped out of the top 10 completely.

“As our enrollment has grown to about 285,000 students--including one of the largest numbers of out-of-state students in the nation--we have been able to add good, family-sustaining jobs with benefits,” says President of the AICUP Don Francis. “We aren’t recession proof, but we have weathered these recessions better than most private industries.”

AICUP surveyed its member schools and examined US Department of Commerce data and other sources to arrive at a statewide impact of $16.1 billion in economic benefit provided by Pennsylvania’s private colleges and universities. These findings join a 2006 study by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which calculated the economic impact of PA’s state institutions at $4.47 billion; a study Keystone Edge reported on in January.  Check it out here.

Source: Don Francis, Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania
Writer: John Steele

College Credit Transfer System Makes Higher Education More Affordable, Accessible

There are a lot of reasons people don’t graduate college in four years, and most of them don’t include booze or bong loads. More often than not, a year at a community college turns into wasted time as student credits are lost in bureaucratic limbo. But now, just one year into a new credit transfer system, Pennsylvania students have saved $35.4 million.

In 2006, Governor Rendell signed into law Act 114, which required all community colleges and PASSHE schools to identify a minimum of 30 credits that would be guaranteed to transfer between schools. Repeating courses at state universities costs students and taxpayers. But with transferable credits available at 32 state institutions, students spend more time in the classroom and less time at the finance office.

“There has been a change in who is seeking college education. College students are becoming more mobile,” says PA Department of Education spokesperson Leah Harris. “We found a need to put a system in place to protect those students from having to pay thousands and thousands of dollars for having to take a course at one institution and again at another.”

As part of the new law, the state established the Pennsylvania Transfer and Articulation Center (PA TRAC) website. The site allows users to search for transferable courses, find information about participating institutions and get step-by-step instructions to transfer credits. The site also keeps real-time reporting data to determine the effectiveness of the software. The program has been a success, saving more money than originally thought, as some schools have created more transferable offerings than the law originally required.

Software guidance systems manufacturers AcademyOne designed the software, which can facilitate up to 30 credits at a time. The West Chester firm believes this software could help correct a growing problem, as six out of 10 students nationwide attend more than one college on a path to their degree.

“AcademyOne manages a national site, CollegeTransfer.net. In Pennsylvania, we used the functionality of that site but worked closely with the state and individual institutions to focus on content so there was no confusion, ” says AcademyOne Vice President Karen Todd. “Now the students will have all the information so they can avoid taking a course that won’t count. It’s a real joy!”

Sources: Leah Harris, PA Department of Education
Karen Todd, AcademyOne
Writer: John Steele
 


Schoolwires Centricity gets a facelift to increase web participation

According to Project Tomorrow’s 2009 national research study, 60 percent of parents value their school district website as their top choice for driving student achievement. These findings come as no shock to the folks at Schoolwires. The Central Pennsylvania outfit responsible for school connectivity software Centricity have worked hard to bring learning solutions into the 21st century, using the internet not just as a research tool but a portal to learning for parents and students.

Their newest update to the market-leading Centricity platform seeks to increase functionality for students, increase involvement for parents and connect communities in social-media environments.

“Education is transforming and in response, we are leveraging our decade of experience as an industry leader to deliver even more innovative capabilities within our solution to help administrators and teachers address new critical imperatives and continue to help students achieve success,” says Edward Marflak, Schoolwires CEO.

The new Centricity allows school districts to combine the efforts of data systems at all levels of a school district. Now, web updates for the district website, the school website and the classroom website can be updated from the same portal. And with tools for creating student blogs and podcasts, students, parents and teachers will all be connected across the same interface.

After the original release of Centricity, Schoolwires sponsored the research study conducted by Project Tomorrow, entitled “Speak Up.” The results of the study, unsurprisingly, revealed that students today are more web-focused and learn better through a good “home-school” connection, facilitated by more web-based connectivity. Schoolwires hopes to aid this process as they roll out their Centricity update software later this month.

Source: Edward Marflak, Schoolwires
Writer: John Steele


Pennsylvania DEP announces $16M for Clean Energy Projects

Pennsylvania legislators have made great hay in the last few years about diversifying the state energy portfolio. But tax credits and impact studies don’t create jobs in a state where unemployment is at a 25-year high.

Environmentalists and job seekers alike will be pleased to see the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection putting its money where its mouth is this week as they announced the release of $16 million in grant funding to back clean energy projects. In his announcement of the funding, DEP secretary John Hanger stated that job creation and financial savings were the goals.

"When we began our effort to make Pennsylvania energy independent, we recognized the need for projects that use advanced technologies to help meet our future energy needs while generating new employment opportunities for Pennsylvanians," Hanger says. "Previously, we were far too dependent on foreign oil and far too many of our energy dollars were leaving the state. We needed to look within our borders for innovative ways to conserve and generate energy, and create jobs.”

The state funding is being made available through the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority, or PEDA. The competitive grant program, which financed clean energy projects like the Buckman’s Inc. Wind & Solar deployment and the Crayola solar-powered manufacturing facility, had been inactive for several years before Governor Ed Rendell revived it in 2005. Ever since, the state legislature has been struggling to find ways to expand the grant program to create more jobs and add to alternative energy projects already in the pipeline. This new funding marks an expansion of a program that has invested more than $75 million in 147 projects, leveraging an estimated $1.1 billion in private investments and creating more than 1,700 permanent jobs.

"As the demand for energy continues to increase, so does the demand for innovative solutions to meet those needs," Hanger says. "Pennsylvanians have exhibited a willingness to undertake the types of projects necessary to keep us moving forward. Now in its sixth year, PEDA grants will continue to assist our residents in their efforts."

Grants are capped at $1 million. Applications are only accepted online. Click here to apply.

Source: John Hanger, PA DEP
Writer: John Steele

Pennsylvania added 3,800 high-tech jobs in 2008

Pennsylvania's high-tech industry added 3,800 net jobs in 2008 despite a recession, according to the 13th annual Cyberstates report published April 28.

The report by the TechAmerica Foundation showed that PA ranked eighth nationally in total high-tech employment with 215,948 total jobs in the sector, with gains in computer systems design and related services (2,900 jobs), engineering services (1,100 jobs) and R&D and testing labs (300 jobs). Pennsylvania ranked fifth in both electronic components manufacturing (12,500 jobs) and R&D and testing labs (36,800 jobs).

Nationally, high tech continued to be a jobs driver in 2008. Forty-one states added tech jobs between 2007 and 2008, despite the recession's growing pressure. However, those number took a nose dive in 2009.

“Every high-tech sector saw employment losses in 2009,” says the report. “Of the 245,600 jobs lost, 112,600 were in manufacturing. Engineering and tech services saw a net loss of 59,000 jobs, as did communications services, shedding 53,000 jobs. Software services experienced the smallest decline, losing 20,700 jobs, or one percent."

Numbers on Pennsylvania’s 2009 high-tech job losses haven’t been crunched; state data lags national data by “at least a year,” says TechAmerica’s Josh James.  “But we can be safe in assuming that because national level was so high that most states will show job losses in 2009.”

Cyberstates 2010 relies on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The report provides 2009 national data on tech employment as well as 2008 national and state-by-state data on high-tech employment, wages, establishments, payroll, wage differential, and employment concentration.

High-tech jobs continue to pay far better than average private sector wages. The average annual salary of $77,500 is 76 percent higher than the Pennsylvania average.

Source: Josh James,TechAmerica
Writer: Chris O’Toole


Wilkes-Barre welcomes medical review company, 100 new jobs

As its downtown has developed in recent years, Wilkes-Barre has begun to pitch itself as a vibrant and walkable college town with affordable real estate. Now that angle has resulted in 100 jobs thanks to efforts on several fronts.

A startup medical review company called Federal Review Services LLC announced last week it will establish headquarters in Public Square in downtown Wilkes-Barre, creating at least 96 jobs within three years. The company, which will perform medical review services for both public and private healthcare insurers to determine the accuracy and completeness of medical claims, chose the city in part because of the quality pool of potential employers from area colleges and established healthcare-related businesses.

“These new positions will provide healthcare professionals the opportunity to utilize their skills outside the traditional clinical venues and in turn, participate in cutting-edge healthcare technologies,” says Bill O’Malley, Federal Review Services’ vice president.

The company initially contacted the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry, which connected it to the Governor’s Action Team to secure a $342,000 funding offer from the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development. The company will reside in the Wilkes-Barre Center building, now at full capacity, on the eighth floor, which had been vacant since 2000.

The company has already held two job fairs in the region as it looks to bring aboard registered nurses, certified coders, physical therapists, IT network specialists and clerical and administrative positions. Clerical positions figure to start at around $35,000 per year.

Source: Bill O’Malley, Federal Review Services
Writer: Joe Petrucci


TCMC president honored for contributions to Lackawanna County medical community

As part of the search committee for The Commonwealth Medical College’s founding president and dean, longtime Scranton-area physician Dr. Robert Tracy says his colleagues, as well as other interviewees, were well aware of the top competitor for the post, Robert D’Alessandri from West Virginia University’s school of medicine.

What’s more impressive than D’Alessandri getting the job and pulling off a fast-tracked opening of the Scranton-based school this past summer is his commitment to the entire medical community in the region. It’s why the Lackawanna County Medical Society honored D’Alessandri with its Presidential Recognition Award late last month. The prestigious award recognizes physicians for the lifelong commitment to excellence in medicine, patient care and medical education in improving the quality of medical care to all residents in Northeast Pennsylvania.

D’Alessandri hasn’t quite accomplished a lifetime’s worth of work in NEPA yet, but he’s off to an awfully good start. That began from his first interview, when Tracy drove him to Scranton after a long day of travel and D’Alessandri insisted on attending a medical society meeting that night.

“He was tired. He was brilliant. The doctors got the message that he was here to get everybody involved,” says Tracy. “He has had the impact of really being a leader for stimulating a tremendous amount of interest in medical education.”

As a result, Tracy says almost 90 percent of its students have joined the Pennsylvania Medical Society, roughly double than most schools’ participation. In addition, close to 600 area physicians have volunteered to provide instruction at the school and the school has solicited more scholarship funds than anticipated.

The way D’Alessandri led the development of curriculum has given students an opportunity to tackle things like taking patient histories and giving physical exams much earlier than most, and helps them with what Tracy calls the “bread and butter of medicine,” or how to talk to a patient.

“This is D’Alessandri driving these innovations,” says Tracy. “It’s not just him, but he’s the tip of the iceberg. He has assembled a very good team.”

Source: Dr. Robert Tracy, Lackawanna County Medical Society
Writer: Joe Petrucci


Wilkes Barre's Babyage growing up with $15 million investment

With recession-busting double-digit growth in 2009, Wilkes Barre's Babyage is expanding with an infusion of $15 million in private equity and venture capital. The online retailer of clothing and furniture for babies, toddlers and youngsters will use the investment to expand its product line and potentially its workforce and warehouse in Hanover Township. Alumni Capital Network and Brook Venture Capital, a current investor, provided the new round of financing.

"Right now, we’re about at capacity in our warehouse," says COO Joe Sponholz of the facility located in the Hanover Industrial Estates. "Over the next six to nine months, before the next holiday season, we will grow. Whether it’s a second location or new building, I’ll withhold comment.” Founded in 2000, BabyAge now employs 32. Warehouse capacity--currently 55,000 square feet--has been a significant factor in meeting the competition from big-box stores, says Sponholz, allowing Babyage to offer a wider variety of products with same-day shipping. 

"Every generation is becoming more comfortable with technology in general, more confident in using the Internet for significant purchases," says Sponholz. That’s especially true of the new-parent demographic Babyage targets.

Sponholz says the firm markets some products in the Canadian market and plans to expand to Europe in categories where products aren’t subject to conflicting municipal design regulations.

Source: Joe Sponholz, Babyage
Writer: Chris O’Toole


Energy companies give old appliances purpose with first-of-its kind PA facility

That old freezer or fridge in the basement is definitely an energy-guzzler. But what to do with the big, cold, heavy box when it's time to move on?

The region's first appliance recycling center opened last week in Hatfield, Montgomery County as part of a joint effort from PECO, PPL Electric Utilities and FirstEnergy. JACO Envrionmental will operate the facility, which will eventually serve 80 percent of the state's electric utility customers and will create about 40 new, green jobs.

Refrigerators and freezers made prior to 1990 use three times more electricity than newer appliances. Aoubt 95 percent of each unit will be environmentally recycled by JACO, including metals, plastics, oils and foam insulation.

"Old refrigerators contain substances such as mercury, oil and ozone-eating CFCs," says Michael Dunham, director of energy and environmental programs for JACO, a Washington state-based company focused on reponsible appliance recycling. "As a result, they pose a significant threat to the environment when improperly discarded. This new program helps save energy and the planet."

Through its Smart Appliance Recycling, PECO will pick up and recycle older, working refrigerators and freezers for free and pay customers $35. Also, PECO will pick up older, working window air conditioners and pay customers $25. PECO estimates customers will save about $150 annually on energy bills by recycling their outdated, underperforming appliances.

The program is in response to PA's Act 129, the 2008 mandate that requires state electric utilities to help customers reduce energy use by 1 percent by May, 2011 and by 3 percent by May, 2013.

Source: Michael Dunham, JACO Environmental
Writer: Joe Petrucci

Wyoming Valley native creates spotlight for environmental work

Brian Oram was born and raised in the Wyoming Valley and is now a licensed geologist, sewage enforcement officer, and professional soil scientist. Despite his passion and acumen for the environment, he had never heard of the Pocono Northeast Resource Conservation and Development Council.  When he finally did a few years ago, he was surprised.

“I went to a meeting and find out there’s a group of citizen volunteers that have spent all their time to get grant money for other people to get all these cool things,” says Oram, who made it his job to help the group publicize and increase its efforts as its chairperson. That mission led to the creation of the first Northeast PA Energy Solutions Expo, held last year at the Luzerne County Fairgrounds in Dallas.

Oram sponsored the inaugural expo through his company, B.F. Environmental, in memory of his late father William, a veteran and outdoorsman who was active in grassroots community efforts. The event attracted about 600 visitors, and Oram is already excited about this year’s expo, which is planned for June 26-27 and will include additional PR help and an expanded program with more hands-on displays, education and training.

The council chapter has roots dating to 1973. The council covers a 10-county region and provides a variety of services, including watershed management, reclamation of abandoned mine land, forest management, land conservation and educational programs. One of its bigger projects was debuted at last year’s expo, a $135,000 mobile pelletizer used to process biomass into fuel for heat at the Benton Area School District.

“At this year’s expo, the pelletizer is going to be up and running and even better,” says Oram, who also works the director for the Center for Environmental Quality at Wilkes University. “I’m told we’ve got one wind energy vendor who will bring a residential turbine. Things will be much better this year.”

Source: Brian Oram, Pocono Northeast Resource Conservation and Development Council
Writer: Joe Petrucci

PedalPA offers northern crossing tour

If a high-energy long-distance cycling trip is your idea of a cool summer vacation, PedalPA has just the ticket.

The Harleysville-based company is bringing back its Northern Crossing tour, offering an eight-day cycling package that will cover 450 miles from Erie to Wilkes-Barre.  This year’s dates are August 7-14.

As bicycling touring has become more popular, owner Bill McCoach says he is the only operator providing a cross-state touring package. 

“The last time we offered this one was 1999,” says McCoach, “when we offered an Erie to Philadelphia ride. A lot of people requested that we bring it back.”

The route shadows Route 6 across the northern tier, with stops in Bradford, Coudersport, Wellsboro, Williamsport, and Bloomsburg. Riders’ mileage will average about 60 miles per day on marked, paved roads, with sag and equipment wagons accompanying the ride.

McCoach has offered a range of summer cycling vacations since 1995. The year-round owner of Indian Valley Bike Works in Harleysville will offer a one-day Schuylkill River ride through Montgomery and Delaware counties July 24 and a four-day ride along the Delaware River September 22-25.

Source: Bill McCoach, PedalPA
Writer: Chris O'Toole


Semiconductors, nanoparticles among ideas that earn Ben Franklin Technology dollars in NEPA

The Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania announced nearly $600,000 in funding earlier this month for startup and established companies throughout the region. The investments, ranging from $20,000 to $150,000 for nine companies  from Scranton to Orefield, will support a diverse range of products and services, like biofuel synthesis, online video distribution, and wireless access for gates and doors.

The investments include:

ClydeTec Systems, Inc. (Orefield), $35,000: To complete a prototype of a semiconductor device for optical coherence tomography system-on-a-chip for high-throughput biomedical imaging.

Gleason Custom Kitchens (Scranton), $55,000: To implement production and administrative efficiencies at this manufacturer of custom-built and standard cabinetry.

Icon Legacy Custom Modular Homes (Selinsgrove), $75,000: To improve production efficiencies, develop new products and update customer service procedures.

Infinity Access (Hazleton), $75,000: To complete final design and obtain UL approval of a proprietary new gate release device and new vehicle identification wireless access technology.

Pennsylvania Sustainable Technologies (Bethlehem), $150,000: Partnering with Lehigh University, to demonstrate the feasibility of the company’s new integrated fuel synthesis process for the production of alternative fuels.

Viddler (Bethlehem), $50,000: To continue commercializing its online video distribution and sharing platform.

XiGo Nanotools (Bethlehem), $100,000: To complete beta testing of a newly patented, shoebox-size device that rapidly measures the surface area of nano-particles.

Amcor PETE Packaging (Allentown), $19,800: Partnering with Lehigh University to improve manufacturing efficiencies and improve productivity at this manufacturer of blow- and injection-molded  containers for personal care and liquor industries.

Strong Industries
(Northumberland), $40,000: To perform a complete systems, processes and data assessment of its operation to enhance efficiencies of this manufacturer of molded pools and spas.

Source: Laura Eppler, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern PA

Writer: Joe Petrucci

Mohegan Sun to create 500 jobs this year

Pennsylvania’s decision to permit table games at its new casinos will stimulate hiring in the Poconos this year. Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs has announced it will create a dealer school onsite to train  hundreds of needed workers.

"There’s no previous experience or educational requirement--though you  have to pass an arithmetic test," says casino president Bobby Soper. "The school is free, and on successful completion, folks will be hired in about 325 dealer positions." The casino announced that those posts, plus another 175 support jobs, will be added at Mohegan Sun, which has 2,466 slot machines and employs about 1,000 people. The Plains Township casino, which opened in 2006, had previously announced plans to open a nine-story hotel on site.

The casino expects to introduce games such as blackjack, craps and roulette by early summer, says Soper, adding about 60 table games and a poker room. Training sessions for dealer positions will vary in length from eight to 12 weeks. While all jobs created are above minumum wage, Soper says that dealers’ tip income generally boosts hourly wages past $20 an hour.

Mount Airy Casino in Paradise Township, Monroe County, will add 220 jobs to accommodate table gaming. Mount Airy, which has 2,501 slot machines and a hotel, plans to add 73 table games. Hundreds of applicants attended a job fair at the casino last weekend.

Source: Bobby Soper, Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs
Writer: Chris O'Toole


South Mountain represents statewide CLI's innovation

Multiple government agencies are working on an initiative that spans the state and explores and implements partnerships and programs that protect natural and cultural resources to enhance their respective region’s economic viability. As a result, the state’s Conservation Landscape Initiative (CLI), a joint effort by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources that engages communities local partners with state agencies and potential funders, quite possibly could be a national model.

That's especially evident in Adams, Cumberland, Franklin and York counties, where the South Mountain CLI, one of seven in PA, has enlisted the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, among others, to encourage economic growth that will revitalize and protect local communities with an abundance of recreation and heritage tourism opportunities.

The South Mountain CLI, at the northern end of the Blue Ridge Mountains, encompasses 400,000 acres and nearby communities like Gettysburg, Chambersburg and Carlisle, and was born when a housing development threatened to overtake 800 acres adjacent to the Appalachian Trail.

“These four counties we work in have some of the highest rates of development in the state,” says Kim Williams, the external project lead and landscape projection coordinator for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Mid-Atlantic regional office.

“As a partnership, we’re working to protect their assets through tourism, whether they be agricultural or heritage-oriented. There’s a strong link between agriculture and how it buffers the state forest.”

The South Mountain CLI awarded nearly $50,000 in mini-grants in the fall to conservation, heritage and economic development projects.  The partnership will host a summit on Feb. 19 at Penn Township Fire Hall in Newville, Cumberland County, featuring guest speakers, including DCNR secretary John Quigley, to discuss the innovative model of conservation and preservation of sense of place on the local and state scales.

Among the CLI’s efforts: purchasing land, promoting agriculture-related entrepreneurs and the Appalachian Trail through a GPS system, identifying funding partners and education outreach.

“We hosted a meeting two years ago in Adams County and a third-generation farmer said if farming were profitable we wouldn’t have this meeting,” Says Mike Eschenmann, the DCNR lead and head of its community recreation partnerships section.  “That had an impact on me, to think about his livelihood. He doesn’t want to sell his land. He wants to keep farming but it needs to be profitable.

Source: Kim Williams, Appalachian Trail Conservancy; Mike Eschenmann, PA DCNR
Writer: Joe Petrucci

Groups' energy case study contest mobilizes students

College campuses are breeding grounds for social movements. With so much of that youthful energy focused on the environment, it makes sense to try to harness its collective power. In Pennsylvania, a group called PowerMinders has formed to try and do just that, and its first attempt--a contest for which students from around the state submitted their environmental case studies--has validated its mission.

“A little known fact is the state of PA has over 580,000 undergraduate students. If you could engage just 10 percent, we’re talking more than 50,000 students who could do an energy efficiency project,” says Bob Fiore, founder of PowerMinders. “We could impact five million homes and institute energy savings.”

Sveta McShane, a 2009 graduate of Temple University, won the contest, also sponsored by  statewide public interest organization PennFuture. McShane’s case study examined the energy use of Narberth, a small town nestled in the Main Line suburbs of Philadelphia. McShane gained access to Narberth’s energy records going back to 1997, including household numbers, municipal cars, trucks and usage.  

Her report showed the town’s street lights were a major cost factor and the borough is now looking at replacing all street lights with new, energy efficient LED lighting that will also improve safety.

“I am sure many towns use energy the way Narbeth does, and they can learn from the report, as well,” says McShane.

PowerMinders is made up of close to 1,000 students who formed last year and sold CFL bulbs to family members and friends. PowerMinders co-founder, Cabrini University business administration professor Eric Malm, judged the entries.

“The more we can get students involved, the more committed they’ll be, and the more chance there will be to move legislation forward as they grow up,” says Christine Knapp, PennFuture’s director for outreach.

Source: Bob Fiore, PowerMinders; Christine Knapp, Penn Future.
Writer: Joe Petrucci

DCED leads PA hydrocarbon firms’ expedition to Great White North

Canada is home to increasingly accessible oil sands, new carbon sequestration and nuclear generation projects and environmental mitigation initiatives.  It’s also home to the oil and natural gas industry’s most significant event on the continent, the Global Petroleum Show 2010 in Calgary this June.

Pennsylvania hydrocarbon firms will be well-represented, thanks to the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development, in the hopes of being well-positioned to offer their technology and services. The DCED is organizing a delegation of PA companies and hosting a Keystone State pavilion at the event, and will provide logistical support, pre-set appointments with potential partners, and on-site assistance.

“Canadian oil sands and shale gas present great opportunities for Pennsylvania companies deserving the industry,” says DCED secretary George Cornelius.  “However, companies need to meet face to face with potential partners and buyers to be successful in this market. The commonwealth is providing that opportunity.”

Cornelius speaks from experience. The DCED brought an 11-company confab to last year’s Global Petroleum show in Toronto, where the firms met with 100 possible buyers. More than 60,000 are expected to attend this year’s show. PA’s exports accounted for $34.4 billion last year, an increase of nearly 18 percent from 2007 that easily outpaced the national average (11.8 percent increase).

With major oil companies considering nuclear energy to power extraction and refinement work, PA’s nuclear companies will also have opportunities to find business. Interested firms are urged to register early, with the March 1 deadline looming.

Source: George Cornelius, PA DCED

Writer: Joe Petrucci

Places to be: Wilkes-Barre's kinder, livelier downtown

It's been a couple years now that you can get a Starbucks coffee in downtown Wilkes-Barre. The real signs of the times in the Diamond City haven't even happened yet. That includes the $25 million state-of-the-art intermodal facility that will centralize public transportation and provide more than 750 much-needed parking spaces for people coming to Public Square and Main Street for a movie, some drinks, or even that cup of coffee inside a spacious Barnes and Noble shared by King's College and Wilkes University.

For years, going downtown wasn't an attractive option, especially at night. That has changed for a variety of reasons, and businesses are taking notice. Philadelphia-based law firm Cozen O'Connor opened an office there and statewide environmental advocate Pennfuture did the same in the last year. As part of a migration of 2,000 overseas jobs, Sallie Mae added 600 jobs in the Hanover Township Industrial Park facility just outside Wilkes-Barre. Another big-time city employer, All One Health, continued to grow.

The city's colleges are also growing. Downtown Wilkes is striding to the forefront of online teaching education and should have its new law school ready in 2010. College Misericordia in nearby Dallas earned a $2.75 million state grant that will expand its College of Health Sciences that will create 25 full-time jobs. The city is also prepping its satellite facility for The Commonwealth Medical College in Scranton.

The Innovation Center of Wilkes-Barre, a five year-old incubator is helping keep students from the area's 12 colleges in the region by helping young companies like PepperJam and Solid Cactus gain a solid footing.  The center is also rehabbing an old bank on Public Square for more incubator space.

The city is also the hub of the region's burgeoning eco-tourism industry, as several organizations are reclaiming or rehabbing former coal mining land and designating it for a number of recreational activities. Planned riverfront expansion along the Susquehanna will also help.

While Wilkes-Barre is still shedding its identity as an old coal mining town, the city has never been better positioned to make real strides. By the time this year's downtown Fine Arts Fiesta rolls around, the city will look and feel even more different. 

Source: Keystone Edge

Writer: Joe Petrucci

Keystone Edge on holiday break, next issue Jan. 14

We know many of our story subjects and readers will get a much-deserved opportunity to break away from the office during the next several weeks. As a result, Keystone Edge will take a holiday break from publishing from Dec. 18 through Jan. 13.

Keystone Edge's next online edition will publish on Jan. 14, when we'll feature the growing number of forums and events that spotlight entrepreneurs, their innovative ideas, and the resources and talent available to them.

Also in the first quarter of 2010, Keystone Edge will look at PA companies working on integrating their business into proposed healthcare reform, how higher education is one of the state's top industries, and the Commonwealth's growing Artisan Trails program.
 
We'll continue to report on innovative and growing companies and profile the state's most interesting entrepreneurs, researchers and artists. If you have any story ideas for the new year, please reach out to us here.

Thanks for reading and helping to make Keystone Edge the state's premiere voice on what makes PA among the nation's most desirable places to work, study, live and play.

Happy Holidays,

-Joe Petrucci, Managing Editor for Keystone Edge


Gauging the Growth Sectors: Sustainability Soars

Green jobs, green technology and green behaviors are being touted as the country's escape from the recession and its re-emergence. Oh yeah, they're also counted on to protect our environment. In Pennsylvania, Harrisburg's implementation of several policies, like Act 29 and other incentives and rebates meant to help businesses and citizens implement green practices, make the Commonwealth among the national leaders in clean energy development.

PA was ranked third in the country for green jobs, and it's not hard to see why. Companies like Pace Controls, Viridity Energy, Enginuity Energy, SRS Energy, E-Mon, and Komax Solar. Wind power is every bit as prevalent as solar, with Iberdrola Renewables, Gamesa and AES all undertaking significant wind power projects in the Keystone State.

Just as quickly as clean energy emerged as a national priority, regional organizations are playing major roles in positioning their geographies as locations or business and green innovation. Pennergy is doing it in Central PA and the Energy Alliance of Southwestern PA will fund energy-related start-ups, and the Green Building Alliances of both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh were recognized as trendsetters in a sector full of opportunity.

When the world descended on Pittsburgh for the G20 Summit in October, leaders and visitors saw the Steel City's amazing transformation through sustainable redevelopment. With that as a lasting symbol, Pennsylvania appears to maintain a major role in sustainability and clean energy initiatives in both the private and public sectors.

Source: Keystone Edge

Writer: Joe Petrucci

Gauging the Growth Sectors: Maximizing Manufacturing

Surely, there were many factors involved, but Harley-Davidson's decision to remain the face of manufacturing in York County sent a major signal: Pennsylvania still matters on the manufacturing front.


While the recession cost the sector significant jobs here and nationwide, there are a number of success stories, both small and large, that give even the most skeptical observer enough hope to believe Pennsylvania can regain much of its manufacturing might.


Elsewhere in Central PA, there are new players, like startup smart-materials technology manufacturer Piezo Resonance Innovations of Bellefonte. International Battery bolstered the Lehigh Valley when the Allentown company's large-format lithium battery factory, the first of its kind in the U.S., applied for major Department of Energy funding to operate at maximum capacity. In Northeast PA, a focus on sustainability drove Dickson City-based Commonwealth Energy Group toward a new production facility that will manufacture energy efficient light fixtures and create 240 jobs.


Statewide, organizations are helping prop up PA's manufacturing base. The Mercer County Career Center is campaigning at school districts throughout the region to develop students' skills to meet the industry's needs, and the Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center continues to educate young people and assist manuacturers throughout Southeastern PA.


When Armstrong World Industries, the Juniata building supplies powerhouse that only emerged from bankruptcy last year, announced in October it would expand its cabinet manufacturing division and add 125 jobs within three years, it sent another clear message: Pennsylvania is equipped to rebound from most any pitfall.


Source: Keystone Edge

Writer: Joe Petrucci


Gauging the Growth Sectors: Higher Ed Evolution

While the tried and true bastions of research, innovation and excellence, like the University of Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University and Penn State University continued to diversify their interests, impact and integration into the Commonwealth's communities that support them, a number of small institutions throughout the state are giving it a much more robust feel.

Building bridges to the business community was the common theme. Examples of increased technology transfer and commercialization efforts abound, like the Millersville University Software Productization Center, which graduated its first company, Cruzstar, this fall.  Pennsylvania College of Technology asserted itself in the Marcellus Shale play with its new Education and Training Center.

Preparing grads for a different kind of job hunt became a priority for several schools. In May, East Stroudsburg University topped off its Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship , the first phase of the school's Research and Industrial Park, and will open an Entrepreneurial Leadership Center thanks in part to a state grant. Lehigh University single-handedly saved its former Governor's School for Global Entrepreneurship and will welcome its next class next summer. Also, the Shippensburg University Entrepreneurial Learning Center launched in the fall with the Extreme Entrepreneurship Tour.

Northeast PA, home to more than a dozen colleges, saw a new medical school open in The Commonwealth Medical College, and plans laid for a new law school at Wilkes University. In Central PA, Harrisburg University continues to create opportunities and partnerships that are shaping the city's downtown renaissance as a science and technology hub.

Look for many of these schools' new programs to pick up steam in the coming year, while schools like Penn and the University of Pittsburgh will play even larger roles in developing the communities they call home. With enrollments expected to increase across the board, the opportunities these institutions create are likely to put a stop in the old brain drain conundrum.

Source: Keystone Edge

Writer: Joe Petrucci

Gauging the Growth Sectors: Life Sciences Loom Large

A Milken Institute study found Greater Philadelphia passed San Francisco and is closing in on Boston as the nation's top life sciences region.

While the well-established pharmaceutical industry, entrenched medical research institutions and a growing medical devices sector have helped Greater Philadelphia gain a larger share of the spotlight, there are a number of promising companies that are making it an even more competitive and lucrative location for life sciences success.

Healthy Humans, Hershey's Apeliotus, Pittsburgh's ALung, Pinnacle Health, Scranton's Life Science Analytics, and Horsham's Verilogue are among those most interesting companies that are innovating the industry's processes, devices and information.

As healthcare reform promises to be Washington D.C.'s primary focus early in 2010, Pennsylvania is poised not only to play a major role in increasing efficiencies, cutting costs and providing new solutions, but the state is very much a leader in existing and planned initiatives to bolster reform. Danville-based Geisinger Health System and its venture arm, Geisinger Ventures, have gained national attention for its innovation.

Thanks to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, with its planned vaccine center that could create thousands of jobs, and the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, with increased investments, in new companies, Western PA is flexing its life sciences muscles.

Other companies are helping establish other parts of the state as fertile life sciences ground, like Unilife in Lewisberry,  York County.

Regardless of what healthcare reform might bring, Pennsylvania figures prominently in its implementation in the short-term and for the long haul.

Source: Keystone Edge

Writer: Joe Petrucci

Gauging the Growth Sectors: Entrepreneurship Enters New Era

Across the state, as displaced workers from large, tried and true corporations looked to re-define their careers in the last year, many Pennsylvanians opted to take daring leaps and strike out on their own, even as the economy continued to struggle.  Meanwhile, emerging sectors like sustainability and life sciences provided ample opportunity for them to explore their entrepreneurial side.

Throw in organizations like Ben Franklin Technology Partners, Philly Start-Up Leaders, the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, DreamIt Ventures, the NEPA Venture Partnership and the Murata Business Center, and there is no shortage of assistance. The key moving forward, most everyone has said, is letting people know they're there and how they can help.

Not surprisingly, young people are dominating the landscape, like 23 year-old Sara Lanphier's Nuts About Granola, the York outfit that was featured on the Rachel Ray TV show; 25 year-old Scranton real estate king Tim O'Brien; and the twenty-something trio that is driving the success of the online motorcycle marketplace known as RevZilla.

The old dogs can still bite, though, like serial entrepreneurs Jake St. Pierre of Hazleton CanBE, Michael Sanchez of the Main Line's Savana Partners and Steven Nichtberger of Norristown's Tengion.

In Philadelphia, Jose Garces led a pack of super chefs that are paving the way for entrepreneurs to take their shot in the city's growing food service business. The growth of the arts is fueling opportunities in Harrisburg's Midtown district, where coffee shops, galleries and boutiques are thriving in a previously residential area. For the thirsty, Ron Kamionka continued his stretch of opening successful nightclubs and watering holes throughout the state and a pair of distilleries and microbreweries from Valley Forge to Williamsport are also quenching that thirst.

In the next year, expect entrepreneurship in PA to continue trending upward as the Obama administration shifts its focus from Wall Street to Main Street. In a state known for its Main Street feel, that's good news for risk-takers with good ideas.

Source: Keystone Edge
Writer: Joe Petrucci

A Beacon of development near downtown Scranton will yield dozens of jobs

Four sites and nearly 19 acres remain undeveloped in the Mount Pleasant Corporate Center at the doorstep of downtown Scranton, but a regional medical real estate developer brought the much-anticipated complex to life last month with the purchase of a 3.26-acre lot that is expected to yield a 30,000 square foot medical/professional services building and dozens of jobs.

"We've done numerous business parks and industrial office parks throughout Lackawanna County, and this project definitely had its fair share of hurdles, so (Beacon Medical Realty's purchase) is a huge success for us," says Krysten Kelly, an economic development specialist for the Scranton Chamber of Commerce. "I think our hope is to see more building similar to Beacon's. Maybe they'll be interested in additional buildings."

Beacon purchased the land from the Scranton Lackawanna Industrial Building Corporation, which acquired it from Keystone Concrete Block and Supply. It had its manufacturing operation there before consolidating it with another facility across town. The real estate development partnership, which has designed, developed and managed 1.5 million square feet throughout New Jersey and New York, expects the two-story building to be complete by next fall.

Mount Pleasant is a $7 million project that SLIBCO expects will produce 210,000 square feet of buildings and create 1,000 jobs. Its proximity to downtown--it is near Scranton High School on the corner of Linden Street and Seventh Avenue--and the newly opened Commonwealth Medical College make it especially ripe for fast-tracked development.

"The opportunities are endless," says Kelly. "We'd love to see the entire park occupied as soon as possible."

Source: Kristyn Kelly, Scranton Chamber of Commerce
Writer: Joe Petrucci

Biotech 2009: Helixman and Pennsylvania Bio to the rescue

On a creative whim, an intern at Pennsylvania Bio created the character Helixman, "investigator of all things interesting and protector of all things innovative" who has guided readers through 14 trips to different parts of the state, uncovering their bioscience gems.

"It's really clever, just one of those things to have a little fun, especially in today's environment where everyone is a little dour," says Mickey Flynn, president of the statewide trade association.

That's a theme that Flynn's organization has helped bring to Biotech 2009, the world's annual premiere biosciences conference, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center on Nov. 16-17. More specifically, Flynn and company are trying to inject life into an industry that, like most others, is still feeling the grim effects of the global recession.

Biotech 2009 promises to do just that, as well as give potential collaborators or partners forums to present, share and drill down ideas.  Thirty-seven companies will make 15-minute presentations on their latest and greatest discoveries, while there will be 18 "partnering suites," for company reps to meet and share ideas.  Some new additions to the conference program includes FDA updates as well as social media.

"Everybody recognizes how important it is, especially when times are tough, to get together and share ideas," says Flynn. "We tried to adjust our programs to what's happening with the current state of affairs."

The conference also features a record-size Innovation Corridor, in which students, faculty, investigators and entrepreneurs compete in a judged poster presentation.

Flynn expects about 800 attendees, double the number that participated only five years ago.

Source: Mickey Flynn, Pennsylvania Bio

Writer: Joe Petrucci

Funding for Future Power PA could lead to more than 1,000 jobs

In Schuylkill County, which once thrived when it was part of a Northeast PA's coal region, history could soon meet the future if the Department of Energy sees fit.  Future Power PA, a majority owned and controlled joint venture of Future Fuels LLC of Houston, Texas and Immersive Media Corporation of Calgary, Alberta, has requested matching funds from the U.S. Department of Energy's Clean Coal Power Initiative.

The program would accelerate construction of the country's first commercial carbon storage project in Good Spring, which could provide more than 1,000 jobs.

"There is much work to be done," says Jim Palumbo of Future Power PA. "If the funding comes through, we'll be ready to move that much faster."

The 270-megawatt Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle electricity plant will utilize local anthracite with carbon dioxide sequestration capabilities and serve the PJM West electricity market. Most importantly, it will meet alternative energy portfolio standards required by Pennsylvania and, at start-up, should exceed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 standards set for 2020.

Utilizing coal with such low emission levels has proven to be a truly global effort, using vital gasification technical expertise from China's Thermal Power Research Institute. The Good Spring location requires almost no fuel transportation or electric power transmission costs typically associated with such plants. Those savings will provide the funding for expensive carbon dioxide sequestration activities. Future Power PA expects to receive word from the DOE by the end of the year.

Source: Jim Palumbo, Future Power PA
Writer: Joe Petrucci



Entrepreneurs CanBE in Hazleton

When Jack St. Pierre talks about driving entrepreneurship in Greater Hazleton, a blue-collar region historically aligned with big industry, he speaks from considerable experience. A serial entrepreneur himself, St. Pierre navigated the business assistance landscape when it was in its infancy more than 20 years ago to successfully build multiple companies.

Soon after he retired in 1999, he joined the board of directors for Greater Hazleton CanBE, a new business incubator that formed in 2004. A year later, when the incubator's first director resigned, St. Pierre was asked to fill in. Five years later, he's still there and using the lessons he learned as an entrepreneur to help develop start-up businesses.

"We're fortunate having Jack leading us. That's a competitive advantage not all incubators have," says Bernadette DeBias, executive director of economic development for Greater Hazleton CanDO, a regional economic development organization of which CanBE is a subsidiary.

St. Pierre has helped drastically reconfigure CanBE's space in the Valmont Industrial Park to meet demand for more offices and fewer light manufacturing spaces. More than half of the incubator's 16 spaces are occupied.  Most notably, CanBE's Start Your Own Business seminar series has been expanded into other pockets of Northeast Pa., like East Stroudsburg to the east and Carbondale to the north.

CanBE has seen its share of successful graduates, including AeroSolutions, which manages inspection and upgrades of cell towers nationwide and grew from one to 10 employees in three years before moving into its own space downtown, and is currently occupied by start-ups including a yoga studio and a digital video production firm.

Furthering its geographic reach, CanBE has partnered with the Greater Susquehanna Keystone Innovation Zone in Bloomsburg for a regional business plan competition scheduled for early next year that will be open to all-comers.

"If we can keep the topic in front of people, we'll get results and so will other programs," says St. Pierre. "All of us have to struggle to get some good companies to consider starting ventures here."

Source: Bernadette DeBias, Greater Hazleton CanDO; Jack St. Pierre, Greater Hazleton CanBE
Writer: Joe Petrucci



NEPA Venture Partnership pushing entrepreneurship

It took two decades and the crumbling of much of the region's industrial roots, but finally, the pieces are in place throughout Northeast Pennsylvania to stimulate new and diverse economic growth through entrepreneurship in the region's strongholds of Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton.

Those pieces have come together to form the NEPA Venture Partnership, which hopes to officially launch next month as a comprehensive toolbox for entrepreneurs and early stage companies throughout the region, state and country.

Bernadette DeBias of economic development organization Hazleton CAN DO, part of the partnership along with the Innovation Center of Wilkes-Barre and the Scranton and Lackawanna Industrial Building Company, says she has received calls from as far away as California expressing interest in the region.

"The resources we've lined up, beyond investments, support entrepreneurs at their most vulnerable stage," says DeBias, "and they'll go where the money is." DeBias also noted that, although the much of the industry that once defined NEPA is gone, its trademark work ethic remains.

The partnership, along with Ben Franklin Technology Partners and about 50 private investors, contributed a combined $4 million to the Mid-Atlantic Angel Group's second early stage venture fund (MAG II), which will invest in Pa.-based companies as well as those outside the region.

Beyond funding, however, the goal of the partnership is to be a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs--it already has a website and is finalizing its marketing strategy along with plans for upcoming events, including Ben Franklin Venture Idol, a entrepreneur's version of American Idol, on Nov. 5 in Scranton.

"It can be a daunting task for entrpreneurs," says John Augustine of the Innovation Center. "It's really just knowing where to go."

In addition, NEPA Venture Partnership will host MAG II's monthly meeting, a forum to educate potential investors in the region, on Nov. 4 in Scranton.

Says Christine Hitchcock of SLIPCO: "One of the keys is a synergistic approach, with no duplication of effort, and we have it."

Source: John Augustine, Innovation Center of Wilkes-Barre; Bernadette DeBias, Hazleton CanDO; Christine Hitchcock, SLIPCO.
Writer: Joe Petrucci

American Eagle boosts Chicago flights from four cities

Non-stop, baby!

American Eagle’s decision to resume daily service from three Pennsylvania airports to Chicago means that business fliers in Scranton, Allentown, and Harrisburg can ditch long-distance drives to catch their flights. Last week, the airline announced that it would add daily non-stop flights from the three to Chicago’s O’Hare International next spring as part of a systemwide boost in service that also affects Pittsburgh.

For Harrisburg, the decision reinstates one of the mainstays of the airport’s business. American Eagle had flown the Chicago route for 23 years before canceling the service last November.

"Last summer, when fuel prices spiked, they were flying from here to Chicago and Dallas, and it became unprofitable," explains Scot Miller, an airport spokesman.  "The rates they needed to charge were too high, and people were driving to other gateways instead." Now that fuel prices have moderated, American Eagle, a sister company of American Airlines, will reinstate the service for next year's summer season, which begins April 6.  The company will deploy 22 new aircraft as part of its expansion.

The Lehigh Valley International Airport will also resume three daily American Eagle non-stops to  O’Hare. Wilkes Barre-Scranton International Airport will resume two. Pittsburgh International Airport will shift from two American Airlines and two American Eagle flights each day to three flights on the larger American Airlines equipment, providing more total seats, says American spokesman Tim Smith.  

The overall number of jobs created by American Eagle's  decision has yet to be determined. Whether the company transfers its own employees, hires them locally, or subcontracts staffing to other firms, the  increase in service will add about 14 jobs in Harrisburg, says Miller. The $4.50 handling fee on each ticket "could have a positive impact of a couple hundred thousand in revenue," he says, depending on how full the flights are. The regional jets generally carry 50 to 70 passengers.

Source: Scott Miller, Harrisburg International Airport; Tim Smith, American Airlines
Writer: Chris O'Toole


Scranton incubator powers entrepreneurs

Scranton Enterprise Center director Kristine Augustine spends a lot of time with people hoping to open a small deli, coffee shop or other typical mom-and-pop operations.  Unlike many incubators focused on high-tech or cutting edge outfits, Augustine's job in the Electric City, where so many people have worked hard for one company their entire lives, is to promote a cultural of entrepreneurism that was lacking and is now sorely needed.

Augustine points to IMS, a telemarketing company started by two young men in 2003 that eventually expanded to three locations in the region before being sold. Those two caught the bug, however, and now own a Sonic franchise in nearby Wilkes-Barre.

"When we talk about serial entrepreneurs, IMS may not have been a sexy tech company, but it still employed over 50 people and grew from there," says Augustine, in her 11th year with the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce, which administers the incubator.

The incubator has its share of sexy companies, though, and has run at near 100-percent capacity for several years now. It boasts software developers, healthcare companies, a venture capital firm, an organic product manufacturer, and other business services providers. That diversity is key to the city, as well, Augustine says.

Most encouraging is the number of referrals and inquiries for the incubator's programs has remained brisk throughout the recession and applications for its funding program for those who can't apply for traditional financing has doubled in the last 12 months.

"Most of our companies are doing well," says Augustine. "I've seen the growth take place step-by-step."

Source: Kristine Augustine, Scranton Enterprise Center
Writer: Joe Petrucci

Expanded database puts Scranton's Life Science Analytics in the mix

In a crowded playing field of biomedical data providers, a company in Scranton is standing out by consistently expanding the types and amount of information it provides to life sciences companies worldwide. Life Science Analytics, which employs 20 in their office in a restored silk mill, grew by more than 30 percent in the first half of 2009 and is positioned to continue its ascent.

"We have a lot of competitors, but the advantage we have is we're a one-stop shop where we cover everything," says Tish Giglio, product analyst for LSA. "We combine financial data with pipeline data and venture deals. We have our hands in everything, while competitors may have one focus, like trial details."

LSA is one of the most profitable holdings of parent company The Datamonitor Group, the U.K. outfit that purchased it in 2005, and provides information on 130,000 biomedical companies worldwide to more than 800 subscribers (life sciences companies across the globe).  LSA eliminates a lot of legwork for business development types with its MedTRACK database, which systemizes pipeline, financial, competitive product, mechanism of action, partnering and patent information. The data can be sorted by parameters like disease or clinical trial stage and searched by SEC filings, websites, news and product descriptions.

LSA also features a report center that creates 5,000 reports every month based on MedTRACK's data, like therapeutic areas, as well as databases that track deals and alliances and venture finance. This week, the company launched its Global Financials data set. With so much additional data--the company was tracking only 1,300 companies for 106 subscribers in 2003--LSA is working on a new version of MedTRACK that will transform the architecture of the database.

Source: Tish Giglio, Life Science Analytics

Writer: Joe Petrucci


Innovation Center adds tech, diversity to Wilkes-Barre's future

Smack dab in the old economy center of downtown Wilkes-Barre, in an original Woolworth's Five and Dime building, a five year-old incubator is helping to define the new economy in a city that sorely needs a fresh approach.

And it's no coincidence that a $100 million expansion of the riverfront, a downtown movie theater with lofts, and the nation's only joint-college bookstore have all come to fruition since the Innovation Center of Wilkes-Barre was born in 2004.

The incubator, which sits atop a Barnes and Noble shared by King's College and Wilkes University students in a completely renovated space just off Public Square, boasts 15,000 square feet and with 14 companies is at about 90 percent occupancy. The companies are mostly technology-based, but the incubator maintains a diverse roster that Innovation Center director John Augustine believes is remaking the city's workforce and identity.

"We still realize we're a blue-collar town, but we also have 12 colleges in a 12-mile radius," says Augustine. "Our colleges have been our largest importers of talent, but also our largest exporters. Now we're keeping some of them."

The incubator, which is managed by the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry, has already had some high-profile graduates.

Internet marketing agency PepperJam, started in the center with one employee in 2004, made the Inc. 500 fastest-growing companies list two years in a row, and had 48 when they were acquired by e-commerce giant GSI Commerce in King of Prussia on Sept. 1. Another tenant, e-commerce developer Solid Cactus, was acquired earlier this year by web.com, leading provider of online tools and marketing services for small businesses and decided to stay in the area.

Augustine says plans are underway to convert a former bank near on Public Square into an additional $4 million, 10,000 square-foot incubator that could begin construction as early as the end of the year.

Source: John Augustine, Wilkes-Barre Innovation Center
Writer: Joe Petrucci






State treasury helps women in business find money

The Women and Money Project isn't window-dressing for the PA Treasury Department. It's a program near and dear to those involved in implementing it and has considerable credibility as a result. Most important, it's helping Pennsylvania women position themselves for stimulus funds and other opportunities in the new economy.

State treasurer Rob McCord was raised by a single mother who worked hard to make ends meet. Dr. Eliazabeth Randol, the director of the Women and Money project, was the director of the University of Scranton women's center before becoming a campaign manager and chief of staff for a Lackawanna County commissioner.

"We do have intellectual capital to unleash," says Randol, who is traveling around the state speaking to women business owners and entrepreneurs. At her first stop in Scranton two weeks ago, Randol focused on pursuing stimulus funds and government procurement.

That included getting certified as Women's Business Enterprise and placed on the federal Central Contractor Registration list. The program was built in part upon Randol's research, which included more than 100 phone calls with women in business.

"I heard over and over how ignored these women business owners feel as far as their ability to get into the boys club, in particular as far as contracting goes," Randol says. "They can't get a phone call back, can't get in the door."

Randol is quick to point out the goal for federal procurement with women-owned businesses is 5.0 percent, and the most recent estimates put that percentage woefully short at 3.4 percent.

"For a long time, many women have thought about starting their own business, but there's a lot of creative energy that will continue to be unleashed as people are getting laid off and have to figure out where their income is coming from," says Randol, who will be in York on Oct. 20 and Philadelphia on Oct. 22 for the next workshops. "I think women have a good ability to identify needs in a community and come up with creative solutions."

Source: Dr. Elizabeth Randol, PA Treasury Department

Writer: Joe Petrucci


Barbara Kasoff, President, CEO and Co-Founder, Women Impacting Public Policy

Elizabeth Randol, Director, Treasury Women & Money Project

Rob McCord, Pennsylvania Treasurer

Kristin Dempsey, Vice President, Dempsey Uniform and Linen Supply





Commonwealth Medical College opens its doors

There's roughly 1,360 days until The Commonwealth Medical College graduates its first class. The Scranton school's president and dean, Robert M. D'Alessandri, is counting, and considering how quickly the school has grown from concept to reality, the first new medical school in Pennsylvania in 40 years figures to be ready.

The school began operations in June, 2007 with two employees. This week, 170 employees were on hand as the school's inaugural group of 65 students began classes.

"We moved with great rapidity," says D'Alessandri. "It might well be a record."

Orientation for the first class, which was joined by 35 students pursuing Master's degrees, was covered heavily by local media. "We are feeling a little like celebrities," D'Alessandri says. Seventy-five percent of the school's students are from Pennsylvania, a higher rate than any other school in the state.

The school is borrowing space from Lackawanna College, but D'Alessandri says there's plenty of room in its fully equipped classrooms and labs, including a simulation lab with hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment and an anatomy lab D'Alessandri says is comparable to any in the country.

"Our students will not be disadvantaged at all," he says. "They'll have the most modern learning technology."

The school, which also has campuses in Wilkes-Barre and Williamsport, has also applied for its first patent and is in discussion for a licensing agreement, both ahead of schedule. Eventually, the school plans to add more than 400 doctors and 1,000 jobs to a region where health care is among its top sectors. Class size expects to grow to 100 by the summer of 2011, when the school expects to move into its own facility in downtown Scranton.

Source: Robert M. D'Alessandri, Commonwealth Medical College
Writer: Joe Petrucci


Enhanced database gives PA life sciences companies more tools

Thanks to an expanded database, anyone who works at Pennsylvania Bio member companies will have access to information to strengthen not only their own business, but the sector as a whole throughout the state.

Pennsylvania Bio has teamed up with Scranton-based Life Science Analytics to release the new and improved MedTRACK Database. The database is a comprehensive business development tool offered by PennsylvaniaBio member companies as part of their membership.

"This expanded database allows our members to conduct due diligence for business development activities, partnerships, and collaborations," says Pennsylvania Bio president Mickey Flynn. "Key features, such as worldwide patents, competitive products, trend analysis, and other tools ensure that our members can find the information they need to continue growing their companies and Pennsylvania's bioscience industry."

Life Science Analytics provides company info on more than 16,000 companies worldwide. Pennsylvania Bio members can search for things like active ingredients (by product name or associated symptoms), analyze royalties paid to companies for their products, and estimate sales forecasts by taking into account patent expiration and regulatory approval. Members of the media also have access to the database for accurate, up-to-date information.

A host of other tools are also new, like Competitive Products, Drug Delivery, Extended Product Profiles, Merger Tool, M&A Search, Milestone Calendar, News Manager, Pipeline Profile and Trend Analysis. Ultimately, Flynn says, the hope is to provide targeted screener capabilities to quickly perform market assessments and evaluate potential partners.

Source: Mickey Flynn, Pennsylvania Bio

Writer: Joe Petrucci




Geisinger health care innovations attract Obama's attention

As the debate on health care reform heats up, innovations at eastern Pennsylvania’s Geisinger Health System  have put the Danville-based system in the national media eye. Recent successes like launching retail health clinics in local supermarkets, a 90-day "warranty" on elective heart surgery, electronic record-keeping that gives patients access to records and health information, and reducing re-admittance of Medicare patients have put Geisinger  in headlines at CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the "News Hour with Jim Lehrer" and "Frontline" on PBS.  

With two medical centers, two research centers, 40 community practice sites,  and 13,000 employees, Geisinger serves 2.6 million  patients a year. Its non-profit health plan covers 212,000 members. President Obama cited Geisinger’s effective practices in a June 11 speech on his health care reform goals in Green  Bay, Wisconsin.

"We have to ask why places like the Geisinger Health system in rural Pennsylvania, Intermountain Health in Salt Lake City, or communities like Green Bay can offer high-quality care at costs well below average, but other places in America can't. We need to identify the best practices across the country, learn from the success, and replicate that success elsewhere," he said.

The success stories aren’t news to the folks at Geisinger. "We’ve been working on these issues for three-plus years, and getting media coverage for a couple of years," says spokesperson Patti Urosevich, "but the immediate coverage was because the president mentioned us." Geisinger hosted a national conference on its ProvenCare system in December attended by 100 national providers. ProvenCare tracks  thousands of procedures in specific fields to adjust and improve patient outcomes. Patients spend fewer days in intensive care and recover faster, with procedural success rates than exceed the national average.

Source: Patti Urosevich
Writer: Chris O’Toole  


New state entity awash in green as grant selections loom

With 389 applications in front of him and his Department of Environmental Protection colleagues from business, universities, municipalities and other institutions asking for some $800 million, Pennsylvania deputy secretary for energy and technology deployment Dan Griffiths has a tall task over the next several days. They're spending $21 million on dozens of grants through Pennsylvania Green Energy Works, a new entity that combines several existing energy related programs, and will announce its initial grant recipients on Monday at a public meeting in Harrisburg.


"We have a responsibility. We're in the fast lane on this one," says Griffiths. "We think we'll see substantial results with jobs, renewable energy creation and use."

Money has been pouring in for Green Works, albeit piecemeal. Next week's funding is made up of $10 million from a recently announced $39.8 million federal stimulus shot and will go to projects that are shovel-ready within six months and strive to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and stimulate growth in renewable sectors.


In the fall, Griffiths expects to announce another round of grants involving wind energy, with grants for geothermal and revolving loan program for green building coming early next year. Each funding success plants the seed for more federal money--another $50 million for state energy projects is at stake.


Griffiths says the state has a "more structured quality control system" to monitor all these new projects to ensure that the money is being used properly and that successful projects pave the way for more federal funds.


"One of the things we can't do is take care of every need, but we can demonstrate effectiveness, create a trained workforce and establish demand that will go into the market after we've spent the money," Griffiths says.


Source: Dan Griffiths, Pennsylvania Green Energy Works

Writer: Joe Petrucci


Cozen O'Connor expands to Harrisburg, Wilkes-Barre

Though not immune to the dilemmas brought on by the global recession, Cozen O'Connor, one of the country's largest law firms and headquartered in Philadelphia, has been opportunistic enough during the last six months to expand. The firm last week announced it has opened offices in Harrisburg and Wilkes-Barre, adding six employees and possibly more in the next several years.


It was only mid-February when Cozen O'Connor laid off 61 support staff. About a month later, Wolf Block, the city's oldest firm, voted to dissolve and within days, Cozen O'Connor welcomed 30 former Wolf Block attorneys. Since then, the firm has added about 40 more attorneys, paving the way for expansion.


Cozen O'Connor now has 24 offices (22 in the U.S.) and, more importantly, has footholds in regions that figure to be key as the state develops energy, corporate and environmental policies.


"The opportunistic part... probably allowed us to expand a bit sooner than anticipated," says firm administrative managing partner Vincent McGuinness. "Part of our strategy is to grow our practice in the areas of energy, alternative clean technologies, climate change matters and corporate regulatory matters."


The Harrisburg office, located on North Front Street and led by office managing partner Frances Roggenbaum, will concentrate on state and federal affairs with a special emphasis on tax, insurance regulatory, energy, environmental and public utilities matters.


Longtime Northeast Pennsylvania attorney John P. Moses will be a one-man show in the Wilkes-Barre office. He is known as a premier trial attorney with experience working with government, corporations and individuals.


"Pennsylvania is our home territory," says McGuiness. "We have strong relationships in Pennsylvania and we wanted to make sure we can continue to capitalize on that."


Source: Vincent McGuiness, Cozen O'Connor
Writer: Joe Petrucci



Lansdale insurance veteran making waves with InsurCard

Card-based payment methods have all but replaced cash and check transactions throughout the U.S. A Lansdale insurance veteran is banking on cards becoming the norm in the insurance industry, as well.

Bob Mendte, who worked in operations at CIGNA for 25 years and has run his own consulting firm for large insurers the last several years, is pitching his InsurCard to large carriers throughout the region.

Mendte already has seven carriers on board, mostly for catastrophic relief--like First Insurance Company of Hawaii--and one workers compensation provider. InsurCard claims to improve cash control, enhance fraud protection and boost customer service. It also can reduce claim payment costs up to 85 percent. Considering the average payout for workers compensation (wage replacement) is nine payments, that savings can add up.

 "It solves a lot of problems for insurance companies and recipients, especially low-income recipients," says Mendte, president of InsurCard. "The movement toward debit cards is astounding."

The InsurCard Prepaid Card is issued by partner Bancorp, the third-largest issuer of commercial debit cards in the country, and allows for on-the-spot reimbursement for victims of catastrophes or those who can't afford to wait for their workers compensation checks to clear.

InsurCard has recently devoted a lot of resources developing its workers compensation business because there aren't as many competitors as in the property insurance market. To comply with workers compensation regulations that vary state-to-state, InsurCard conducted a nationwide legal study and gained approval from more than 40 states. As a result, it has been allowed to bid as sole providers in some states because it's the only company that can prove legal compliance throughout the U.S.

"We're getting a lot of play from that," says Mendte. "We'd hope this becomes a standard in the industry. We don't expect to be here ourselves, but it would be nice to have a share of the market."

Source: Bob Mendte, InsurCard
Writer: Joe Petrucci

PA Game Commission introduces live nest cam starring bluebirds

Eric Miller, a Wildlife Education Specialist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, remembered the bluebird because of the large tuft of feathers above its left eye. It returned to its nest box at the PGC's Harrisburg headquarters recently and was nesting three eggs.

"She wants to be a movie star," says Miller.

The bluebird is the star of a new show, brought to life by the PGC. It debuted on its website a live video camera feed from a bluebird nestbox that the commission hopes will get residents interested in wildlife, and bluebirds in particular.

The technology costs only $200, including a golf-ball sized, color-infrared camera connected to 300 feet of standard RCA cables that bring audio and video into the PGC's control room and  lobby. In the control room, a free live stream web service is used to get the video online. In the lobby, the feed is played on a monitor for visitors.

"You can hear them chirping when the adults bring back food, and it was interesting seeing them build the actual nest," says Jerry Feaser, the PGC's press secretary. "It was behavior not previously seen. People love it."

Once threatened by the arrival of English sparrows and  European starlings, bluebirds are competitive again, although Feaser said the PGC had to remove English sparrows nesting material and install monofilament fishing line over the nest box entrance hole to keep the sparrows away.

Moisture and a technological problem--night activity isn't visible because of a manufacturing glitch with the camera, which has been fixed for the next model--have been the only gaffes for this first-run production, but Feaser and Miller expect other state wildlife will soon star in their own live web cams. The PGC is also putting together an educational DVD from the bluebird footage.

Source: Eric Miller, Jerry Feaser, Pennsylvania Game Commission

Writer: Joe Petrucci



PA Preservation Bill expected to create jobs, more livable downtowns

Pennsylvania is among the top three states that have taken advantage of the federal tax credit for historic preservation. At the same time, however, Pennsylvania is one of the few states that doesn't have a historic preservation program of its own.


That could soon change, as the State House of Representatives passed House Bill 42, the Historic Preservation Incentive Program, by a resounding vote of 193-2.


"House Bill 42 is going to be a real cornerstone for the revitalization of our older towns and cities, anywhere from DuBois to Altoona to Wellsboro to Philadelphia, this can create jobs in towns and make those towns more livable," says Ed Boito, campaign director for Pennsylvania Works!, a coalition of environmental, conservation, preservation, housing and research groups that work to create public policy that stimulates economic development throughout the state.

Restoration, Boito contends, employs 2.5 times more workers than new construction, and will make downtowns more livable, reducing demand for suburban sprawl.

The bill has passed in the House in four consecutive legislative sessions, but stalled in Senate because of questions over how the program would be funded. As it stands, the legislation passed earlier this month would be paid for from the state's Environmental Stewardship Fund.

The bill provides grants of up to $15,000 for exterior rehabilitation of historic residences, state tax credits of up to $500,000 for rehabilitation of historic commercial properties and priority given to properties located in Main Street, Elm Street, Enterprise Zones and Historic Districts.

Boito pointed to a similar program in Virginia that attracted a three-to-one investment match from the private sector.

"If you get one critical building in a small downtown area, that can be the impetus for a revitalization of a whole town," Boito says. "Johnstown is getting lots of money to revitalize its downtown, and I think historic structures could be a very big part of that."

Source: Ed Boito, Pennsylvania Works!

Writer: Joe Petrucci



PA named third in nation for green jobs

The green workforce is still in its infancy, but Pennsylvania has already hit its growth spurt, and many believe it could last for decades. Pennsylvania ranked third, behind only California and Texas, in clean energy jobs according to a Pew Charitable Trusts report issued last week. The Clean Energy Economy: Repowering Jobs, Businesses and Investments Across America, the first count of such jobs in all 50 states, credited Pennsylvania with 38,763 green jobs in 2007.

"These clean energy giants and startups are here in Pennsylvania because of our robust policies and programs that are helping build our green energy economy," says Jan Jarrett, CEO of PennFuture, a Harrisburg-based public interest organization that has successfully advocated for landmark environmental legislation. "You ain't seen nothing yet."

Governor Ed Rendell has mandated 18 percent of the state's utilities come from alternative energy sources by 2021. That has paved the way for green job growth through both large companies setting up shop here and increased funding for emerging local companies.

Spanish wind energy giants like Gamesa and Iberdrola have created hundreds of jobs in PA, and in the last 10 years, the state has become home to 11 operating wind farms with four more under construction and 13 more proposed. 

International solar powerhouse Conergy is teaming up with Epuron and Exelon to build one of the nation's largest solar power plants, while other smaller plants like Solar Power Industries in Westmoreland County, Polysilicon Corp. in Fairless Hills and Plextronics in Pittsburgh are taking off.

"With the (electric utilities) rate caps due to come off, and with federal stimulus money now coming in, we expect exponential growth in clean and green energy," says Jarrett.

Source: Jan Jarrett, PennFuture
Writer: Joe Petrucci










Alternative agriculture goes 2.0 with conference for innovators and investors

Alternative agriculture is going Wall Street thanks to a multi-national cottage industry with significant operations in Pennsylvania. SPIN-Farming, based in Philadelphia and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan is joining forces with NewSeed Advisors to co-host Agriculture 2.0, The Conference for Innovators and Investors on September 17 in New York City. The goal is to introduce the cream of the alternative agriculture entrepreneurial crop to the investment community.

"Entrepreneurs are producing breakthrough technologies that can help create a post-industrial food system that is less resource intensive, more locally based and easier to monitor and control," says SPIN-Farming's Roxanne Christensen.

Because sustainable agriculture has mostly shunned technology and treated profitability as an afterthought, its appeal to commercial investors has been limited. The sector has been viewed as marginal, at best.

"To infuse the sustainable agriculture industry with much-needed capital and clout, we need to demonstrate that it can be profitable," she says.

If anyone knows about that profitability, it's Christensen. SPIN-Farming publishes online farming and gardening learning series and conducts workshops in partnership with leading farming, gardening, environmental and investment organizations.

The conference will be a good first step in exposing alternative agriculture's potential--through real economics and commercial prospects--to the mainstream financial community. Co-host NewSeed invests in and advises sustainable agriculture companies. Topics to be covered at the conference include sustainable and controlled climate growing systems, building integrated agriculture and urban agriculture.

"This conference will introduce entrepreneurs to investors and open the doors to collaboration, capital and long-term success," says Christensen.

Source: Roxanne Christensen, SPIN-Farming
Writer: Joe Petrucci


PA focuses on local economies with revamped website for farmers markets

There are more than 1,200 farmer's markets throughout the state, but many of their roadside or rural locales can make it difficult for produce-hungry shoppers to find and purchase fresh products nearby.


The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture hopes that will change with its 2009 Consumer's Guide to Pennsylvania Farm Markets. The guide lists farm markets by county, providing the name, location, dates and hours of operation, types of food sold and contact information. The site's big innovation is the ability for shoppers to search by county, product or market name. It's part of the department's growing list of online services.


"The guide is a great way for people to connect with local producers, while directly supporting them and the state's economy," says agriculture secretary Dennis Wolff.


The guide also notes which markets participate in the state's Farmers Market Nutrition Program, which benefits older adults and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) participants. Keystone Country, the state's agritourism program, is also tied to the guide, as many of the markets are travel destinations that allow visitors to pick their own fresh fruit and vegetables.


Keystone Country lists featured road trips that take visitors through a photo gallery and text guide on multi-day, agricultural sojourns like county fairs, wineries and bed-and-breakfast farms throughout every corner of the Commonwealth.


Agriculture is Pennsylvania's leading industry, and the state is considered a national leader in farmland preservation. Statewide, greenhouse and nursery products comprise 9 percent of agricultural receipts, followed by mushrooms and chicken eggs. 


Source: Dennis Wolff, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture
Writer: Joe Petrucci


Hallowell partners with HVAC Distributors to deliver ultra-efficient heating, cooling system

Homeowners and small businesses in eastern Pennsylvania looking to cut energy costs and improve building efficiency have a new option in Acadia, a state-of-the-art combined heating and cooling system now available through HVAC Distributors Inc.
 
In response to increasing requests from contractors in Pennsylvania, Acadia manufacturer Hallowell International has partnered with HVAC Distributors to make the ultra-efficient system available in the eastern half of the Commonwealth.
 
The Acadia, which employs a patented boosted compression technology, is more efficient than a traditional heat pump and eliminates the need for an additional heat source that many systems require during cold winters. The result is a system that outperforms conventional fossil fuel-based heating systems, such as natural gas, by up to 300 percent.
 
"Last year, when oil was over $4 a gallon we were showing 70 percent savings" compared to traditional heating and cooling systems, says Dan Davis, Hallowell's VP of sales and marketing. "People want to get away from fossil fuels, that's really the big driver."
 
Hallowell has undertaken a nationwide expansion of Acadia distribution, which it manufactures at its headquarters in Bangor, Maine. According to Davis, chose HVAC Distributors as its Pennsylvania partner because the wholesaler is "a progressive distributor. They really focus on continuous education and training."
 
Source: Dan Davis, VP of Sales and Marketing for Hallowell International
Writer: John Davidson

Wall Street West expanding opportunity for economic development in Northeast PA

Soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, "Wall Street West" (WSW) was conceived to establish a strategic financial services and information technology backup in areas between 50-125 miles from Manhattan, on a different power grid and in a different watershed. That put Northeast PA in prime WSW territory.


Almost eight years later, WSW, a non-profit partnership of more than two dozen economic development agencies, technology investment groups, educational and research institutions and private-sector experts, is targeting the recession as much as it is homeland security.


"Education and job training funds are at a premium across the country, but in Northeastern Pennsylvania, we have invested more than $11 million into programs that are not only sustaining workforce development efforts, but expanding them," says Wall Street West chairman Matt Connell.

WSW has expanded the list of industry sectors in which the initiative's funding is eligible to healthcare, advanced materials and diversified manufacturing, logistics and transportation and science, technology, engineering and math. The group has also released an investment portfolio, expanded its geography to include Schuylkill County (joining Berks, Carbon, Lackawanna, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Northampton, Pike and Wayne) and created InterviewNEPA, a customized, web-based platform that offers individuals the chance to practice communications skills through simulated job interviews.

WSW has federal support through a $15 million Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development (WIRED) grant from the U.S. Department of Labor for education and job training.

"In combination with the economic development opportunities that exist in the region, we have created a ready-made environment for any organization in need of business continuity solutions," Connell says.

Source: Matt Connell, Wall Street West

Writer: Joe Petrucci



Innovation Awards honor best of Northeastern PA

Scott Byers soaked in the positive energy inside the Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University on Tuesday.


In a roomful of more than 500 innovators and entrepreneurs, Byers, the President and CEO of Diversified Information Technologies in Scranton, was impressed with the success and ambition at the Northeastern Pennsylvania Innovation Awards at the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania i xchange event. Jeff DeGraff (pictured) was the event's keynote speaker.


"I don't know that there's ever a bad time to be an entrepreneur," says Byers. "There's always a way to build a better mousetrap."


Byers represented Diversified, one of eight award recipients, which was honored for Innovative Use of Adaptive Technology. Diversified provides automated information management  solutions to clients in insurance, financial services, healthcare and government sectors. The company's NetView online document-access portal, a cloud computing solution that helps companies perfect their workflow processes to manage cost and compliance, was a big reason Diversified earned an award on Tuesday.


Diversified and Ben Franklin go back nearly 20 years. In 1987 along with Wilkes University, the three institutions re-engineered the company's service offerings to meet changing market needs. Diversified employs 375, two-thirds of which are credited to the partnership with Ben Franklin.


"Our slogan is 'We make information happen,'" says Byers. "Our philosophy is client first, and with that automating processes and  managing costs--that's getting significant attention these days."


Other award winners Tuesday included United Corrstack LLC in Reading (for Manufacturing Achievement), Saladax Biomedical in Bethlehem (for Product Innovation), Right Reason Technologies in East Stroudsburg (for Incubator Graduate), Dale F. Falcinelli of Lehigh University (for Academic Partner), Solid Cactus Inc. of Shavertown (for Entrepreneurial Achievement), Ellen T. Horan of the Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce and Industry (for Special Achievement) and CFO & Stuff LLC of Emmaus (for Entrepreneurial Advocate).


Source: Scott Byers, Diversified Information Technologies
Writer: Joe Petrucci

Photographs of Jeff DeGraff by Jason Farmer



Two PA students win national award for organizing volunteer activities in hometowns

Ryan Morgan, 16, of Moscow, near Scranton, and Kennedy Jet Kulish, 12, of Lancaster were this year's winners from Pennsylvania of the 2009 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, which recognize 100 youth from across the country who organize exceptional volunteer efforts for their communities. Each of the winners of the program, which is sponsored by Prudential and the National Association of Secondary School Principals received engraved silver medallions, $1,000 awards and an all expenses paid 4-day trip with their families to the 14th annual award ceremony and dinner reception at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

Ryan, a junior at North Pocono High School, promoted the use of energy-efficient light bulbs in his community by giving away 1,000 compact fluorescent bulbs while drawing inspiration from Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore on ways to reduce global warming and grassroots activists at a Farm Aid concert.

"I was inspired to do my part to end global warming," he says. "I realized even a teenager really can have an impact on the world community."

Raising money from celebrities, businesses, and raffles, he distributed more than 2,000 CFL light bulbs as part of conservation-education effort that touched his school and community and started a website to spread the word about compact fluorescents.

Kennedy Jet, a sixth-grader at Hambright Elementary School, recruited family, friends, classmates, Girl Scouts, and others to raise nearly $75,000 for children with heart defects, as part of “Kisses for Kaeden” a project named after her baby brother, who was born with a heart defect, to benefit Penn State Children's Hospital.

 "No matter how young you are," she says, "if you want to help another, you can do anything you put your mind to."

Source: Prudential Spirit of Community Awards
Writer: Joseph Plummer

Online teaching Master's program comes to Wilkes

Online learning has increased dramatically over the last seven years, in both the classroom and workplace. In the fall of 2007, nearly four million students were enrolled in an online course. Online courses and training is experiencing a nearly 13 percent annual growth rate for many reasons, like saving money, resources, and time.


Wilkes University
is hoping to prepare online instructors to meet the growing demand. The Wilkes-Barre school has partnered with an educational services company to introduce the first master's degree program in online teaching in Pennsylvania.


The 30-credit program, set to launch this summer, will focus on the latest technology and best practices for effective online instruction in private and public education, the corporate sector, and government.


"This program will develop experts with the skills needed to facilitate real learning in an online environment," says Michael Speziale, dean of the College of Graduate and Professional Studies at Wilkes.


Wilkes has partnered with Performance Learning Systems, Inc., a 38 year-old provider of education programs and services for teachers with East Coast headquarters in Allentown. PLS, which has taught more than one million educators throughout the U.S., counts Drexel University, the Philadelphia school that has emerged as a leader in online education, as its other Pennsylvania partner.


The Master's program at Wilkes can be completed in less than two years. It covers instructional design, assessment, research, advanced technology and building collaboration into e-learning courses. Applicants must have completed a bachelor's degree. The program is one of 16 Master's degree programs at Wilkes.


Source: Michael Speziale, Wilkes University
Writer: Joe Petrucci

 


East Stroudsburg-based Right Reason Technologies honored with Innovation Award

Dave Mehrtens, one of three partners of East Stroudsburg-based eLearning provider Right Reason Technologies, was surprised when his company was named as a recipient of an Innovation Award from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania for best Incubator Graduate. Right Reason didn't experience dramatic growth or boast large revenues.


"I guess a few of those companies are struggling now and we seem to be doing alright," says Mehrtens, whose company posted a 25 percent increase in revenue last year and has grown to nearly 20 employees.


That's a nod to the Right Reason's moderate, controlled growth based around its flagship product, CyberExtension, which targets secondary education and blends advantages of distance education and conventional classrooms to educate non-traditional learners while containing costs. The company's other proprietary learning management system, Right Track, provides organizations with the ability to deliver and track web-based training among employees.


The company was started with a $500,000 federal grant to provide distance learning solutions for high schools and has been bootstrapped ever since. Right Reason is a 2008 graduate of the East Stroudsburg University Accelerator and will be an anchor tenant in ESU's expanded incubator, both of which are in the Pocono Mountains Keystone Innovation Zone.


Mehrtens said Right Reason is focusing on a platform that makes eLearning more of an online marketplace, bringing together people who want to sell their intellectual property in the form of web-based trainings and those who think they can sell it.


"We can give them the tools to do it on their own or do it for them," says Mehrtens. "We're getting that defined. Now it's more about making phone calls and cutting deals."


Right Reason will be honored along with other Innovation Award winners at i xchange 2009 on Tuesday, May 12.


Source: Dave Mehrtens, Right Reasons Technologies
Writer: Joe Petrucci


Electric City to become windy city with $1.1M purchase that will create 100 jobs in Scranton area

A group of 15 Scranton-area business leaders have raised $1.1 million to purchase a 550 kW wind power project that is expected to bring 100 high-paying jobs to the region over the next three years.


Electric City Wind Power, made up mostly of leaders of the natural gas industry, made the purchase from Mass Megawatts in Worcester, Mass. The partners are scouting locations for a new wind turbine manufacturing plant, that will make more compact 65-foot tall turbines in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties.


"(The agreement and partnership) signify a turning point in wind power development here in the Commonwealth," says Christopher T. Powell, a senior partner in Powell Law of Scranton, who represented Electric City Wind Power in negotiations with Mass Megawatts.


The smaller turbines are as powerful as more common versions that reach up to 400-feet high and generate power for homes, farms and small businesses without emitting carbon. Moreover, the smaller turbines have received favorable reaction from municipalities, many of which have enacted ordinances to keep much larger turbines out of their backyards.


Northeast Pa. is considered a wind power-rich area. With more than 60,000 acres of land under leased for natural gas extraction, including thousands of acres rated at Category 3 Wind Classification or better, it was a natural evolution to enter the wind energy business. Electric City Wind Power is in negotiations with more than a dozen potential purchasers, including resorts, universities, industries and municipalities in the six-county Pocono Mountains Region.


"(There's) a ready-made market for the installation of a tremendous load of wind-generated electricity over the coming years," says Powell.


Source: John Powell, Powell Law
Writer: Joe Petrucci

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StarCite puts cost-effective meetings back on agenda

StarCite's recent "Stimulus Plan" promotion is a clear marketing nod to the government's efforts to resuscitate the economy. But considering the national scrutiny of corporate meetings--think AIG's $440,000 soiree to reward its top sellers--and the lost revenue from hotels, resorts, and restaurants as a result of businesses cutting back on gatherings, StarCite's meetings management software might be able to at least give business meetings a jumpstart.


StarCite, based in Philadelphia, is offering its web-based, on-demand technology for free to qualified new customers through June 30 for the remainder of the year. The 10-year-old company claims it's the only true end-to-end meeting management technology platform on the market, automating every facet of corporate meetings and events. That includes planning, budgeting, buying, attendance, payment, and results measurement.


"(We) help corporations manage meetings costs so they can keep the vital programs that are important to a company's growth," says Greg Dukat, CEO of StarCite. "Local hotels and restaurants hosting these events benefit from the valuable revenue stream--making this unique offer a win-win for everyone."


StarCite's technology streamlines most every meeting element, from booking flights and rooms to securing meeting spaces, all through an online marketplace of 93,000 hotels, venues, destinations and supplies. The savings for companies, StarCite touts, can reach 25 percent thanks to a competitive bidding process. Cost control coupled with detailed accounting gives companies the backup it needs should its meeting choices come under fire.


Source:  Greg Dukat, StarCite
Writer: Joe Petrucci



Poconos leading tourism down a green path in PA

When Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau (PMVB) Executive Director Carl Wilgus was at a meeting of his contemporaries last year, he was one of only two to raise their hand when asked who was looking at green strategies.


"It made me feel good that we weren't just following along, that we were already ahead of the path," he says.


With its 2,400 square miles of mountains, lakes and wildlife are its main attraction, it's not surprising that the Poconos is one of the few regions in the Commonwealth to take a serious look at how its tourism impacts the environment, and vice-versa. For its annual Tourism Day conference on May 13, the PMVB will welcome Dr. Suzanne D. Cook, the Senior Vice-President of Research of the U.S. Travel Association, to discuss "The Sustainable Travel Initiative." It's a plan to consolidate key industry information and help tourism businesses stay ahead of the green curve.


The Poconos are a great example. Every Tourism Day, the PMVB includes in a series of awards a Green Award that last year went to The Settlers Inn. The Hawley-based arts and crafts lodge is a member of the Green Hotels Association and uses locally grown, organic produce in its restaurant and practices water and waste conservation.


Appropriately, Cook will speak at Shawnee Inn along the Delaware River. Shawnee has a "Green Team" that ensures the resort is being environmentally sensitive. Another example in the Poconos is Great Wolf Lodge, a new waterpark in Tannersville, which is announcing its "Green Wolf" water conservation initiative today.

Wilgus acknowledged more tourists are seeking green options when they travel, and resorts must understand how to adapt and communicate their best practices to potential visitors.


"The natural environment is our product. That's why people are coming to the Pocono Mountains," says Wilgus. "If we want to preserve and protect that, it only makes sense to take on a more green approach."


Source: Carl Wilgus, Pocono Mountain Vacations Bureau
Writer: Joe Petrucci

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Keystone Automation continues growth trend in NEPA, credits Ben Franklin involvement

Duryea-based Keystone Automation, a company that designs and fabricates machinery for manufacturing, logged its most profitable year ever in 2008, and company President Mike Duffy expects 2009 to be even better.

He credits his company's recent growth and increasing profitability to the involvement of Ben Franklin Technology Partners, whose funding helped Duffy hire a CFO and matched Keystone Automation with a marketing firm to help develop new business.

Duffy founded the company in 1999 and it quickly grew from a one-man operation offering PLC programming and electrical wiring services to a business that employed a handful of engineers and machinists and focused on specialized turnkey machinery design and fabrication. In recent years, as the company pushed into international markets and annual revenues began to reach into the millions, Duffy realized he needed help managing the growth.

"I always try to golf with guys who are better golfers than me, and my game somehow magically improves," he says. "Well, the same holds true with business management and marketing."

With the proper management and organizational assistance in place thanks to Ben Franklin as well as the Northeastern Pennsylvania Alliance, Keystone Automation has continued its expansion; in addition to implementing an internship program, the company recently hired two mechanical engineers and plans to hire at least one more this year, as well as other personnel.

"There's a certain set of skills required to run a multi-million dollar company, and I was reaching the limit of my skill set when Ben Franklin came in and they've been able to take us to the next level," Duffy says.

In the next couple of years, Duffy expects annual revenue to reach $10 million as the company expands its national and international presence. He also has plans to double the size of the company's facility in Duryea with a 20,000-square-foot addition.

Source: Mike Duffy, President of Keystone Automation
Writer: John Davidson

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Philadelphia-based organization puts new spin on commercial farming for the masses

A company dedicated to providing farming and gardening how-to that can rebuild local food systems is using Earth Day to take environmental energy and convert it into fresh fruits and vegetables.


SPIN-Farming LLC describes itself as a multinational cottage industry and is based in Philadelphia and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. It publishes SPIN-Farming and SPIN-Gardening online learning series and conducts workshops. For Earth Day, on April 22, the company is offering a free download that helps show people how they can take food production into their own hands. "Lettuce Rethink How to Farm" is a 15-minute do-it-yourself Power Point presentation that shows those who may have never considered growing their own food how it's possible in inner cities, backyards, or shared spaces.

Christensen says local food production can be an economic growth engine, but that can only happen if farming is "right-sized" to become compatible with densely populated areas and available to more farmers despite land and capital barriers. They're two fronts on which Spin-Farming is working.

"By using backyards and front lawns and neighborhood lots as their land base, SPIN farmers are recasting farming as a small business in a city or town," Christensen says.

SPIN-Farming also recently launched its 16th online guide, 4 Season Marketing, which details how sub-acre farmers can grow their business without expanding their land base. The company is also planning a restaurant marketing guide and a SPIN Factory Farm that will specialize in production on one or two high-value crops and produce them in volume using multi-locational warehouses.

"This is entirely entrepreneurially-driven," says Christensen. "They are creating new businesses that can benefit everyone. Once people put on SPIN glasses, they start to see all sorts of possibilities."

Source: Roxanne Christensen, SPIN-Farming LLC

Writer: Joe Petrucci


USA Technologies making transactions easier, more energy efficient worldwide

Stephen Herbert can't pinpoint the exact time when his company, USA Technologies (USAT) in Malvern, went from a development company to an operating company. That's largely because for the last several years, USAT has quietly emerged to the forefront of the cashless payment revolution and vending market. It's also the result of 69 approved patents and a confluence of technological and societal factors that garnered USAT the No. 6 spot in the country and 26th worldwide by The Nilson Report for Point-of-Sale Terminal Shipments in 2007.

"We held true to our vision and continued to push," says Herbert, the President and COO who has been with the company since 1996. "Now we're seeing the rewards."


Using technology more than a decade in the making, the 17-year-old, 40-employee company is garnering national attention and partnering with global powerhouses like Starbucks, Pepsi, and Wal-Mart as a result of its expanding line of innovative products. They include the ePort cashless payment system, which number 50,000 and can be found in kiosks and unattended point-of-sale markets in every major city in the U.S. and now Canada. USAT's other primary product line, EnergyMisers, significantly reduces the power consumption in more than 200,000 vending machines at major retailers and military bases worldwide.


Herbert points to numerous studies that show consumers prefer to use credit or debit cards for purchases and the emergence of reliable and affordable wireless technology as factors that have opened up the floodgates for companies seeking more efficient ways of doing transactions.


USAT is also dabbling in other markets, like amusements, having partnered with Bensalem-based Merit Entertainment to install cashless payment for 250,000 tabletop gaming systems in high-end nightspots. Herbert cites USAT's mission, "value through innovation," as the driver for its continued growth.


"Our customers and operators of these locations are seeing increases in revenue because of the convenience and utilities savings and they also get operational data," Herbert says. "It's a whole new paradigm."


Source: Stephen Herbert, USA Technologies
Writer: Joe Petrucci

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Smart growth group's awards more than just orchids

It's probably not a coincidence that the 2009 Commonwealth Awards, given annually since 2003 by smart growth advocates 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania, will for the first time include honors for individuals who have contributed valuable influence on their community. 


"It is especially important in this time of severely constrained fiscal resources to promote smart growth design that will help us grow more sustainably," says 10,000 Friends President and CEO Judy Schwank.


The Awards seek innovative smart development and design projects and the visionaries who are leading the way on smart growth from around Pennsylvania. The deadline for submissions is April 3 and the awards will be presented on June 9 at the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts in Harrisburg. Award-winning submissions should reflect the objectives of 10,000 Friends, including revitalizing communities, strengthening land use planning and implementation, reducing congestion and pollution, and preservation of historic, natural, agricultural and recreational resources.


Past winners include the Tom Ridge Environmental Center on Presque Isle in Erie, The Bausman Street Independent Living Center in Allegheny County, the Martin Luther King Plaza in Philadelphia and the Martin Memorial Library in York County. This year, citizens and public officials can be nominated for recognition and will be chosen by 10,000 Friends' Board of Directors.


Another addition to this year's awards program is poster sessions where awards semifinalists will present more in-depth information on their projects.


"Attendees will have the opportunity to learn how they might incorporate smart growth into their work," Schwank says.


Source: Judy Schwank, President and CEO for 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania
Writer: Joe Petrucci


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Longtime Susquehanna Bank lender has advice for entrepreneurs looking for funding

In more than 30 years of making loans at Susquehanna Bank, Lynn Ozer, now an Executive Vice President who works in Small Business Administration (SBA) lending in the bank's Pottstown branch, has been through recessions before.  She says even during those periods, there are entrepreneurs looking for an opportunity.  


It's why she felt like a proud parent when two Susquehanna borrowers, restaurateurs Marco Lentini of Philadelphia and Brian Conrad of North Catasauqua, participated in a roundtable discussion of entrepreneurs with President Barack Obama on March 16. Lentini, who launched and expand his Gia Pronto restaurants over the last six years, and Conrad, who opened Blue Monkey, both used SBA loans through Susquehanna Bank, based in Central Pa. with more than 200 branches in the Mid-Atlantic.


Despite an impression that banks are not lending, Ozer used the recent presidential attention to let entrepreneurs know that her bank indeed is lending, and she used Lentini and Conrad as examples of how to make an application successful.


"We're poised to lend, we want to lend," Ozer says. "We still lend prudently and with an SBA guarantee we can do more than a conventional lender."


Last year, Susquehanna Bank received a $300 million investment through the U.S. Treasury Department's Capital Purchase Program and through January, the bank had used the capital to support $148 million in loan growth. To successfully apply for some of the remaining $152 million, Ozer says, entrepreneurs should focus on their business plan (including financial
projections), a down payment or collateral, and a solid credit rating.


"Marco didn't just come to us with recipes," Ozer says. "We're looking for relationships. If we can help someone with a business loan, that's a great foundation to build a banking relationship."


Source:  Lynn Ozer, Executive Vice President for Susquehanna Bank
Writer: Joe Petrucci


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Wilkes-Barre's AllOneHealth expands access to personal health wireless application to nearly 400,000

Frank Avignone says Americans are being urged to take their health back into their own hands. Avignone's AllOneHealth, headquartered in Wilkes-Barre, is providing them the tool with which to regain responsibility in AllOneMobile, a wireless application that manages personal health and insurance information. 


Agreements finalized earlier this month with insurers Significa and Erin Group expand the company's reach outside its home base--AllOneMobile was first launched last April to 350,000 members of Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania--to more than 42,000 potential users as nearby as Maryland and Ohio and as far away as Arizona.


"The shift is occurring now," says Avignone, Sr. Dir. for AllOneMobile Sales and Business Development. "The insurance plans are behind it, they've invested a lot of money in health and wellness products; and the employers are behind it, obviously for increased productivity."


Through their mobile phones, users can view and send insurance coverage information, track prescriptions, catalog allergies, send a family health history to a physician, and access health tips for chronic conditions.


"More and more money is coming out of your pocket for healthcare, it's just like managing your bank account," says Avignone. "This tool is going to help you pay more attention to your healthcare."


Avignone says AllOneHealth opened an additional office in Plymouth Meeting late last year and added a smattering of salespeople. He says the company's focus will remain on insurance plans to bring AllOneMobile to their membership, including a major push for BlueCross BlueShield Association providers. Avignone hopes to be talking about millions of potential users by this time next year.


"We're in negotiations with Highmark and had other conversations with other plans in Pennsylvania," says Avignone. "This has a huge intrinsic value to those who use it."


Source: Frank Avignone, Sr. Dir. AllOneMobile Sales and Business Development
Writer: Joe Petrucci


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UPenn student's DormNoise hopes to catch on to co-ed's calendars

Considering how Facebook established its social networking on college campuses before explosive  mainstream growth, University of Pennsylvania sophomore Jay Rodrigues may be onto the next big thing at universities across the country.


His online startup DormNoise isn’t technically social networking, but it has a palpable social theme (and it doesn’t involve late-night decibels, as the name might imply). It's a seamless calendaring and event planning tool for college students and groups that allows them to manage their personal, student group and campus schedules and create events. The site, which launched last week, is free to join and use for students with a valid ".edu" email account, and syncs with students' third-party applications like Outlook or iCal calendars.

Rodrigues, 20, admits he originally envisioned a social networking site when the idea was born during downtime at the end of his senior year of high school. The college experience, however, changed that.

''There had really been no way on the Web for students to plan and view events on different levels in an organized manner,'' Rodrigues says. ''It's definitely a social Web site, but it's about planning and organizing events... a lot more of a tool than a social network.''

For DormNoise's beta launch, which included 3,000 users, Rodrigues marketed the company heavily, distributing 14,000 t-shirts on campuses and handing out DormNoise bottle openers to fraternities and sororities. Now, the marketing approach is more viral, targeting social tools like Twitter, blogs and college newspapers. As a bonus, DormNoise shares 50 percent of its revenues with participating schools' student governments.

Although DormNoise is very different, he hopes it can follow a similar path as its social networking counterparts.

''As you know, once these things get started, it will keep going,'' he says. ''I think it will really improve the lives of college students.''

Source:  Jay Rodrigues, Creator of DormNoise
Writer: Joe Petrucci

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New Wilkes-Barre area company looks to dial into digital TV revolution

Gary Zurenda is on a mission to make sure everyone--the poor, shut-ins, and elderly--are not left out of the digital television revolution, which has been pushed back to June 12 mostly because many weren't quite ready. Zurenda sure is.


His start-up company, Home Stations Installations (HSI) in West Pittston, Luzerne County, opened in an 18,000 square foot facility that will serve as a call center for at least 50-100 customer service representatives that will deploy thousands of installers of digital antennas and converter boxes nationwide.


For about $150, HIS will install a digital antenna and converter box that will provide 25 digital-quality channels for free. That means HSI will challenge the giants of the cable and satellite TV world who offer more channels--many some subscribers don't care to watch but have to pay for--and a monthly bill.


Zurenda is already spreading the word about the availability of free digital TV through t-shirts that shout ''I want my free DTV'' and bilingual advertising. He has also spoken to area politicians about the coupons the federal government is offering households and how they're leaving out a significant portion of the population.

''The people who really need them are elderly and don’t have Internet access, or are poor and can’t afford another monthly bill,'' he says. ''Once we install, you don't have a monthly bill to pay. It’s free.''

Zurenda said HSI offers discounts for veterans and senior centers.


''That's why we started, because people are getting gouged."


Source: Gary Zurenda, President of Home Stations Installations
Writer: Joe Petrucci

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From newlyweds to manly men: Poconos recognized on cable special for its masculine adventures

Carl Wilgus has only been the Executive Director for the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau for about a year, but he knows exactly how many resorts in the region still have heart- or champagne glass-shaped tubs--three of about 500. Those tubs once pulled in droves of newlyweds a generation ago but now, even though they number only a few dozen, only serve as a punch line that detracts attention from the region's vast indoor and outdoor offerings for tourists of all kinds.


With one two-minute segment, the Travel Channel may have helped the Poconos shed that cheesy reputation once and for all. Skirmish Paintball's ''Invasion of Normandy'' game was selected as the eighth-most ''Manly Man Adventure Vacation'' and was featured as part of the cable channel's "21" series that first aired on March 5.


Wilgus was thrilled with the Poconos' inclusion.


''It stayed with us a long time, but we've substantially moved beyond it,'' Wilgus said of the Poconos’ newlywed rep. While Wilgus stopped short of declaring the Poconos a man's world, he said it brings the region ''into the discussion for that targeted audience.''


''We've looked at niche marketing and we've been doing that since we went through a rebranding two years ago,'' he said. ''It's really around active, outdoor adventure. Skirmish is part of that.''


Skirmish, located in Jim Thorpe--known as the Gateway to the Poconos--in Carbon County, has capped participation at a whopping 3,500 for its Normandy battle in July. It only costs $59, Wilgus said, for the three-day event.


Source: Carl Wilgus, Executive Director for Pocono Mountain Visitors Bureau
Writer: Joe Petrucci

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Regional job board comes full circle with award

More than 10 years ago, JobCircle was a niche IT job board. Now, it serves all industries in the mid-Atlantic region and recently earned its second consecutive User's Choice Award from Weddie's, the leading publisher of print guides to job boards. More than 50,000 ballots were cast for sites vying for the award, which is bestowed upon only 30 job boards globally.


''With over 50,000 job boards and career portals on the Web, we are happy that both jobseekers and recruiters find value in our site,'' says JobCircle VP of Marketing Marisa Cogan.


The West Chester-based company, which was honored along with nationally recognized job boards like Monster, Indeed and CareerBuilder, boasts 550,000 members and averages over 1,000 new resume submissions daily. But it's more than a job board. For the last six years, it has hosted large and well-known job fairs in the region. Cogan says that because JobCircle is a local company, it gets to know clients on a personal level.


''They are not just a username to us, as may be the case with other job boards,'' she says. ''We are also very cost efficient and effective. When recruiters are looking for a local candidate they can be assured that they are not wasting any of their budget targeting national candidates.''


Quarterly and annual job board memberships on JobCircle include unlimited job postings. Jobseekers can take advantage of e-mail blasts to save time on circulating their resumes and also utilize VoiceIntro, which allows them to record a 60-second audio introduction to their resume.


Source: Marisa Cogan, Vice President of Marketing for JobCircle
Writer: Joe Petrucci


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World Green Energy Symposium invites award nominations for PA green leaders

Do you know individuals who have been making a major contribution to the future of a green, energy-efficient world? The 2009 World Green Energy Symposium, scheduled for September 13-15, at the Wachovia Arena, Wilkes-Barre, will recognize leaders in green energy at both global and regional levels--and nominations for these awards are open until April 30.

The symposium plans to create an international focus on technologies, policies, economic and environmental planning, business and investment practices, and scientific research that are leading the world toward sustainable energy practices.

To create that recognition of green energy implementers, the symposium is accepting nominations here  of journalists, influential organizations, nonprofits, innovators in government construction, and companies employing green energy technology with special awards. Individuals whose careers have been distinguished by promotion of green technology in government, industry, and entertainment will also be recognized--a group that will be topped by 2009 World Green Energy Awards of the year for a person and a business of the year.

Additionally, a group of awards will also recognize the importance of regional contributions to the future of world energy consumption for best green building design, application of green technology, leadership and advocacy by an individual and a nonprofit, and the best green business of the year. Nominations and more information can be obtained from Elizabeth Zygmunt of Times-Shamrock Publications, a sponsor of the event.

"The awards committee wants to make sure that those who are advancing education, promotion and implementation of green energy policies statewide have an opportunity to be recognized," Symposium organizer Daisy Gallagher of Gallagher & Gallagher Worldwide Inc, says.

Source: World Green Energy Symposium, Daisy Gallagher
Writer: Joseph Plummer
 
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Green symposium plans to create worldwide alternative-energy agenda in NEPA

Innovative ideas for--and examples of--green energy development and production will fuel the World Green Energy Symposium, which is being planned as an international exposition that highlights new energy as the number one opportunity for economic and technological development in northeast Pennsylvania. It also promises to be the first meeting of its kind to bring to the region an international gathering of technologists, policymakers, and investors focused on business opportunities for green energy.  

The symposium will be held September 13-15 at Wachovia Arena, home of the Wilkes Barre-Scranton Penguins. Karen Ostroskie, program manager of the Procurement Technical Assistance Center in Pittston, says that the symposium planners hope to draw an audience of more than 5,000 from Pennsylvania and other states and countries to the symposium, which will carry the theme, "The Power of Energy."

In addition to the Northeast PA Alliance, which Ostroskie represents, symposium planners are seeking to recruit numerous national, state, and regional organizations from private, public, and non-profit sectors with a direct interest in alternative energy. Current participants identified with the program include the NEPA Alliance, the Northeast Pennsylvania Business Journal, the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeast PA, regional hospitality and tourism interests, including the Woodlands and Mohegan Sun, as well as the New Energy Wind and Solar Showcase US.

More than 25 universities will be participating in the project, according to Daisy Gallagher, a partner in Gallagher + Gallagher Worldwide Inc, a marketing firm. Student audiences will have an opportunity to hear leading experts from science, government, business, and many other domains of interest in new and alternative energy address the symposium.

The agenda, to be developed over the next eight and a half months, will organize the three-day event around expositions of alternative and green energy technologies and projects, sessions on business, investment and policy, Ostroskie says. "We would love to see this region as the Silicon Valley for energy."

Sources: World Green Energy Symposium, Daisy Gallagher, Karen Ostroskie
Writer: Joseph Plummer

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Junior Achievement of Northeast PA helping to prepare high school students for high-tech careers

Junior Achievement of Northeast PA, one of only two JA's in the U.S. able to run either JA BizTown or JA Finance Parks in the same space, has formed a $374,000 partnership with Wilkes University for a new addition to curriculum for high school students.

JA-NEPA offers one of the most complete menus of elementary, middle and high school programs anywhere in the JA movement, served to a 13-county region around its headquarters in Pittston Township, Luzerne County, and reaching into 88 school districts. The group provides some 10,000 school children with highly interactive study programs that emphasize the relevance of education to the workplace.

The nonprofit also welcomes busloads of students from schools all over the region to the 15,000 square-feet JA Mericle Family Center for Enterprise Education, which houses JA Biz Town and JA Finance Park. Students come throughout the year to play at the practical side of creating an enterprise and managing wealth.

The catalyst for the addition--as well as the source of the revenue--is Wall Street West, the massive infrastructure plan to create in the Northeastern corner of Pennsylvania a full-scale replication of the financial data information systems in Manhattan as a safeguard against catastrophic loss. As that plan evolves, the region is focusing more resources on workforce development, and JA-NEPA is carving out a role for itself in supporting the region's economic development goals.

The proposed JA Career Exploration Odyssey--or JA CEO-- will launch in a pilot phase this spring ahead of full launch in the next school year. It will offer high school students insight into career opportunities in fields of high-growth employment, particularly financial services and information technology, which will require workers in the region for the Wall Street West.

"It will also give students an opportunity to go through a simulation where they actually conduct a job search, go to a job fair and start a fictitious job," says Kathleen Matthews, President of JA-NEPA. As part of that experience, they will also make decisions based on the fictitious roles, as individuals and members of teams.

Source: Junior Achievement of Northeastern PA, Kathleen Matthews, Barbara Vitcosky
Writer: Joseph Plummer
 
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PennFuture opens office in Wilkes-Barre

PennFuture, a statewide environmental advocacy group, has opened an office in downtown Wilkes-Barre, its sixth in the Commonwealth.
 
Founded in 1998 and formally named Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, PennFuture also has offices in Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, West Chester and Doylestown.
 
Pam Fendrock, who is staffing the one-person office, has been with the group on a part-time basis since July 2007. "During that year, we found more and more interest in the kind of work we do and more and more need for the kind of work we do," she says. "So we decided to create an office here in the northeast. We have for years done work here, we are not new to the area, but having a physical presence is new."
 
Although Fendrock is currently the only full-time staffer, she plans to cull interns from local colleges and universities, where much of the organization's energy is already focused. PennFuture hosted a daylong conference on global warming in May at the University of Scranton, and another is planned for spring 2009.
 
"There is also more and more interest in issues relating to the Marcellus Shale and natural gas drilling," Fendrock says. "And we foresee more interest in that moving forward. Our concern is in how the drilling might effect water supply and water-related issues, and we want to make sure that it is done in a way that does not harm the water supply."
 
PennFuture will host an open house at its new Wilkes-Barre office on Thursday, Dec. 4 from 5 to 7 p.m.
 
Source: PennFuture, Pam Fendrock
Writer: John Davidson
 
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Ben Franklin to invest more than $1.1M in regional economies

The Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania announced Tuesday it will invest $1,144,400 in support of regional economic development. Nine early stage technology companies, two established manufacturers, and four business technology infrastructure initiatives will get a shot in the arm from BFTP.
 
Some tech companies will receive as much $150,000 from BFTP, including East Stroudsburg-based DMI Manufacturing Inc., Icon Legacy Custom Modular Homes LLC in Snyder County, Discovery Machine Inc. of Williamsport, Target-In and Viddler Inc., both in Bethlehem.
 
For Discovery Machine, the funds will make it possible for the company to expand into the private sector. "Making the transition from government work to the commercial service sector isn't easy, and Ben Franklin have been great to work throughout the process," says co-founder Todd Griffith.
 
Other tech firms receiving Ben Franklin funds are Cambrian Bio-Technologies Inc. ($75,000), eVendor Check Inc. ($35,000), Johnson-McCormick Technologies LLC ($50,000), and Pennsylvania Sustainable Technologies LLC ($50,000).
 
Two established manufacturers will also receive funding. Milton-based Clark Technology Systems Inc., a fabricator of lubrication equipment for chemical industries and refineries, will get $50,000 to establish a process management system for continuous improvement. Michelman-Cancielliere Iron Works Inc. in Lehigh Valley, steel fabrication, construction, and engineering firm, will get $14,400 to devise a plan to increase efficiency and reduce costs.
 
Four business technology support organizations are slated to get help from BFTP as well: $75,000 to NCC Coatings and Ink Research Institute; $20,000 to the Northeastern PA Keystone Innovation Zone; $10,000 to the Pennsylvania Angel Network; and $15,000 to the Pocono Mountains Keystone Innovation Zone.
 
Source: Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania, Todd Griffith
Writer: John Davidson
 
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Scent-Sations Inc. expands in Wilkes-Barre

One of a precious few gourmet candle manufacturers in the U.S. has recently expanded its operations in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
 
Scent-Sations Inc., a company organized on the direct selling model, has leased 10,000 square feet of warehouse space in the city to augment its 31,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, says VP Charles Umphred.
 
The success of Scent-Sations, founded in 2002 in Umphred's basement, has been dramatic. Partnering with longtime venture capital and direct marketing partner Bob Scocozzo, and candlemaker Carmen Milazzo, Umphred says their business has seen annual growth of 30 to 40 percent since 2002. Scent-Sations sales were about $15 million last year and expected to exceed that in 2008.
 
"Our goal is to be a $100 million company, and there's a specific reason for that," says Umphred. "We look at the billion-dollar gourmet candle industry, and we ask ourselves, can we get 10 percent of this growth? Our five-year plan from today is to hit $50 million in sales, and our five-year plan from there is to hit another $50 million."
 
Also known as multi-level marketing, direct selling consists of a network of part-time sales reps selling directly to customers, rather than to stores. Scent-Sations now has more than 10,000 sales reps nationwide and employs nearly 100 workers at its headquarters in Wilkes-Barre, where all the company's candles and other scented products are made.
 
Scent-Sations' candles are made with natural waxes that give off less soot than paraffin--a detail that Umphred thinks has been the key to the company's success.
 
Source: Charles Umphred, VP Scent-Sations Inc.
Writer: John Davidson
 
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Marywood University advances green design and gives Northeast PA first architecture school

Sustainable building practices will gain a new foundation in northeast Pennsylvania next year when Marywood University opens the region's first School of Architecture.  

Promising a commitment to environmental stewardship and principles of "green building" design, University President Sister Anne Munley said that students can enter the new school's program next August in time for the 2009-2010 academic year.

Marywood, a private, coeducational, Catholic university of 3,400 full- and part-time students, located in Scranton, will house the School of Architecture in the campus' former health and physical education building.  The renovated space will offer student architects a spacious, state-of-the-art facility, said President Munley, who has served as the university's 11th chief executive since January 2007.  

A member of the U.S. Green Building Council, the university will orient its architectural program toward advanced knowledge and skills in sustainable design.  As part of the program, students will be prepared for LEED Professional Accreditation.  "Our goal is to produce a new generation of architects - environmental stewards - who will assume major responsibility for creating, building, and rebuilding sustainable structural environments for the region, nation, and world," she said.

Gregory K. Hunt, FAIA, will head the program, which will offer students two paths of study -- a pre-professional, 4 -year track, as a Bachelor of Environmental Design in Architecture and a professional track that includes a 5-year, Bachelor of Architecture and a 6-year Master of Architecture.  Hunt was formerly Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at Catholic University of America, full professor at Virginia Tech University's College of Architecture and Urban Studies, and vice chairman and director of design for Leo A. Daly, an international firm specializing in all aspects of building planning and design.  

Source: Marywood University
Writer: Joseph Plummer

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Two of 10 National Small Business Energy Star Awards go to PA companies

Two Pennsylvania companies were among 10 this year to receive an Energy Star Small Business Award for their efforts to conserve energy and prevent pollution.
 
Energy Star, a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, awarded Pine Forest Camps in Greely, and Priority Communications in DuBois, where owner Joe Philippone saved an estimated  $11,700 as a result of changes in lighting and heating.
 
Pine Forest Camps operates three camps in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains, and Director Mickey Black wanted to lower the costs of the camp's operations, especially for electricity and propane. Black worked with the Environmental Management Assistance Program to find efficiencies in lighting, water and pool heating, and food refrigeration. After reductions of more than 31,000 kWh of electricity and 4,000 gallons of propane, representing a reduction in annual greenhouse gas emissions of over 50 tons (the equivalent CO2 emissions from the electricity use of six homes) Black reported nearly $13,000 in savings in annual energy costs.
 
Both small businesses were clients of the Pennsylvania Small Business Development Centers' Environmental Management Assistance Program, which provides small businesses in Pennsylvania with free energy efficiency consulting services.
 
Two Pennsylvania businesses received Energy Star awards in 2007: Central PA Settlement LLC in Bedford, and Sendell Motors Inc. Greensburg.
 
Source: Energy Star, Pennsylvania Small Business Development Centers
Writer: John Davidson
 
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Synergis Engineering Design Solutions opens Autodesk training centers in Wilkes-Barre, State College

Wilkes-Barre and State College are the latest Commonwealth cities to get Autodesk Authorized Training Centers from Synergis Engineering Design Solutions, a division of Synergis Technologies Inc., the company announced Wednesday. The software training centers will include services and support for design professionals.

An ATC location has also opened in Morristown, N.J., the company said. The new training centers are designed to meet increased demand for training from the active community of design professionals in the Northern Pennsylvania and North Jersey region.

The addition of these new offices continues the expansion of Synergis Engineering Design Solutions in Pennsylvania. The State College training center also involves a strategic partnership between Synergis and South Hills Schools of Business and Technology, which will enhance and expand the school's continuing education program.

Jeff Stachowski, corporate training director of South Hills Schools of Business and Technology, says the State College region is a hotbed for engineering and architectural firms: "Our students are going to be learning from the best of the best and get to learn alongside of students who are already experts, working in the field."

The two new Pennsylvania training centers complement Synergis ATC locations in Quakertown, Philadelphia, York and King of Prussia.

Source: PR Newswire
Writer: John Davidson

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Ben Franklin to invest $660,195 in tech ventures, incubators

Two early-stage technology companies, two established manufacturers, and eight business incubators are getting a shot in the arm from the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania, which recently approved investments totaling $660,195.

GrantAdler, a tech venture out of Bethlehem, will receive $150,000 from BFTP to launch the Rhapsody product line, a new series of pre-sized catheters for vascular access. GrantAdler also plans to develop and market an implantable blood access device for dialysis.

Store Eyes, Inc., an in-store compliance monitoring company in Allentown, will receive $150,000 to conduct beta testing to demonstrate the performance of a device that captures and reports merchandising conditions at retail stores. The information gathered by the Store Eyes’ “Mobile Capture Unit” will provide real-time intelligence of retail merchandising compliance for both retailer and manufacturer.

Lycoming College is partnering with BFTP to invest $59,945 in the Cromaglass Corporation in Williamsport to obtain environmental technology verification for a new waste water treatment system. Cromaglass technology is used for nutrient removal in environmentally sensitive areas, such as the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, for waste water recycling and reuse. The company will team up with Lycoming College to verify the system’s ability to remove pollutants from waste water.

Hill Crest Laminating, LLC, in Danville, will receive $35,000 to develop a comprehensive marketing plan and financial strategy to help the company expand. Hill Crest laminates fabric to foam and other substrates for a variety of clients and applications.

Ben Franklin TechVentures, BFTP’s new incubator/post-incubator facility, builds on the success of the Ben Franklin Business Incubator based at Lehigh University. Eight of the ten business incubators in the Northeast Pennsylvania network will receive funding from BFTP: Bridgeworks Enterprise Center in Allentown ($30,000), Carbondale Technology Transfer Center ($30,000), East Stroudsburg University Business Accelerator ($40,500), Innovation Center @ Wilkes-Barre ($42,750), Hazleton CAN BE Incubator ($37,500), Pottsville/Schuylkill Technology Incubator ($18,000), Scranton Enterprise Center ($34,500), and Sayre Enterprise Center ($32,000).

Source: Laura S. Eppler, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania
Writer John Davidson
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