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Allentown encouraged to reclaim manufacturing status

Published On: Nov 15 2013 07:16:50 AM CST
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

According to economic development research recommendations recently commissioned by the city, Allentown is a prime place to work, live and play.

The city's Department of Community and Economic Development and the Allentown Economic Development Corporation Thursday night presented a fairly lengthy slideshow of strategies, recommendations, demographics, and ideas on what it would take to entice small and medium-sized manufacturers to open plants and bring higher paying jobs back to the city.

The entire effort is being titled "Envision Lehigh Valley: Allentown's Sustainable Development Project."

The pubic presentation was held in the auditorium of the Lehigh Valley Health Network facility located on Mack Boulevard in Allentown, which served as the previous corporate headquarters for Mack Trucks.

And ironically, the former Mack offices were named along with the now defunct Allentown Metal Works and city incinerator sites as favorable locations on the "Little Lehigh" corridor to be developed for industrial use, noted Jim Damicis, senior vice president at Camoin Associates, a Saratoga Springs, NY, economic development company that formed the re-industrialization plan.

Damicis reported that Camoin Associates, along with Conshohocken, Pa.-based architectural and engineering firm Bergmann and Associates found Allentown to be a "manufacturing city located in a manufacturing region" that needs to strengthen its workforce, awaken its building environment, capture the energy of entrepreneurial development, and connect with other Lehigh Valley entities including schools and businesses.

Damicis said Allentown has a very diversified manufacturing base with the top industrial sectors being medical/surgical equipment, fabricated metals, food products, and machinery.

He added there is growth in plastics, electrical, batteries, and rubber products with further opportunities in niche manufacturing such as biological, nanotechnology, and molecular-based manufacturing.

Damicis said Allentown has to be properly marketed to potential new businesses by selling them on the city's lower labor and space costs, existing infrastructure, city services, and the direct accessibility of the city population to the labor market.

He further suggested bringing supply chain and component parts makers to Allentown, because the city already has warehousing and transportation entities.

Damicis offered the analogy, " It's not about making the whole chair any longer, but producing the fabric for the back of the chair."

Providing well-paying jobs close to home for inner-city residents who can walk, bike or bus to work is the main objective of the entire program, wrote Mike Moore, communications coordinator for Mayor Ed Pawlowski's' office.

Changes in energy availability, rising wages overseas, and increased technology have all contributed to the increase in American manufacturing, explained Moore.

Moore noted the program is paid for with a Regional Sustainability Planning Grant received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and administered through the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation.

City Planning Director Michael Hefele said the entire draft report will be available on the City of Allentown's website beginning Friday, with public comments being accepted until Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28.