Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What's going on with TTIP and TPP from the Chamber's International Business Council VP Timothy D. Charlesworth

What’s Going on with TTIP and TPP?

by Timothy D. Charlesworth, Fitzpatrick Lentz & Bubba, P.C.
International Business Council Vice President




In the U.S. news media, it is hard to avoid stories regarding the importance of international trade.  Importing and exporting are both crucial to our economy.  Among the recent topics is the potential for a U.S./European Union trade partnership (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership - TTIP).  Although negotiations on that pact continue, President Obama is also pushing to obtain “fast track authority” to assemble a Trans-Pacific trade arrangement (TPP) involving 12 nations.  The Administration’s objective is to open new markets to U.S. goods by reducing or eliminating duties and other non-tariff trade barriers.  Many U.S. business people see the advantages of a more open market.  On the other side of the argument, there are concerns about U.S. job losses (due to increased competition from companies in Asia), as well as questionable adherence to environmental and labor standards by some in the Asia/Pacific region. 

The current proposal has resulted in heated debate in Congress.  At this point, it is impossible to say whether the President will be granted “fast track” authority to negotiate this deal or if the Trans-Pacific Partnership will ultimately occur at all.  Proponents of free trade generally favor these proposals.  The Washington Post reported the results of a recent Pew research center poll. That poll “found that 58% of those surveyed, including a majority of Democrats, said free trade agreements have been good for the U.S.  Moreover, when Pew asked Americans to list their top priorities for the President and Congress this year, global trade ranked 23rd.”

We in the Lehigh Valley need to stay informed and take appropriate action to remain competitive in the global marketplace.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Good transportation is a quality of life issue.








Nancy Dischinat, Executive Director
Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board, Inc.

Good transportation is a quality of life issue.  Transportation infrastructure is crucial to drawing employers to the Lehigh Valley and recruiting a workforce.   The Lehigh Valley is experiencing rapid growth--with more people, more businesses and more freight now and in the near future-- there is a pressing need for infrastructure renewal which could cost about $2.5 billion.

Pennsylvania has 4,000 bridges that are structurally deficient and 10,000 miles of roadway in poor condition according to Pennsylvania Transportation Secretary Leslie Richards, who made her first visit to the Lehigh Valley since becoming transportation secretary in April.

Richards spoke to a crowd of 200 business and political leaders at the annual Lehigh Valley Transportation Forum hosted by The Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce at the Mack Truck Service Center in Allentown.

Richards’ provided a state-level view of Pennsylvania and explained how the federal Highway Trust Fund needs to be extended meaningfully. Currently it is being sustained month to month by emergency congressional action and help from the new 28-cent gas tax, but completing the repair job will require much cooperation from Congress.

“Call your Congressman,” Richards Said. “Keep the pressure on them, there’s a few around this room.”

Offering a more local point of view, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission released an anticipated long-range transportation plan that layed out the projects the area will need to support the continued growth over the next 15 years and how it plans to pay for them. Becky Bradley, the Executive Director of LVPC, spoke specifically about plans for the Lehigh Valley.

“Good transportation systems are crucial to supporting the rapid growth of the area,” said Bradley. Relating to Richards about needing Congress’ help, Bradley also stated how 80 percent of the funding for road projects in the area originates in the federal government.

A panel discussion with Secretary Richards’, moderated by Tony Iannelli, provided a framework of moving forward on highlighted transportation issues.


Monday, July 27, 2015

The Chamber's Manufacturing Council July letter from Vice Chair Scott Palochick


By Scott Palochik, Enterprise Systems Partners, Inc
Manufacturing Council, Vice Chair


The Manufacturing Council of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce had a unique opportunity for the manufacturers in the Lehigh Valley on May 20.  Members of the Pennsylvania House Manufacturing Caucus came to listen to suggestions and offer answers to questions on a wide range of topics from our members.  Co-Chairs Rep. Eli Evankovich (R-54) and Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D-132) were joined by Rep. Gary Day, Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, and Rep. Peter Schweyer for the event.

Some of the topics discussed ranged from infrastructure with the upcoming Route 22 expansion project and plans for rail revitalization; to education issues dealing with work force and continuing education availability. The legislators answered some questions and took with them suggestions and ideas for areas of improvement for manufacturers at the state level. Our legislators are interested in hearing more ideas from manufacturers and encouraged everyone to use them as resources when issues arise.

For our next summit we are planning a breakfast format at the Hotel Bethlehem.  We have had some members say that a breakfast format would be a great change of pace. Look out for additional details for this upcoming fall event.  Have a GREAT summer!


If you are interested in participating or have suggestions for topics you would like us to address please contact Scott Palochik via e-mail at SPalochik@ent-sys.com

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Chamber's July letter from John Hayes, President of the Emmaus Main Street Partners



By John Hayes, AFC First Financial Corporation
President, Emmaus Main Street Partners (EMSP) President


Greetings all, and thank you to my fellow EMSP board members for electing me President of the Emmaus Main Street Partners. 

Leading up to the election, my good friend Rick Zayaits said, “Are we sure we want John?  He likes to start fires.”  And despite that glowing endorsement, here I am!   Kidding aside, we have a great board, growing membership, fantastic staff in Jessica O’Donnell and Emily Gerber, and a great future lies ahead. 

First and foremost, thank you to Jeff McElhaney for his service as President.  His leadership guided us during a challenging and successful transition year, and he leaves things in great shape.  On behalf of all of us, thanks Jeff!  Thanks also Teri McManamon, who is retiring from the board after many years of service.  She’ll continue to be involved as chair of the Economic Development Committee, and has been invaluable in many ways.  Thank you as well Teri!

Great things have been going on lately.  The EMSP partnered with the LGBT Council and the East Penn Chamber to host a HALO event at Funk’s Brewing Company.   A fun time was had by all and proceeds benefitted the Emmaus Angel Network.  If you haven’t gotten to Funk’s yet, put it on your list and have the Irish Rover.

Our annual golf tournament was a smashing success!  One hundred twenty-eight golfers teed it up at Green Pond Country Club, enjoying fair weather, great conditions and valuable prizes.  You’ll definitely want to put this event on your calendar next year.

Enjoy the summer, it’s a great day in Emmaus!


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Are you claiming your WOTC dollars?








Nancy Dischinat, Executive Director, Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board

Are you claiming your WOTC dollars?

            

Each year, tax credits dollars go unclaimed, despite the fact employers are hiring workers every day from the target groups designated by the Work Opportunity Tax Credits (WOTC) program. Barriers to employment for target groups such as: unemployed veterans, human service recipients and ex-offenders, could be a hiring advantage for employers!  When you hire these candidates, you could receive thousands in tax credits. PA CareerLink Lehigh Valley is your workforce partner in assisting you with these candidates and programs.
            Work Opportunity Tax Credits is an easy to use federal tax credit available to employers who hire individuals from target groups. WOTC is a great way for employers to reduce income tax liability. Under this program, nationally employers claim about $1 billion in tax credits each year and there is no limit on the number of individuals an employer can hire. The tax credit employers can claim depends on the certain group of the individual hired, the wages paid to that person in the first year of employment and the number of hours they worked. There is also a maximum tax credit that can be earned.
             With various tax credit programs out there, employers are concerned that there are too many requirements and/or hoops to jump through for eligibility. There are only two major requirements with this program. The first is that new hires must work a minimum of 120 hours and secondly all forms must be submitted within 28 days of the new hire’s start date.
            As stated before, there is no limit to the number of new hires. A few other positives of the program are that any size employer can benefit, employers decide on their own whom they want to hire and minimal paperwork is required to request the tax credit. 
            Saving money is another financial positive for employers. When working with WOTC, you can save a maximum tax credit ranging from $1,200 to $9,600. To benefit from the tax credits, you’re going to have to find some employees first. The list of who qualifies is more extensive than the three groups listed above. Employers can claim WOTC for the following targeted groups: Veterans (5 categories), TANF Recipients, SNAP Recipients, Designated Community Residents, Vocational Rehabilitation Referral, ex-felons, Supplemental Security Income Recipients and Summer Youth.  This website offers more details about the target groups. http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/employment_tax_credits/10569
            There are 4 steps to apply for WOTC. The first is to complete page 1 of IRS Form 8850 by the day the job offer is made. Second is to complete page 2 of IRS Form 8850 after the individual is hired. Third is to complete ETA Form 9061. Fourth, applications are submitted electronically via www.cwds.pa.gov
            The PA CareerLink LV and LV Workforce Investment Board are prepared to assist with WOTC program questions. Please call the Business Engagement Services Team at 610-437-5627 x136 for more information.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

July's Economic Outlook from Dr. Kamran Afshar, Chamber Chief Economist

By Dr. Kamran Afshar, Chamber Chief Economist
The Chamber’s Finance Committee

 What happened to the 25¢ a gallon gasoline?

Oil prices dropped rapidly during the 2nd half of last year through January of this year. Falling from more than $107 a barrel in June 2014 to $46 in January 2015. A whopping drop of 56% in 31 weeks. During that period gasoline prices dropped by 45%, this is an exceptionally large decline generally the drop in gasoline prices is close to half the drop in oil prices. However, gasoline prices have already risen by 34% since their January lows and appear to be continuing to rise.

The reason for the collapse of oil prices last year was the oil glut on the international market. The U.S. is producing more oil at home while the other major producers have not attempted to curb their production; nobody wants to lose any market share.

While it may make us feel good that gasoline prices have dropped, we shouldn’t get too comfortable with it. Many of us remember that this is not the first time we’ve seen a huge drop in oil prices to be followed with prices going back up again.

In 2012, oil prices dropped by 25% inside of 4 months, with a subsequent 15% drop in gasoline prices. A time prior to that was in 2011 when oil prices dropped by more than 27% in a 6 month period. This was accompanied by only a 14% drop in gasoline prices. However, the longest period of decline in oil prices since the 1970s, happened during the 1997-99 period when oil prices dropped by a whopping 57% during a long 100 week period, with an accompanying 27% drop in gasoline prices.

Oil prices have been rising since January, however, and as of this writing, oil prices are still 45% below their June 2014 level. Gasoline prices are now 26% below last June’s level.

An old friend of mine, well, older than me, asked what happened to the 25¢ a gallon gasoline. I checked the numbers and discovered that in the first place my friend is a lot older than I thought; that is because the last time gasoline prices were that low was in 1949. And gasoline prices held below 50¢ a gallon all the way to 1973. From then on prices started to go up rapidly. These numbers however, are grossly misleading, back then the price of everything was lower, so were wages and salaries.  On average, prices have risen 10 fold since 1949. And when adjusted for inflation gasoline prices were $2.66 a gallon in 1949 in today’s dollars.


A more interesting find in the review of gasoline prices over the last 65 years was that gasoline prices, in today’s dollars, have oscillated between 2 to 3 dollars a gallon for most of this period. The average inflation adjusted price of gasoline for the last 65 years was $2.47 a gallon. Contrary to appearances, gasoline prices, after adjustment for inflation have been very stable over the last 65 years. And when adjusting gasoline prices for inflation, the average per gallon price of gasoline for the first 5 months of 2015 drops to 23¢ in 1949!    

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Business Roundtable with Secretary Kathy Manderino!




Nancy Dischinat, Executive Director, Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board



The Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board were honored to host Pennsylvania Secretary of Labor and Industry, Kathy Manderino, for a business roundtable and her first visit to the Lehigh Valley as Secretary!

The forum was held at the Pennsylvania CareerLink Lehigh Valley and highlighted Governor Wolf's focus on education and workforce development. Wolf's goals are initially connecting education with the workforce to create strong middle class jobs. However, the road block is that many communities don't have sufficient tax base to help support education.

"The state tax structure was developed during an industrialized era and the present has different requirements," said Manderino. "It has not changed and we have to restructure ways to raise revenue and provide services to people who want it," she continued. 

Along with her goals and objectives, Secretary Manderino highlighted Governor Wolf’s focus over the next four years.  Wolf ‘s proposed budget includes three significant initiatives that affect Labor & Industry.  
·         Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) - A new federal law that PA is implementing to help job seekers access employment, education, training, and support services to succeed and           to match employers with the skilled workers.
·         Industry Partnership reinvestment – Industry Partnerships are focused on creating a skilled workforce through industry-specific training and education programs developed in cooperation with business and industry leaders.  Gov. Wolf has proposed a budget of $11.5 million which is large increase from previous budgets of $1.5 million.
·         Vocational rehabilitation investment – Vocational rehabilitation services help people with disabilities prepare for, obtain, or maintain employment which supports getting people back to work

During the interactive discussion, Secretary Manderino responded to many inquiries, but the closing question was an audience member who questioned an increase in minimum wage.  Manderino stated 29 states have higher minimum wages than PA and suggested that "raising the minimum wage would be the biggest thing we can do to reduce poverty and it would bring 160,000 individuals out of poverty level."

We are optimistic regarding Secretary Manderino’s commitment to education and workforce development issues and look forward to working with Secretary Manderino and the PA Department of Labor and Industry in the future.

For more information about Secretary Manderino’s and Governor Wolf’s plans, visit www.wfmz.com to watch her taping of Business Matters with Tony Iannelli.


July message from the Business and Commerce Association of the Chamber's Forks Area Board



The BCAF (Business and Commerce Association of Forks) will be partnering with various Chamber members within the Forks Community throughout the year to organize HALO events on a quarterly basis.  All proceeds from each event will go to a nonprofit in the area. The kick-off Halo Event took place at Stacks Steaks and Hoagies at Park Plaza on May 13.  The BCAF partnered with Unity Bank of Forks Township to put together a Spring Networking Mixer in which all proceeds went to Forks Community Days. Throughout the course of the evening close to 100 people joined in on the fun.  Attendees were able to purchase tickets for a raffle drawing with awesome prizes from Twice Chic Boutique, Celebrations Salon, and of course enjoy some of the delicious sandwiches from Stacks, one of our new members! Unity Bank organized a “blizzard of dollars” during which four lucky participants were able to take a turn inside a machine filled with money to try and gather as many bills as possible during the time allotted.  

We look forward to the upcoming Second Wednesdays in Forks and will keep you updated! 

Save the Dates for the Upcoming Forks Events:  August 12, November 11, February 10 and May 11 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

The locations as well as the nonprofits these events will be supporting are TBD.  

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

July letter from Barry Fisher, the new Chair of the Chamber's Board of Governors



By Barry Fisher, 69-WFMZ-TV & wfmz.com; Chair, Board of Governors, 

I’ll begin by recognizing Steve Patterson for his service as Chair of the Board of Governors for the past 2 years.  Thank you Steve for your outstanding dedication and leadership. Steve will serve us well as Immediate past chair for the next two years.

Leadership opportunities at this chamber exist for dedicated business women and men from Phillipsburg to Emmaus and from Nazareth to Coopersburg and this year we had record interest in service to the Chamber Board of Governors.  Each new board member brings a unique skill set and focus to The Chamber, giving us a wide variety of talent and experiences from which to draw. 

As we look to the future, it is with great pleasure that I welcome the following distinguished professionals to their new positions on the board. Please note the diversity of backgrounds, crucial for creating exceptional ideas and refreshing our operations.  I look forward to serving with them and the rest of The Chamber Board.

Dorota Kozak, partner attorney at King Spry Law Firm has filled the Vice Chair position and will succeed me as Board Chair at the end of my term.  And we are blessed to retain Bruce Palmer, CPA with Buckno Lisicky as our treasurer.

Newly selected to serve on The Chamber Executive Committee are Adams Outdoor General Manager, Tony Cioffi and CPA Sue Jarvis.

New chamber or council chairs attaining or retaining seats on the board of governors are Bethlehem Chamber and Southern Lehigh Chamber Chair,  Scott Babashak - Emmaus Main Street Partners Chair, John Hayes - Greater Northern Lehigh Chamber Chair, Nancy Treskot - Hellertown Lower Saucon Chamber Chair, Thomas Rieger - Nazareth Business Council Chair, Megan van Ravenswaay - Phillipsburg Area Chamber Chair. Jim Swick - Western Lehigh Chamber Chair, Ron Eichenberg - LGBT Council Chair, Liz Kleintop - Women’s Business Council Chair, Laura Azzalina and Small Business Council Chair, Barry Diehl.

Newly elected at-large members of the Board of Governors are Paul Anthony - IBEW, Lou Fromm - Fromm Electric, Murtaza Jaffer - Express Business Center, Darlene Pors - HT Lyons, Dr. Michael Rossi -  LVHN and Laura Haffner, Wells Fargo.

Thank you to all our current and new board members for your continued dedication and support.  This organization depends on high profile, community focused volunteers, who give their time and experience, and actively contribute to develop and achieve our collective goals, ensuring the success of The Chamber and all our communities and On Every Main Street!

A complete listing of The Chamber’s officers and board members can be found at www.lehighvalleychamber.org/board.


I look forward to serving as your Chairman of the Board!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

July letter from the new Chair of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, Scott Babashak.



By Scott Babashak, CFP®, QPFC, AIF®,
GF Pension Corporation, Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce President


As I sit and write my first article as Chairman of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, I am filled with excitement thinking of the interesting year we have ahead of us. I live and work in Bethlehem and so serving as President of the Bethlehem Chamber board is something I am very much looking forward to. One thing for sure is I hope that Lynn Cunningham and I can shake things up a bit in the next two years... and celebrate Bethlehem!

We will be celebrating 99 years as a Chamber and the City of Bethlehem will be celebrating 275 years as a city. The Bethlehem Chamber is heavily involved in the planning of the 275th Anniversary Celebrations, which will include an Anniversary Gala on April 16, 2016, held throughout the Historic Hotel Bethlehem and the Community Celebration which will be held on June 25, 2016 on the Steel Stacks Campus. The Community Celebration will involve all of Bethlehem with its businesses and organizations coming together to display their wares. There will be a Hall of Fame Ceremony during this celebration, where we will honor our citizens who have gained national prominence in their fields, and we will debut PBS’s upcoming documentary about the Liberty High School Grenadier Band. It will be quite a day... but please, pray for nice weather.

We have many upcoming events (some new, some classics), but the next event in August will be the Walla Gazoo Golf Tournament and Clam Bake which will be held on August 17 at the Bethlehem Golf Course. This tournament is the OLDEST golf tournament in the Valley and one of our major fundraisers for the year. For more information on any of these events, please contact Lynn Cunningham at lynnc@lehighvalleychamber.org or call her at 610-739-1510.


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

July Letter from The Ambassador's Council

By Joseph Facchiano, Voluntary Benefit Solutions-Aflac
Leader, Ambassadors Council

 Sharpen the Saw

Ahhh vacation!  Admit it, once we get past Memorial Day our thoughts turn to vacation.  That’s good.  We all need some time to get away, enjoy our families, and clear our minds from the daily grind. That, my friends is the purpose of vacation. However, the very best leaders in the world do much, much more with their time away.

Sure they take time to relax.  They spend time with their families. They enjoy the fruits of their labor.  But do you know what else they do? They often develop new strategies for their business. Or they re-focus on their annual goals to assure their successful attainment of everything they set out to do this year.

Stephen Covey called it “Sharpening the Saw.”  Others call it “Recharging the Batteries.”  It really doesn’t matter what you call it. I highly recommend you take the time to do it.  Use your vacation as a springboard to your successful finish of 2015.

There are three distinct areas on which you should concentrate:

1. Your loved ones come first. Take the time to show them that they are truly the most important things in your life. Remember when it comes to the people we love it is the quantity of time spent with them that matters.

2. Look at the goals that you set for yourself in January. Are you on track to achieve them?  What will you do in the second half of the year to assure your success?

3. Are you doing what you were meant to do? Are you working toward your personal vision of success? Is it consistent with your values? Are you living your mission?

Use your vacation to give yourself an alignment check. Do what the best leaders in the world do and you will become a good leader yourself.

Oh, one more thing: Have a fun and safe vacation!


Monday, July 6, 2015

Dining in Allentown!

July Letter from the President of the Allentown Chamber of Commerce, Charles Thiel, Communication Systems Inc.

Dining in Allentown!

One tell-tale sign of a community’s comeback is the growing list of restaurants making Allentown a dining destination. And, with the warmer weather upon us, it’s the perfect time to gather family and friends, enjoy great cuisine, often alfresco, and break bread together.

Allentown has many great restaurants and we have seen our fair share of new ones open over the past few years, each with offering its own flair and culinary delights - with many more on the docket. Here is a small sampling of what Allentown has on the menu:

• Allentown Brew Works - award winning craft beers, incredible pub fare, an outdoor Biergarten, open 7 days a week. www.thebrewworks.com
• Billy’s Downtown Diner is not your ordinary diner offering tasty breakfast and lunch 7 days a week - you’ll always leave satisfied. www.billysdiner.com
• Bon Appetit CafĂ© - featuring authentic Middle Eastern specials as well as American favorites - there’s something for everyone. www.cafebonappetit.com
• The Dime - inside the beautiful Renaissance Allentown Hotel serving up the finest breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 days a week. http://thedimeallentown.com
• The Hamilton Kitchen & Bar - the perfect place before or after a game or event with amazing food and drink for every palette. And, you can’t afford to miss their perfect location with the grand outdoor bar. http://thehamiltonkitchen.com
• Johnny’s Bagels - New York style deli with a personality; Johnny’s is the working man’s deli - cheap, great and fast! Eat in or take out - open 7 days a week. http://johnnysbagelsanddeli.com
• Roar Social House is a culinary delight featuring lunch and dinner menus. Their speakeasy bar, Hush is the perfect ending to any day.  http://roarallentown.com
• Shanty on 19th - bistro style restaurant serves great food 7 days a week in the heart of the West End Theatre District and has a great patio, too. www.shantyon19th.com
• Youell’s Oyster House - offering an extensive menu from shellfish to steak and the region’s best raw bar; Youell’s also has outdoor dining. http://youellsoysterhouse.com

Of course, we have many more great restaurants and several scheduled to open this summer, including Bell Hall, Shula’s,  Nosh, to name a few.  Support Chamber member restaurants and enjoy great cuisine from around the world right in heart of the Lehigh Valley! For a complete list, check out the insert in this issue of Connections.