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Lehigh, City of Bethlehem Continue Blight Fight

With a $250,000 grant awarded from the BB&T Economic Growth Fund, the Bethlehem Economic Development Corporation (BEDCO) will remediate underutilized, blighted properties on South Side Bethlehem for use as flexible manufacturing space. BEDCO’s collaborating partners include Lehigh University, the City of Bethlehem, Northampton County and the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV).

BEDCO will create a revolving loan fund to provide incentives for reusing the blighted properties—those newly acquired and those in the conservatorship process.

The initiative is the latest in efforts by Lehigh, the city and CACLV to fight blight and in support of innovation and entrepreneurial development. The University houses and supports the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania, the Manufacturer’s Resource Center and the Small Business Development Center. Its Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation offers office and co-working space for student entrepreneurs in a highly collaborative environment. Cross-disciplinary student teams in Lehigh’s Integrated Product Development Program work with client firms on real product development and opportunities to improve manufacturing.

“This is an important initiative in the continuing revitalization of the South Side,” said Frederick J. McGrail, vice president of communications and public affairs at Lehigh.

South Side Bethlehem’s economy and landscape has undergone dramatic change in the years since Bethlehem Steel closed, which has resulted in underutilized and vacant manufacturing spaces. Meanwhile, with the South Side’s ensuing resurgence, several startup companies have shown interest in taking advantage of its Keystone Innovation Zone’s tax incentives and other opportunities.

The City of Bethlehem had identified 22 companies over the past two years that were looking for that type of space. Lehigh, which has served as a pipeline for many successful startup companies, also reiterated the need in a letter supporting the grant application.

By using the grant money to acquire and rehab properties, BEDCO will be able to provide needed flexible manufacturing space to small and mid-sized early-stage companies while reducing blight.

BEDCO was among several Lehigh Valley organizations to receive a total of $1.45 million in grants from the BB&T Economic Growth Fund at the Lehigh Valley Community Foundation. The additional grants will be used to support manufacturing, create job pipelines and spur economic development.

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