When recruiting for Hearst Publications, Bill Strickland doesn’t have to work too hard to sell the company’s downtown Easton location to potential candidates who might want to work in New York.
Editorial director of Hearst Publications, who moved to Easton from Emmaus in 2020, said all the campaign needs to do is get that candidate out on the street and show them around town. And once they move here, Strickland added, many become part of the community.
“We go out with a guy and have a giant Bloody Mary,” said Strickland, who publishes magazines such as Runner’s World and Bicycling. “And then we get out on the trail and that makes recruiting easier. And when they’re here, I can add to my staff people in their 20s who are on the boards of (local organizations like) Third Street Alliance at the time.
“It’s a community, but we’re in an urban environment that’s still open to people to shape it. And that’s why it’s very exciting,” Strickland said during Tuesday’s panel Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp A special autumn event at the State Theater in Easton.
Strickland compared Easton to Brooklyn, a haven for many young professionals who want to live in New York, except it’s more affordable.
“You can live in anything from a loft to a brand new apartment, and that’s very attractive to people, especially if they’re coming from Brooklyn,” he said.
Easton was the focus of the first panel, which talked about the growth of downtown in recent years, which includes shops and restaurants growing in the neighborhoods around Central Square, and its relationship with Lafayette College.
Mike Pichetta, owner of 3rd & Ferry Fish Market, said he likes the small-town atmosphere.
“What I love most about downtown is that even though Easton looks like a city, it really functions like a small town,” said Pichetta, who opened the restaurant in 2013. – Many people live here, come here for a long time. Many of them know each other. There is no shortage of help and such. When a business is in trouble, there are just people everywhere to help, and it’s very easy to immerse yourself in the community.”
Mark Mulligan, owner of VM Development Groupsaid he sees a united front between Lafayette and the downtown business district.
“Being a developer here, there’s so much support for all businesses, and the college has been so supportive,” Mulligan said. “All this support really makes it all come together.”
Lafayette President Nicole Hurd said moving forward, it’s vital to protect the progress made as the city moves forward.
“It’s more about what do we do to protect the good things while continuing to expand them?” Hurd said. “And how can we make sure everyone feels seen and valued.”
One prominent Easton manufacturer, which has been in the Lehigh Valley for more than 100 years, credited the location with being able to navigate difficult economic terrain.
Crayola President and CEO Rich Wuertele, who delivered the keynote, said his company was able to address the three biggest challenges identified in the National Association of Manufacturers survey. These were labor, supply chain and pricing issues.
“When you think about these challenges, the Lehigh Valley has been instrumental in helping us overcome them,” he said. “In terms of talent, like everyone, we had challenges at the beginning of the pandemic, but we hired 100 people during the year to help with the increased demand and stabilized our operations around the middle of the pandemic. We have only had a 5% reduction in professional staff over the past few years.
“I think we have dedicated employees who are passionate about what they do and they’re signing on for the long term,” Wurtele said, “I think there’s talent in the region working in the region.
He said the valley’s location was an advantage in getting raw materials, so supply chain issues were not a hindrance to growth.
“Our large market share in the US has never been higher,” Wurtele said, adding that international growth was 9%.
In a second panel, LVEDC President and CEO Don Cunningham led a panel of manufacturing CEOs and asked about their appeal in the Valley.
Frederick Horowitz, president and CEO of AP Deauville, a personal care company based in Forks, said making a move to the Lehigh Valley in 2021 from New Jersey was a necessity due to tax and talent issues.
“We think of ourselves more as refugees from Jersey,” Horowitz said.
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He said the company can’t keep employees because they can’t afford to live in New Jersey.
“They can’t afford the property taxes,” Horowitz said. “They couldn’t afford the income tax or the money here. So it changed our company. Our sales are increasing.”
Michael Tierney, founder and CEO of the company Stuffed poufs in Hanover Township, Northampton County, said the valley’s innovation is what attracted him.
“You’re getting back to the innovation part that’s so deeply ingrained here in the Valley,” he said. “We cooperated with [partner] Factory’s Rich Thompson, who helped grow Freshman’s business years ago. And he was a guy who loves production, and I jumped on this really good idea, but everyone said it was impossible. He suggested that if you can create a moat around it, and then you have something, and here we are four years later, we need to change the traditional marshmallow category.”
Rick Bucher, the company’s president and CEO Viktavlik in Forks Township, which makes pipe fittings, said it’s important to keep employees involved in the company moving forward, offering them a way forward.
“We need to improve a lot, and we’ve emphasized development plans that people can work with their supervisor to determine where they want to go and how they’re going to help them get there,” Bucher said. “We support technical education. We pay for community college, Lafayette, Lehigh, etc., where people continue to grow, and we encourage cross-functional assignments. We encourage people who don’t think that your only path to growth is linear and that your boss can either retire or get a promotion so you can get a promotion.”
Morning Call reporter Evan Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.