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Local businesses swap business cards and samples at the first Lehigh Valley Microenterprise Expo



Marianna John owns Southside Serendipity, a new boutique on Third Street.

Six months ago, Marianna John opened the doors to Southside Serendipity, a Bethlehem boutique she fondly calls “a gallery for the home and self.”

Nestled among an eclectic collection of shops along the fledgling Third Street corridor, John’s Southside Serendipity is a creative hub for local artists—a storefront that proudly peddles a range of homegrown products that John believes residents of the Lehigh Valley are passionate about.

She knows the area’s art community well and speaks of her artisans as friends. “Sharon is from Bethlehem, Eric is from Allentown, and John and Brad are both from the Lehigh Valley, too,” she says, walking through a portfolio of gift items rarely found anywhere else in the region.

But as any newcomer to the local business scene knows, launching a business, with all the excitement and hope it brings, is one thing. Maintaining a level of success is quite another.

“I decided to concentrate on the Lehigh Valley because there is just so much talent here. When people begin to realize that there is creativity in their neighborhood, the thought is that Bethlehem could very well become a day-long destination,” says John. “It’s why getting that first impression to be a lasting impression is so critically important.”

That long-term commitment to the area’s small business sector was on display this past week, when John and more than 50 other small businesses gathered at Lehigh’s Rauch Business Center for the area’s first Lehigh Valley Microenterprise Expo on April 1. The event brought customers, purchasing agents and area business owners from across the region together to promote its rich array of products and services.

“I’ve already connected with an artist someone suggested I meet up with, and a local bed-and-breakfast that would like to use my gift baskets,” says John. “So far, it’s been a win-win-win for everybody.”

That’s the type of community support that Adam Yeung ’09 was hoping to build when he and his microfinance club peers first proposed the event last October.

“There are so many individuals with great ideas, willing to take a chance and go out and start their own business,” says Yeung, a computer science and business major who is also the project coordinator of Lehigh’s microfinance club. “This expo is really about supporting them and giving them a venue where they can promote their businesses. It’s local entrepreneurship on display.”

“Small businesses provide the ‘quality of life’ opportunities that other entrepreneurs find appealing”

An avid supporter of environmentally-friendly business, Heather Deschenes founded Green Impact Solutions, Inc., in Emmaus, Pa.

Just as John is committed to the local artisan culture, Deschenes has spent the fast few months introducing herself to the area’s business community with the hopes it will pursue Green Business Certification.

She set up shop at the expo to present her expertise as a Certified Green Consultant with the Green Business League. Not only are most businesses unfamiliar with their potential to save expenses by going green, Deschenes says, but few businesses really understand what a green program is all about.

“It’s interesting because most companies make one change and say they are a green company. Everybody feels like they should be doing something, but they just don’t know what, exactly, they could be doing,” she says.

“The truth is, they can make a lot of much smaller changes that make a bigger impact on their business operations,” Deschenes says. “That why I’m here. To get my name out, to speak with other businesses, and to help them understand the benefits of green certification.”

Other businesses used the venue to showcase their goods. The allure of glazed and chocolate coated donuts brought attention to Tina Ham’s Sunrise Donuts, a bakery just a few blocks off Lehigh’s campus in Bethlehem. And Space Inventor's Colleen Wormingham put some interesting organizational tips on display that were of equal interest to students perusing the event and her fellow exhibitioners.

Throughout the afternoon, Rauch Business Center was a snapshot of the area’s business diversity. Jewelry designers, contractors, cleaning services and advertising firms all shared space and exchanged business cards with each other and hundreds of visitors.

That was no coincidence. In order to promote the community event, Lehigh’s microfinance club, in tandem with the university’s Martindale Center for the Study of Private Enterprise, partnered with the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem (CADCB) and the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation to make the event a reality.

It’s the kind of extended partnership that Steve Melnick, director of the Southside Bethlehem Keystone Innovative Zone, believes will help fuel the regional economy.

“I realize that a community needs exactly the type of businesses and services displayed at the Lehigh Valley Microenterprise Expo,” Melnick says. “These small businesses provide the ‘quality of life’ opportunities that other entrepreneurs find appealing. Together, all of these businesses will help give Southside Bethlehem a sense of place.”

--Tom Yencho

Photos by Ryan Hulvat


Posted on Wednesday, April 08, 2009

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