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Lehigh to host inaugural Lehigh Valley Microenterprise Expo

Lehigh University will host the first annual Lehigh Valley Microenterprise Expo, a collection of 60 small businesses from across the region looking to promote their companies and strengthen their purchasing networks.

The event, which is free and open to the public, is scheduled for Wednesday, April 1 from 4:00-7:00 p.m. at Lehigh’s Rauch Business Center. The university’s Martindale Center for the Study of Private Enterprise, the student-led Lehigh Microfinance Club, and the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem (CADCB) are organizing the event.

“The Lehigh Valley Microenterprise Expo is a unique venue that allows the region’s small business community to gain significant exposure for their services,” says Todd Watkins, director of the Martindale Center’s microfinance program and co-chair of Lehigh's Entrepreneurship Initiative. “It’s really one of the first large-scale exhibitions of its kind to foster a dialogue between local entrepreneurs, the region’s purchasing agents, and Lehigh Valley customers.”

Microenterprises are businesses with five or fewer employees. Companies at the expo will represent a range of services and include business from the construction, professional, entertainment, medical and food sectors, among others.

A subsidiary of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, co-sponsor CADCB is a non-profit organization that provides economic opportunities, entrepreneurial skill training, and business assistance for residents in neighborhoods of Bethlehem. It has a sister agency in Allentown.

"Microenterprise used to be the backbone of our U.S. economy,” says Ellen Larmer, project director of the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem. “Given the state of our current economy, it is an opportune time to feature these very small local 'everyday' businesses in an effort to help support and sustain them."

According to the non-profit Association for Enterprise Opportunity, more than 24 million Americans—18% of all private sector employees—work for microenterprises, which make up 87% of all American private businesses. Over 900,000 jobs are created by microenterprises every year, according to the association.

Many of the Lehigh Valley businesses participating in the expo have received start-up and training funds through the Rising Tide Community Loan Fund, which will also take part in the event. A subsidiary of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, the fund seeks to provide credit to entrepreneurs in low-to-moderate-income communities in the Lehigh Valley.

Primary financial assistance for the expo is being offered by TD Bank.

A list of participating businesses were referred to event organizers by local agencies that assist, enable, and train entrepreneurs and microenterprises. They include the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation and its Southside Bethlehem Keystone Innovation Zone and Office of Women and Minority Businesses; Rising Tide; the Community Action Development Corporation of Allentown and the CADCB.

--Tom Yencho


Posted on Saturday, March 21, 2009

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