U.S. Vice President Joe Biden came to Lehigh Thursday to deliver an optimistic message on Bethlehem’s prospects in the new century, and to join with Deputy Secretary of Commerce Dennis Hightower in touting the success of the America Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
Biden and Hightower spoke at the groundbreaking of a $17 million expansion of Ben Franklin TechVentures, which was partially funded by the stimulus.
“This is a city that was on the cutting edge at the turn of the 20th century,” Biden said, referring to the success of former industrial giant Bethlehem Steel. “And there’s no reason why people here can’t look forward to being exactly that in the beginning of the 21st century.”
Biden said that Bethlehem has all the ingredients for success: one of the leading universities in the country, a motivated and highly trained workforce, entrepreneurial leaders, and targeted venture capital investments. “You have it all, right here,” he said.
The groundbreaking event was at Ben Franklin TechVentures on Lehigh’s Mountaintop campus, where construction on a 47,000 square-foot expansion to the original TechVentures incubator/post-incubator facility is about to begin.
A group of more than 200 invited guests, including local legislators, greeted Biden, who arrived in midmorning and spoke roughly 30 minutes about the challenges and opportunities facing communities such as Bethlehem.
Biden, who grew up in Scranton, Pa., said he remembers the city from his childhood as the “almost home” landmark on his frequent trips back from visiting relatives in Delaware, where he ultimately served as U.S. Senator for six terms before he was tapped as then-candidate Barack Obama’s vice-presidential pick in 2008.
This is where the future is being created
Since the ARRA was passed, Biden said he’s visited 45 cities across the country and attended events such as the Ben Franklin groundbreaking, where new jobs were created and businesses launched.
“Whenever I travel around the country, you often drive through an area and someone points out, ‘That used to be a steel mill,’ or ‘That used to be rubber factory.’ And what I’m hearing now is ‘This is going to be a housing project,’ or ‘This is going to be a new technology company.’ So here in Bethlehem, it is already a resurrection. The potential is here. This is where the future is being created, and it’s being replicated across the country.”
The Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania, which owns and manages TechVentures, received a $6 million grant in September 2009 to expand their facility, funded by the Recovery Act through the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA).
The new facility will include wet labs, office and meeting space. The addition, which will be a certified Leadership Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building, is expected to create up to 200 sustainable, highly paid technology jobs and retain 100 more jobs at new, start-up companies in its first three years, according to Laura Eppler, director of marketing for Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Since 1983, the Ben Franklin Business Incubator and TechVentures have graduated 44 successful companies, grossing more than $675 million in annual revenue, and creating more than 4,000 jobs.
“A cornerstone of the American economic recovery will be the creation and retention of high-value, sustainable jobs in technology sectors,” said R. Chadwick Paul, president and chief executive officer of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania, who spoke after Biden.
“Like its predecessors, TechVentures will be a job creation factory that will accelerate our region’s economic growth.”