The burgeoning economy of the Lehigh Valley makes this area a terrific place to live, get an education and sample the pleasures of culture and cuisine. It's also a great place to conduct business and has been an historic leader in commerce.
"The Lehigh Valley has been and continues to be a natural location for the development of industry due to our location and available resources. Situated in the heart of the Northeast near other key centers of commerce, such as Philadelphia and New York, the Lehigh Valley served as an epicenter for commerce during the industrial era," explains Megan Longenderfer, V.P. of marketing and public relations of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation. Rick Cantelmi, and his father Louis, still greet customers every morning at the hardware store - it's been in business 83 years. While geography played an important role in the early development of the area, family enterprise has been a key factor in the region's economic development, from mom-and-pop shops to large-scale manufacturers. Just Born, for example, has remained a family-run operation since its founding in 1923. Less than a decade later, the renowned candy company relocated from Brooklyn to Bethlehem, and has become a major source of employment.
Other area family businesses have become leaders in their respective fields: Yocco's gained prominence as "the hot dog king," while Rodale evolved into a publishing mogul.Smaller-scale operations also make a significant contribution to the strength of local economies. Hackman's Bible Bookstore, Glazier's Furniture, Gebhardt's Bowling & Billiards and numerous others have withstood the test of time and become an integral part of their communities.
In fact, family-owned businesses are an immensely important part of the U.S. economy, accounting for some 60 percent of employment in this country. Sustaining a business through successive generations, though, is a challenge: Only 30 percent continue to the second generation, and 15 percent to a third. That number dwindles to just five percent by the fourth generation.
"Having a family business is the American dream, and it's been going on for millennia, dating back to family farming. But there are issues more complex than most people realize," says Henry Landes, founder and president of Delaware Valley Family Business Center (DVFBC), located in Sellersville. "It's a long journey of learning. Those who meet the challenges, however, can create a stronger family and have an unparalleled competitive edge in business."
Rick Cantelmi, the third generation to operate Cantelmi Hardware on Bethlehem's Southside, attributes the success of the 83-year-old business to "customer service." Despite an influx of major chain competitors to the area, Cantelmi will be adding a second location in Forks Township in October. "We have a niche market," Cantelmi reports. "And since I have three kids, I'd like to have three stores eventually."
A shift in demographics has seen a rise in Latino-owned businesses, such as 3 J's Bakery, which opened in Allentown in 2003. Baking is a family tradition for owner Marino Castro, who moved from the Dominican Republic to Brooklyn in 1978. "My father, my grandfather, my uncle, my brother, everybody in my family is a baker. I started learning when I was twelve years old," he reports. "And now I'm teaching my son, Joshua." n
Throughout this issue of Living in the Greater Lehigh Valley, you'll find short profiles of some of our community's most successful businesses. Many are family owned, while others have evolved and grown into large corporations. To introduce other sections, you'll find feature stories on some of the families that have contributed to the building of our communities and our culture. These are the families and businesses that have together created a strong and colorful Lehigh Valley.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times