Friday, December 08, 2006

Inexpensive wines just in time for the holiday season

Consumer Reports taste tested them all and came up with the following reasonably priced wines:

Our highest-rated cabernet sauvignon from this year's tests — and the only CR Best Buy — was Columbia Crest Grand Estates Columbia Valley 2002. This Washington state wine sells for $11 a bottle and impressed our expert tasters with its full flavor and ''big'' sensory presence. Other very good cabs were: Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Puente Alto Concha 2004 ($19, from Chile); Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley 2002 ($25, from California); Franciscan Oakville Estate Napa Valley 2003 ($28, from California); and Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino 2003 ($16, from California).

Merlots that retain our recommendation from previous tests are top-rated Gallo of Sonoma Reserve Sonoma County 2003 ($15, from California) and four CR Best Buys: Bogle Vineyards 2004 ($9, from California); Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo 2005 ($9, from Chile); Jacob's Creek 2005 ($8, from Australia); and Yellow Tail 2005 ($7, from Australia).

Plaza at PPL in Allentown purchased for $83 million

The building at the epicenter of Allentown's fledgling downtown revitalization effort has gone global.

A syndicate of domestic and foreign investors led by a New York City-based investment group has purchased the eight-story Plaza at PPL Center from the Malvern, Chester County-based Liberty Property Trust.

The building sold Nov. 27 for just over $83 million.

Completed in 2003 at a cost of $60 million, the award-winning, environmentally friendly green building at Ninth and Hamilton streets is on the site of the former Hess's Department Store and is still an anchor of the city's commercial district.

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski said he was encouraged by the sale price of the building, which he said demonstrates a $23 million gain in value in three years.

''It shows there are investors from all over the country and all over the world who are willing to invest in Allentown and the Lehigh Valley if given the opportunity,'' Pawlowski said.

Besides PPL offices, the building is home to a newly opened Amazon Cafe restaurant and KNBT Bank branch. A restaurateur has been trying unsuccessfully to open a Tex-Mex eatery called Johnny Manana's in another first-floor retail space. That remains in the works.

More here.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Las Vegas Sands presents Bethlehem casino proposal to the Gaming Board

The battle to operate a Lehigh Valley casino heated up here Wednesday as Sands BethWorks promised to spend $600 million on the first phase of its project — more than its Allentown competitor would spend on its entire site.

The ambitious project would open 3,000 slot machines in summer 2008 with plans to eventually expand to 5,000 slot machines. That's more machines than many casino applicants say they would operate.

But the bulk of BethWorks' $600 million project — proposed for 126 acres of the old Bethlehem Steel plant — would not actually redevelop the rusting steel buildings that sprawl across south Bethlehem. It would turn the ore bridge into the casino's entrance, refurbish the high house, and stabilize and light the blast furnaces.

The rest of the money would go toward constructing buildings for a casino, retail shops and restaurants on vacant land near the Minsi Trail Bridge. Other Bethlehem Steel buildings, such as the machine shop, which BethWorks hopes to convert into retail stores, would not be developed during the first phase of the casino's construction.

Sands BethWorks, like most slots parlor applicants, plans to build its casino in phases. When the other phases would be complete and how much they would cost are not known, said William Weidner, president of BethWorks' parent company Las Vegas Sands, adding he is committed to building out the project as much as possible.

When board members questioned what would happen to the steel brownfields if the casino generated less money than anticipated, Weidner said, ''I can't honestly tell you we can guarantee that the rest of the site gets developed.''

Still, Weidner said he believes Sands BethWorks would make more money for the state — which would earn money from slot machine taxes — than its nearest competitor, Tropicana Pennsylvania in Allentown.

And when board member Chip Marshall asked why Weidner plans 5,000 slot machines when ''very few [other casino applicants] think they're going to get to 5,000,'' Weidner responded, ''I don't know what they're thinking.''

He said he believes additional machines will help ''suck in every customer we can.''

The Tropicana, which plans to open at the end of 2007, would build 250 hotel rooms and operate 3,000 slot machines in its $350 million first phase, and add an additional 250 hotel rooms and 2,000 slot machines within the next five years. The total cost of the Tropicana project is estimated at $550 million, $50 million less than Sands BethWorks would spend in its first phase.

In a video that the casino presented to the board about the death of Bethlehem Steel — complete with shots of vacant buildings and heart-tugging music — Sands BethWorks highlighted its supporters, including Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan, ironworkers and community activists. Most were taped as they talked about the need for jobs in Bethlehem.

A group of casino supporters wearing red T-shirts cheered as the video played during Wednesday's hearing.

But Mark Nevins, spokesman for the Tropicana, and a handful of Sands BethWorks opponents who showed up for the licensing hearing, pointed out that the Sands project has drawn some of the greatest public opposition of any casino applicant facing the board.

Weidner brushed off comments about public opposition, insisting it was only a small percentage of the public, and saying he believed much of the opposition came from the Moravian Church in Bethlehem.

''It is impossible to convince people if they believe that gambling is immoral,'' Weidner said.

Later he added, ''The Tropicana does not have more public support than we do. We simply have the Moravian Church, which is opposed on moral grounds.''

Bethlehem resident Bruce Haines, a part-owner of the Hotel Bethlehem, said he found Weidner's comments offensive.

''The opposition is much greater than just the Moravian Church,'' he said, adding he opposes the casino because of its proposed location near residences and Lehigh University.

The two prospective Lehigh Valley casinos are competing against one another as well as against two casinos proposed for the Poconos and a fifth casino planned in the Gettysburg area. The gaming board will award only two slots parlor licenses.

Most gaming experts believe one of the licenses will go to the Lehigh Valley because the area is expected to generate some of the largest gaming revenues in the state. However, only one of the Lehigh Valley projects will be awarded a casino license. State law prohibits both casino applicants from receiving a license because stand-alone casinos must be 20 miles apart.

The gaming board, which expects to issue licenses on Dec. 20, will hold a licensing hearing for Tropicana Pennsylvania on Wednesday.

More here.

Voter Hall of Fame

Today, an article in the Morning Call talks about the Pennsylvania Voter Hall of Fame for those individuals who vote for 50 consecutive general elections.

"I think it's an honor and a duty (to vote)," said Marie Sholtis, a Carbon County resident recently inducted.

House Majority Leader Keith R. McCall, a Democrat who represents Carbon County, lauded Sholtis and the other supervoters.

''I am inspired by your patriotism,'' McCall said during a ceremony at the county courthouse.

McCall said every time people vote, it demonstrates ''belief in the state and the country'' despite its faults.

The NET would like to challenge its members to become supervoters so that perhaps many years from now our members will be inducted into this prestigious hall of fame. Until then, keep on voting.

Nazareth Tree Lighting Ceremony Tonight

Tonight at 7 p.m. in the Circle

Christmas in Downtown Historic Nazareth

News Over Coffee Reports:
  • Visit Santa Claus at Asteak & DeWalt Law Office (noon to 4:00)
  • Carolers will be strolling, singing, and bells will be chiming
  • Near Life size manger in the circle.
Also reminders of the Candlelight Walking Tours with tickets available at the Library and a display at the Whitefield House Museum featuring Light Divine: Moravian Christmas Customs and the Kelly family Putz.

When: Saturday, Dec. 9, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Where: Downtown Nazareth

Cost: FREE!!

Betcha didn't know...

A-Treat Soda is still produced virtually the same way it was made when the family owned business began in 1918, in Allentown. Recipes for Orange, Pineapple, Grapefruit, Red Cream Soda, Birch Beer, Sarsaparilla, and dozens like them are virtually unchanged from their original soda fountain predecessors. The soda can be found at grocery stores and beer distributors throughout the Lehigh Valley and beyond.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Jacobsburg Historical Society Holiday Open House

Jacobsburg Historical Society invites you to their holiday open house which will include music, children's programs and educational presentations.

When: Saturday, Dec. 9, 12:30 p.m. - 5 p.m.

Where: 402 Henry Road, Nazareth, PA

Cost: FREE!!

Lehigh Valley’s NET only YP organization from Pennsylvania

Officers of the Lehigh Valley Network of Young Professionals were the only representatives from the Commonwealth of 16 such organizations across the state of Pennsylvania at a young professionals summit held in September.

NET President, Abraham Nemitz, Vice President, Wendy Gerlach, and Treasurer, Patric Dublin along with 133 other young professional leaders represented over 46,000 young professionals nationwide at the Third Annual YP Summit in Madison, WI. Young professional organizations are springing up around the globe and are influencing the way traditional business organizations, education associations and governments conduct business.

Madison MAGNET (Madison Area Growth Network) and Next Generation Consulting, a marketing group that aids businesses in attracting young professionals, hosted the conference. Attendance has grown 63% since 2005. Attendees learned how to build strong YP organizations, increase their individual leadership effectiveness and be inspired by how their peers are building better places to live and work.

Nemitz was one of only a handful of young professionals who held a seminar, speaking about how to reform a YPO’s board of directors. This was based on the NET’s recruitment of a new board of local "power brokers". Nemitz’s presentation illustrated that having an advisory board of senior leaders can open doors to resources in the community.

“The national YPO conference is a tremendous opportunity to meet other Young Professional Organization's around the country, learn best practices from them, and share our experiences, as we are all united in the common goal of stopping brain drain and attracting and retaining an exceptional young talent pool to our communities,” says Nemitz.

"This conference has reinvigorated my involvement in the NET," says Gerlach. "It was a great opportunity to meet other officers and staff members of young professional organizations and share experiences, frustrations, and successes."

NET officers were surprised to find that most YP groups are funded and run by the local chamber of commerce. The NET, on the other hand, is an independent entirely volunteer run 501-3c non-profit corporation.

"Even without chamber funding, we manage to have more events per month than these YP groups," says Gerlach.

Still funding is limited.

"We are constantly seeking businesses to sponsor marketing materials and events," says Nemitz. "Looking ahead, we hope to hire a full-time NET employee to further expand our reach. This will take significant funding, which we are actively seeking."

The YP conference wasn't all business however, the NET officers had an opportunity to bond during the conference's Amazing Race.

"We had to go all around the town gathering clues, talking with businesses, and answering questions all about Madison," explains Gerlach. "It was a great team-building activity as well as a chance to get to know Madison really well. I think I might know Madison better than Allentown."

The NET intends on sponsoring a similar Amazing Race event in the summer of 2007 for the NET's annual interns program. The NET Summer Interns program is a series of events held from June through August in which area interns get to experience some of the various activities the Lehigh Valley has to offer.

Pennsylvania Casino decision getting closer - Gaming board weighs options this week

Just before Christmas, the final licenses will be awarded. Until then, starting Monday, casino proponents — including those with proposals in Allentown, Bethlehem and the Poconos — will make their final pitches.

Las Vegas Sands vows to save Bethlehem Steel's legacy. Aztar promises to pull Allentown from its financial ditch. Crossroads Gaming near Gettysburg sees itself as a destination for millions of out-of-state gamblers. Mount Airy Lodge and Pocono Manor in the Poconos say they will draw not only local gamblers, but also day-tripping New Yorkers.

Only two will get a coveted slots license.

So who will win this race? Well, Wall Street analyst Brian McGill has laid odds making Bethlehem and Mount Airy the front-runners, but in reality, the only people who matter are the seven gaming board members. With four appointed by legislators and three selected by the governor, they must reach a unanimous decision, because all seven have veto power.

For those who haven't waded through 1.4 million sheets of proposals, here's a CliffsNotes version of what the board has to consider:


Few cities need the $10 million fee that gaming brings each host municipality more than Allentown, and few others can boast having virtually no opposition to a casino. Almost overnight, Allentown's budget deficit would be erased, and a desperate city would get a new tax-paying business and 1,300 new jobs.

But Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board members must weigh Allentown's need against whether the full potential of the Aztar Corp.'s plan matches up with its chief competitor in Bethlehem.

LOCATION — Its site is Aztar's strength, or weakness, depending on who is doing the evaluating. On 23 acres of former Agere Systems land in east Allentown, the project wouldn't be in the city's struggling downtown, where its millions of casino visitors could spill over into the downtown business district. However, the site is not near any schools, churches or homes, which is likely why there was virtually no opposition to it during public hearings before the gaming board last summer. It is less than 2 miles from Route 22, making access easy for most in the Valley.

One potential drawback is its size. At 23 acres, there is little room for ancillary development.

OPERATOR — Aztar Corp. is considered a midrange casino operator with five locations, including one in Las Vegas and its flagship Tropicana resort in Atlantic City, N.J. Though some of its competitors boast upscale gaming, Aztar Corp. argues that its riverboat facilities in towns such as Evansville, Ind., are what make it the perfect fit for the Lehigh Valley.

A potential drawback is that Aztar is being acquired by Columbia Sussex Corp., which owns several casinos in addition to 81 hotels. Aztar officials said the acquisition makes the company bigger and better, but some analysts believe the uncertainty of the new ownership could create doubt among board members.

PLAN — What would be named the Tropicana, Lehigh Valley, would be a $325 million casino with at least 3,000 slot machines, 250 hotel rooms, a dozen restaurants and shops and 3,400 parking spaces. All of it would have the architectural flavor of Havana. A second, $200 million phase would expand the hotel and casino, add restaurants, build a new parking garage and add a conference center.


On the banks of the Lehigh River are 126 acres of rusted Bethlehem Steel property that could return to life if the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board allows Las Vegas Sands to build a casino on it. That's the argument of city officials and developers, who say that without the casino, the remnants of Steel will have to be demolished if that site is ever to be redeveloped.

''We have a unique site in a great location and we have the best operator in the industry,'' said Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan. ''It's not just the most impressive site in the Valley, it's the most impressive in the state.''

Regardless, there have been few places in the state where opposition to gambling has been more active. The Moravian Church and community groups such as the Citizens for a Better Bethlehem argue that bringing gambling to Bethlehem would ruin the quaint and historic atmosphere city leaders have spent decades building.

LOCATION — There is perhaps no site in the state that carries more nostalgia than the Bethlehem Steel lands. For Gov. Ed Rendell, who has argued that legalized gambling should not only provide tax relief but also bring economic revitalization to the communities that host it, Bethlehem is the poster child for his vision. Not only would some of the Steel buildings be reused, but the casino could anchor a district that could include the National Museum of Industrial History and a shopping mall. Officials at Artsquest say that their performing arts center and a concert arena project will occur regardless if the casino goes in or not.

Proponents argue that its location on the edge of Bethlehem's South Side business district would bring new customers to those businesses.

A $70 million highway-widening project is planned to help ease traffic into south Bethlehem from Interstate 78.

The downside, said Citizens for a Better Bethlehem leader David Freeman, is that gambling is not needed in a historic city that is doing well without it.

OPERATOR — Las Vegas Sands, with its $18 billion market value and $1.7 billion in annual revenues, is the Neiman Marcus of the casino industry. It is building casino complexes around the world, but its lone casino in the United States is one of the world's most luxurious. The massive Venetian Resort Hotel in Las Vegas has more than 4,000 rooms and an upscale shopping mall that includes an indoor canal modeled after Venice, Italy. It is the top shelf of the gaming industry, but opponents question whether it is too big. While Sands builds $4 billion worth of casino hotels in Macau and Singapore, opponents ask how much attention it would pay its smallest property in Bethlehem?

PLAN — Its $350 million Phase 1 looks much like the casino and hotel plans of most of its competitors: an industrial look and a casino with 3,000 slot machines, a 300-room hotel, a multiscreen movie theater, dozens of restaurants and upscale retail shops and a parking garage for nearly 6,000 vehicles. More importantly, at 126 acres, Sands has room to grow and donate pieces of land to allow ArtsQuest to build a performing arts center and 3,500-seat concert hall, and the National Museum of Industrial History to build exhibits. Developers also plan as many as 1,200 loft apartments and a full project cost of $879 million. At full build-out, it would be one of the largest in the state.

Mount Airy

Mount Airy has pitched a substantially smaller casino plan than the other Monroe County site, Pocono Manor, centered primarily on lodging and gaming. That could help other area businesses because slots parlor patrons might have more incentive to wander off the casino property in search of entertainment.

The project is designed for ''the whole area to benefit, not just Mount Airy,'' said its spokesman, Kevin Feeley. ''We by design chose not to compete with those attractions but to complement them.''

But it also means promises of fewer jobs and less tax revenues than what Pocono Manor has pledged.

Nevertheless, McGill of Susquehanna Financial Group said the project is the front-runner to win a slots license in the Poconos.

McGill gave Mount Airy 3-to-1 odds in winning a license, in part because of a commitment by Mount Airy's owner Louis DeNaples to build a hotel regardless of whether he wins a license. McGill said DeNaples is also favored because of his business and political activities. DeNaples and his family have heavily contributed to state and federal political campaigns.

On the flip side, some of DeNaples' alleged connections could create problems for him landing a license.

LOCATION — It will be built in Paradise Township on the site of the renowned — and since demolished — Mount Airy Resort. Access will be from Woodland Road, which leads from Route 611 to the hotel and casino. Mount Airy officials have said their project would boost regional tourism and economic growth because of its location along the Route 611 corridor. It's within 10 minutes of The Crossings shopping outlets and within 15 minutes of 22 hotels with an average 54 percent occupancy rate.

The site's name recognition also is expected to help generate tourism.

A downside: The site is near a Pocono Mountain School District complex.

OPERATOR — The resort would be run by a team of gaming industry executives led by Paul Henderson, the former president and chief operating officer of Caesars Atlantic City, the Atlantic City Hilton and Trump Marina Hotel and Casino.

The project is owned by Lackawanna County native DeNaples, who owns nearly 100 businesses, including two landfills, and is chairman of a $1 billion Scranton bank.

DeNaples' slots application has come under scrutiny because of his 1978 felony conviction for submitting fraudulent invoices to the federal government for cleanup work after the Hurricane Agnes flood in 1972. Years later, state and federal investigators claimed to link DeNaples to organized crime, saying he had ties to William ''Billy'' D'Elia, the reputed head of the Bufalino family in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Neither DeNaples nor D'Elia was charged with any crimes.

The gaming board is only required to consider convictions 15 years old or newer.

Additionally, DeNaples' connection to members of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has drawn attention.

Board member Ray Angeli is president of Lackawanna College and reports to the college's board of trustees, which until recently was headed by DeNaples' brother, Dominick. Al Magnotta of CICO Associates, DeNaples' chief engineer at Mount Airy Lodge, also resigned from the college board amid concerns his ties to Angeli would bias the gaming board member.

Feeley said the allegations shouldn't matter.

''It shouldn't make a difference because it's just not accurate. [DeNaples] has built a record of achievement in both the business world and the world of philanthropy, that really is second to none,'' Feeley said. ''We believe the gaming board can come to their own conclusion about what's fact and what's fiction about Louis DeNaples.''

PLAN — DeNaples has proposed a $412 million project that includes an 18-hole golf course, 200-room hotel and a glass-enclosed pool. The 547,000-square-foot resort also will have a 400-seat restaurant, 120-seat steakhouse, 300-seat nightclub and retail space.

Construction already has begun on the hotel, which is scheduled to open regardless of whether DeNaples is awarded a slots license.

The new pool building will take up nearly an acre and will be built behind the planned casino.

Pocono Manor

This massive $3.1 billion project bills itself as the largest casino plan in the state, promising to create nearly 4,000 jobs and generate annual gaming revenues exceeding $350 million.

How? With a colossal entertainment complex that would contain 3,000 slot machines to start — 5,000 upon completion — alongside a convention center, 6,000-seat sports/entertainment arena, two golf courses, a dozen upscale restaurants and more than 600,000 square feet of retail space encircling a 12-acre lake.

And it's expected to have about 2,000 hotel rooms by the time construction is completed.

''We're planning a world-class resort,'' said Greg Matzel, the New Jersey developer who bought Pocono Manor.

Matzel has said the ambitious project would become one of the region's largest employers, and the expected midweek convention business would rival events held in New York City and Atlantic City.

LOCATION — The 3,000-acre Pocono Manor property is between Interstate 380 and Routes 940 and 314 in Tobyhanna Township. It sits two miles north of Camelback Ski Area, a major resort. Entrance-only access would be provided off Route 940, while two main entrances and exits would be off Route 314.

OPERATOR — Dennis Gomes, who previously was president of Aztar Corp. and ran the Tropicana casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, will become the chief executive officer of Pocono Manor should it be granted a casino license. In addition to heading Matzel Development, Matzel is a principal of Pocono Manor Investors, which owns Pocono Manor. If the facility is licensed, Matzel will become chairman of the Pocono Manor and Casino.

PLAN — Pocono Manor is proposing a ''destination resort'' of more than 600,000 square feet of retail space, a 750-room hotel, two large conference centers, a sports arena and a 120,000-square-foot convention center. It also wants a 230-foot-tall, glass-enclosed hotel and casino. Plans have drawn little opposition with the exception of three community groups, who don't like the height of the hotel/casino. Some also have complained that the proposal will include so many amenities, it will dissuade gamblers from patronizing other area businesses.

Adams County

Pennsylvania would never allow a casino near the historic battlefields where the Union Army beat back Confederate forces during the Civil War, right? That's the conventional wisdom among political observers. McGill, the Wall Street analyst for Susquehanna Financial Group, puts 99-1 odds against the state letting casino developers anywhere near Gettysburg. Yet, executives at appropriately named Chance Enterprises said there isn't a better place for their $350 million casino and hotel complex in Straban Township.

''For all those people who say we have no shot, I have two words: Vicksburg, Mississippi,'' Crossroads spokesman David LaTorre said, referring to the Civil War battlefield town that has four riverboat casinos. ''They've reduced taxes, rebuilt their schools and rebuilt their town. Not bad for a town with four riverboat casinos across the road from a battlefield.''

If you're wagering at home — for entertainment, of course — here are factors that may determine whether Gettysburg's longshot comes in:

LOCATION — Of all slots applicants, none has a more controversial site: roughly two miles from the Gettysburg battlefield, perhaps close enough to scare board members. There is a large group of locals who oppose the project.

Yet it has the potential to be the most lucrative site outside of Philadelphia. Sitting just 10 miles from the Maryland border, its ability to draw visitors from Baltimore and Washington, D.C., could yield $320 million a year, according to a 2003 study commissioned by the state Senate Appropriations Committee. But that comes with a downside. If gambling is approved in Maryland, the casino's business would be cut by more than half, according to the study.

OPERATOR — Millennium Gaming Inc. would operate the facility, with partners who once helped run luxury casinos such as Mirage, MGM and Excalibur, all in Las Vegas. But the development group Crossroads Gaming Resort and Spa is led by Gettysburg-area businessman David LeVan. LeVan, 59, owner of Battlefield Harley-Davidson, grew up in Gettysburg and spent 30 years in Philadelphia as an accountant and then chief executive officer of Conrail, until 1997. Before gambling was approved, he donated money for the preservation of historic sites in Adams County. His local popularity has gained the trust of some opponents.

However, even some of LeVan supporters have expressed worry, because documents released in August show that while LeVan is the front man, he owns just 12.5 percent of the plan, compared with the 75 percent owned by Silver Point Capital of Greenwich, Conn. While locals worry that decisions will be made by out-of-town majority investors, LaTorre said as chairman LeVan makes all the decisions.

PLAN — The $350 million resort, near Routes 15 and 30, would include a 224-room hotel with a spa and at least 3,000 slot machines. Its ancillary development plan, with a few shops and several restaurants, is modest compared with the later phases in Bethlehem and Pocono Manor.

The next step

It's taken a mountain of paper, hundreds of hours of public hearings and 12 months of waiting since 22 applicants applied for the right to run one of Pennsylvania's 14 casinos. By Christmas, millions of would-be gamblers will know where they'll be able to drop their quarters into one of the state's fancy new slot machines. Whether it's near a historic battlefield, on a vacant industrial site or in a defunct resort, one thing is certain: Casino companies expect to make a fortune. In its first eight days of gambling, Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs — the only casino to open in Pennsylvania — saw nearly $43 million bet. Roughly $38 million was paid back to winners; $2.4 million will be paid in state and local taxes. That leaves $2 million for what was projected to be one of the smallest casinos in the state.

''You can see why so many casinos are anxious to get into this market,'' said gaming board spokesman Doug Harbach. ''Those numbers indicate that maybe the revenues from this will be even more significant than we thought.''

More here.

Tips for a successful holiday office party

Don't treat your office gala like just any other shindig. It may be held after hours or off-site, but you're still in a work setting, surrounded by your co-workers and bosses. Inappropriate behavior is sure to be noticed, and it could hurt your career.

Monster, the job search Web site, has this advice:

  • Drink in moderation. It's not in good taste to get sloshed with your bosses and co-workers. You don't want to say or do something under the influence that could haunt you on Monday morning.

  • Dress appropriately. It may be tempting to pull out your holiday finest, but don't wear anything that would tarnish your image as a professional. For women, anything too short, tight or revealing is a no-go.

  • Check the guest list. Before you bring your wife or boyfriend to the fete, make sure significant others and spouses are really invited.

  • Time it right. Don't show up 15 minutes before the party ends just to ''make an appearance.'' Conversely, partying into the wee hours doesn't look so smart either.

  • Network with the top brass. If you don't mingle with the company chief executive, vice presidents or other higher-ups on a daily basis, the company party may be your chance to get noticed. Introduce yourself and socialize with others outside your normal work circle.

  • Say thank you. Planning an office party requires a lot of work, so be sure to thank the organizers. It's the right thing to do — and you'll set yourself apart from the other employees who aren't as courteous.
More here.

Allentown Tree Lighting Ceremony Tonight

Allentown's Christmas tree lighting ceremony will be held at 5 p.m. today on Center Square at 7th and Hamilton streets.

The Christmas Tree lighting ceremony will feature Mayor Ed Pawlowski, Santa Claus, musical entertainment and a "special surprise."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Ethnic Eats: Rafaela's

701 E. Fourth St.
Bethlehem PA

Food type: Latin and international

From the Morning Call:
"Think nothing of eating shrimp enchilada next to a Maryland crab cake, or Colombian-style beefsteak alongside paella Valenciana. Something Brazilian here, something Jamaican there … it's to be expected. The major accent in this 14-seat South Bethlehem end-of-row, though, is Dominican, the native food of the establishment's eponymous owner/cook."

Lehigh County Municipalities take a step in the right direction

Fighting a notoriously fractional government system in Pennsylvania, Lehigh County Municipalities are looking to form a Lehigh County Congress of Governments. The Lehigh Valley is stagnated by the number of operational government facilities in Lehigh, Northampton and Carbon Counties - about 14 institutions per 100,000 people compared to a national norm of 6.1 per 100,000 people. According to a report put out by the Brookings Institute, this fragmentation complicates coordination, exacerbates unbalanced growth patterns, and undercuts the region's ability to compete economically.

Taking the first steps toward a Lehigh County Congress of Governments , officials from all but two municipalities discussed forming the group last week.

They are expected to meet again in mid-January after they receive proposed bylaws, said Cindy Feinberg, the county community and economic development director.

''I think the idea of having a formal organization of local governments is very valuable to them and to the county,'' said County Executive Don Cunningham.

The aim of the COG is to boost communication and cooperation among the county's 25 municipalities. Cunningham said a COG would be created even if not all join.

At the next meeting, COG representatives may discuss priorities. On Thursday, municipal officials pressed small, round stickers next to topics, such as ''open space,'' printed on large sheets of paper.

Based on the stickers, the top three issues were emergency management, traffic and economic development/smart growth, Feinberg said.

According to Renew Lehigh Valley, regionalized approaches to service delivery could result in major economic savings, more coordinated and organized service delivery and an increase in service quality. Areas for improvement include Water/Wastewater, Police Services and Fire/Ambulatory Services.

Economic development/smart growth should be of interest to young professionals, who according to a town hall meeting hosted by Renew Lehigh Valley earlier this year, identified open space as one of their top priorities.


Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham is asking communities to participate in a Congress of Governments.

Proposed structure:
  • Three representatives from each municipality
  • One vote per municipality
  • Three vice chairs: one each for the cities, boroughs, and townships
  • Cunningham would appoint vice chairs in 2007; representatives of each class would elect vice chairs in 2008 and on
  • Meet at least four times a year
  • Next tentative meeting: mid-January
More here.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Recent New York Times article highlights the need for young professionals

"Cities Compete in Hipness Battle to Attract Young," recent article in the New York Times highlights a new study out by CEOs for Cities which highlights the need for young professionals to revitalize downtown communities.

ATLANTA, Nov. 24 — Some cities will do anything they can think of to keep young people from fleeing to a hipper town.

In Lansing, Mich., partiers can ease from bar to bar on the new Entertainment Express trolley, part of the state’s Cool Cities Initiative. In Portland, Ore., employees at an advertising firm can watch indie rock concerts at lunch and play “bump,” an abbreviated form of basketball, every afternoon.

And in Memphis, employers pay for recruits to be matched with hip young professionals in a sort of corporate Big Brothers program. A new biosciences research park is under construction — not in the suburbs, but downtown, just blocks from the nightlife of Beale Street.

These measures reflect a hard demographic reality: Baby boomers are retiring and the number of young adults is declining. (Listen up Lehigh Valley.) By 2012, the work force will be losing more than two workers for every one it gains.

Cities have long competed over job growth, struggling to revive their downtowns and improve their image. But the latest population trends have forced them to fight for college-educated 25- to 34-year-olds, a demographic group increasingly viewed as the key to an economic future. (That's us.)

Mobile but not flighty, fresh but technologically savvy, “the young and restless,” as demographers call them, are at their most desirable age, particularly because their chances of relocating drop precipitously when they turn 35. Cities that do not attract them now will be hurting in a decade.

“It’s a zero-sum game,” said William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, noting that one city’s gain can only be another’s loss. “These are rare and desirable people.”

They are people who, demographers say, are likely to choose a location before finding a job. They like downtown living, public transportation and plenty of entertainment options. They view diversity and tolerance as marks of sophistication.

The problem for cities, says Richard Florida, a public policy professor at George Mason University who has written about what he calls “the creative class,” is that those cities that already have a significant share of the young and restless are in the best position to attract more.

“There are a dozen places, at best, that are becoming magnets for these people,” Mr. Florida said.

That disparity was evident in a report released this week by the Metropolitan Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, which showed Atlanta leading the pack among big cities, while other metro areas, like Philadelphia, hemorrhaged young people from 1990 to 2000. (In this competition, surveys that make a city look good are a favorite opening salvo.)

In that decade, the Atlanta study said, the number of 25- to-34-year-olds with four-year college degrees in the city increased by 46 percent, placing Atlanta in the top five metropolitan areas in terms of growth rate, and a close second to San Francisco in terms of overall numbers. Charlotte, N.C., also outperformed Atlanta, with a growth rate of 57 percent, the second highest in the country after Las Vegas.

(Demographers point out that Las Vegas started with very small numbers and still ranks last among major cities when it comes to the percentage of its 25- to 34-year-olds with a college degree.)

Atlanta did particularly well with young, educated blacks — a boon for employers seeking to diversify their ranks. The city’s report zeroed in on people like Tiffany Patterson, 27, who on a recent Thursday night was hanging out at Verve, the sleek new Midtown bar and restaurant that is one of her marketing clients.

The place was thrumming with young African-Americans in leather jackets, stilettos or pinstripe suits — the kind of vibe, said Ms. Patterson, who is from Dallas, that made her stay in Atlanta after college.

“If I go home, women my age are looking for a husband,” she said. “They have a cubicle job.”

In Atlanta, Ms. Patterson said, she can afford a new town house. A few years ago, she decided to leave her financial sector job and start her own business as a marketing consultant.

“I thought, I can break out and do it myself,” she said. “It really is the city of the fearless.”

The recent study, based on census figures and conducted by Joe Cortright of Impresa Consulting in Portland and Carol Coletta, president and chief executive of CEOs for Cities, a nonprofit organization in Chicago, showed that Atlanta won its net gain in educated young people by luring them from New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.

“What we’re seeing is the jury of the most skeptical age group in America has looked at Atlanta’s character and likes it,” Sam A. Williams, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, said.

But Mr. Williams acknowledged the difficulty of replicating that phenomenon on purpose.

Had the chamber tried to advertise Atlanta, he said, “we might have screwed it up —because they’re much more trusting of their own network than they are of any marketing campaign.”

“You can’t fake it here,” he said. “You either do it or you don’t.”

In addition to Atlanta, the biggest gainers in market share of the young and restless were San Francisco; Denver; Portland; and Austin, Tex. The biggest losers included Washington, Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles.

But some of the losing cities have been trying hard to forestall their losses, in part by focusing on talented workers who want a certain lifestyle instead of big employers that have traditionally been interested in tax credits and infrastructure.

Steven W. Pedigo, the research director for the Greater Washington Initiative, a regional economic group, said the numbers there had begun to turn around. Stephanie Naidoff, Philadelphia’s director of commerce, said a major effort to draw college students off campus with things like internships and concert tickets was paying off, increasing the city’s graduate retention numbers.

Studies like Atlanta’s are common these days. From Milwaukee to Tampa Bay, consultants have been hired to score such nebulous indexes as “social capital,” “after hours” and “vitality.” Relocation videos have begun to feature dreadlocks and mosh pits instead of sunsets and duck ponds. In the governor’s race in Michigan this fall, the candidates repeatedly sparred over how best to combat “brain drain.”

But determining exactly what works is not easy. In Atlanta, focus group participants liked the low cost of living, an airport hub that allowed easy travel and what they perceived as a diverse and open culture.

And Atlanta has some strong advantages, of course. There are some 45 colleges and universities in the metro area. The Cartoon Network is based here, as are scores of companies in the technology and entertainment sectors. The music industry is another draw for the creative class. And the city has large international and gay populations, considered strong indicators for popularity with the young and restless.

“Atlanta’s just one of those mixes,” said T. J. Ashiru, 30, a Nigerian who chose Atlanta over New York for college shortly after the 1996 Olympics were held here, and stayed to begin his career in finance. “The Olympics was basically the catalyst for what Atlanta became.”

In some cases, cities have done well in the competition without even overtly trying. Charlotte has done well without either a major university or the kind of strong identity — like Austin’s position as a live music capital — that helps put cities on the young-and-restless map.

At the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, Tony Crumbley, the vice president for research, said the city and state had done a lot of things right without realizing it, like establishing liberal banking laws that made Charlotte a financial capital, and redeveloping downtown in the 1980s.

“Another thing,” Mr. Crumbley said, “there are more Frisbee golf courses in this area than any other place in the country.”

Still, what works in one city will not work in others, Mr. Cortright said, and not all young people are looking for the same things. He cites Portland’s bike paths, which many point to as an amenity that has helped the city attract young people.

“I think that confuses a result with a cause,” Mr. Cortright said. Portland happened to have a group who wanted concessions for cyclists and was able to get them, he said.

“The real issue was, is your city open to a set of ideas from young people, and their wish to realize their dream or objective in your city,” he said. “You could go out and build bike paths, but if that’s not what your young people want, it’s not going to work.”

So the NET challenges area businesses to offer some more innovative perks, and asks area leaders to listen to young professionals. We are the future of the Lehigh Valley.

Financial Planning 101: "Feed the pig" says national Ad Counicl and PICPA

A few weeks ago we posted about motivating yourself to save and invest monies. Last week, an article in the Eastern Pennsylvania Business Journal highlighted a new marketing campaign from the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA) and the national Ad Council aimed at getting people in their 20s and 30s to save more money and build long-term financial security.

A recent study by Christopher Thornberg and Jon Haveman, economists with Beacon Economics in Los Angeles showed the number of people in the 25-34 age group (that's us) maintaining an interest-bearing account or other saving instrument has declined from 65 percent in 1985 to 55 percent in 2004. In addition, the age group's net worth has fallen from $6,788 in 1985 to $3,746 in 2004 despite higher incomes.

With pensions drying up, and Social Security's future uncertain, people can no longer depend on them to be there when they reach retirement age. The campaign is geared toward young professionals because we have time on our side.

"If you sit down with a financial planner when you're in your 20s and 30s and he said 'If you put away this now it will be worth this when you retire,' you'd say 'Wow! That's a lot.' But if you do it when you're in your 50s and 60s, and they give you the same numbers, it's depressing," says Andy Weidman, PICPA president.

"It's easier to put away $500 when you're in your 20s than it is to put away $5,000 when you're 60. People have to realize that for every 10 years they wait to save, they are reducing their nest egg by half," says Virgil Kahl, CPA.

The campaign's home page features Benjamin Bankes, the Feed the Pig spokespig who provides tips for everyday saving and useful calculators to help set savings goals and pay down debt.

Suze Oreman, financial consultant and author of Young, Fabulous and Broke, a financial book geared toward young professionals suggests the following:
1. Take full advantage of your company's 401(k) plan or 403(b) plan and pay in up to the full matching or partial matching amount.
2. Create an emergency savings account to cover basic cost of living needs in a high-yield savings account like Emigrant Direct where your money will be accessible in case of an emergency.
3. Save further by opening up a Roth IRA.

NET in the News: Article appears in The Whitehall-Catasauqua News

The following article appeared in the The Whitehall-Catasauqua News:

Network brings together local young professionals in Valley

There is a disease known as "brain drain" that affects many areas throughout the United States where talented young college grads look to move to larger cities to start their careers.

The symptoms can be the loss of local talent from local colleges and the absence of young professionals within certain companies.

The Lehigh Valley Network of Young Professionals has been working for the last five years to combat this phenomenon.

"We started in reaction to the 'brain drain,'" Network Vice President Wendy Gerlach, a Rodale, Inc. employee said. "We wanted to bring young professionals together an try and keep them in the Lehigh Valley."

For years, many companies in the Lehigh Valley have found it difficult to recruit and retain young professionals.

The idea behind the Network was to foster a sense of community among this group and to help them get out and meet other young people, to provide them with professional development and showcase what the Valley has to offer. If you could improve young professionals' quality of life, then they would be less likely to consider leaving, she said.

"We routinely hold social events while also giving young professionals throughout the Lehigh Valley the chance to meet with other people like them, who may not know of certain events that are being held or maybe don't know many other people in their same situation," she said.

Five years ago, the Ben Franklin Technology Partners stepped in to help with the development of the Network which is unaffiliated with any local chamber of commerce.

The Technology Partners, a state-funded economic development group, helped harness the every of some of the region's young professionals to start a group.

The first event was held on Jan. 24, 2001. More than 80 people attended. Since then, membership and interest have steadily increased.

Gerlach said that the Network holds social events that may include going to different independently owned restaurants throughout the area, hosting certain day trips and also providing certain seminars for young professionals to visit, whether at local colleges or other venues.

"We want to give young professionals the opportunity to not only get together, but also learn new things that they can bring back to their own jobs," Gerlach said. "We want them to be able to grow professionally within the Lehigh Valley."

The Network has numerous events planned form coming months including a social outing in downtown Bethlehem.

For more information on The Lehigh Valley Network of Young Professionals and to find upcoming events, visit

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Christmas Light Extravaganza's

We here at the NET, although we may be 'big kids', still enjoy a good Christmas light display, and look forward to the Christmas light tours printed in the Morning Call every year.

However, two area attractions take Christmas light displays to a whole new level.

Koziar's Christmas Village, in Bernville, has more than a half a million lights adorning buildings, gift barns and landscapes. Christmas Village, in its 59 year history, has received many awards including the Best Outdoor Christmas Display in the World by Display World magazine. A discount coupon can be found here.

Lights in the Parkway, in Allentown, is a drive-through display held in a local park featuring Cinderella, Santa Clause and other famous characters. Discount tickets are available at area Wegmans, and Allentown City Hall. A discount coupon can be found here. Prices are per car, so grab some friends and pack that vehicle!

Both run through the end of December.