Thursday, March 29, 2007

Beth Gorin leaves LVEDC post

Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. said its chief executive officer, Beth R. Gorin, resigned Wednesday. Sources said she was pressured to step down.

Gorin replaced longtime CEO Ray Suhocki in August 2006 and quickly became a lightning rod for criticism. Her eight-month tenure at the region's main agency for attracting companies was shorter than the 10-month search to fill the position.

High staff turnover marked her tenure. Two longtime high-level employees were let go, and a third left without lining up another job.

Gorin, 36, who made $140,000 a year, was the first woman to lead LVEDC, which also administers loan programs and offers assistance to companies already in the Valley.

The organization's chairman, Robert Episcopo, said Gorin stepped down for personal reasons. Her resignation was effective immediately. Gorin did not return phone messages.

LVEDC said it plans to appoint an interim or, if possible, a permanent replacement within two weeks.

The organization has been embroiled in controversy of one kind or another for the past couple of years. In 2005, a volunteer chairman caused upheaval in the organization when he questioned whether it needed new leadership and pushed the group to disclose more information about its finances. The chairman, John Englesson, stepped down before his term ended.

Last year, elected officials complained LVEDC made major decisions without their input and said it needs to have more people at the table making decisions.

During Gorin's tenure, officials complained about a number of issues, including LVEDC's decision to hire an executive coach for her and the dismissals of longtime employees.

Janet Smith, the organization's No. 2 employee, said she was let go in November 2006 and not given a reason. Smith, who had been vice president of finance and administration, this month took a job with a state team that works with companies planning to relocate in Pennsylvania.

Roger Mellin, the former director of business development, was let go in October 2006.

Some elected officials say those departures cast a pall over the organization.

''She may have made some errors in judgment in terms of some of the staff firings,'' Northampton County Executive John Stoffa said. ''I think that hurt her.''

In an interview in January, Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham said he told Gorin to ''stop the bleeding.'' After the dismissals, Cunningham pushed to have the county executives and area mayors added as officers of LVEDC. The proposal, adopted in January, gives the elected officials more say in the day-to-day operations of the group.

At the time, Cunningham said he had fielded ''lots of questions from Harrisburg officials about the way things have been handled'' at LVEDC.

Others were not as concerned about the staff changes.

''I think turnover is not always a negative thing,'' said Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski. ''New blood is not bad.''

Episcopo, the chairman, said turnover did not slow LVEDC and was not a factor in Gorin's departure. ''I don't see that at all,'' he said.

He said he was disappointed that the organization will have to start the long process of choosing a new leader. ''We have our work cut out for us,'' he said.

Episcopo's comments were echoed by Pawlowski, who said it's a setback any time an organization like LVEDC loses its chief executive.

Pawlowski was disappointed Gorin left because he hoped her background in downtown development could help Allentown.

Gorin's arrival seemed to herald a new era for LVEDC. Its former chairman, Englesson, had urged the group to welcome more women and young professionals into the fold. She had worked previously as president of the Bergen County Economic Development Corp. As a longtime New Jersey resident, she brought perspectives from outside the Valley.

But Stoffa said Gorin's personality was at times off-putting. ''I think at times she could be somewhat abrasive,'' he said. ''She played many roles. She could be cordial, and then I think she could be cutting. In the kind of business she's in, you almost have to be cordial all the time.''

Some officials said the organization needs someone at the top who knows the Valley. Episcopo said it would be quicker, and might be advantageous, to choose a local replacement. ''I think there is a preference for trying to identify someone in the Valley,'' he said.

Gorin was chosen from a final slate of three candidates that included Don Maxwell, who, when he was interviewed for the job last year, was director of economic development for Virginia Beach, Va.

Maxwell, who has since become director of community and economic development for Phoenix, was the first choice of Stoffa, Cunningham and other public officials on the search committee.

Cunningham said in January the choice of Maxwell ''was vetoed by the non-public sector people on the board.''

Episcopo said he didn't recall who favored which candidate.

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