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Ben Franklin Venture Idol Preview: Bethlehem's Orbweaver improves efficiency in the EMS sector

Keystone Edge is profiling contestants in the upcoming Ben Franklin Venture Idol competition (Nov. 20 at Ben Franklin TechVentures). After earning their way through the afternoon selection process, entrepreneurs pitch their startups to investors and attendees. Ben Franklin will invest $15,000 based on the "crowd-funded" audience vote.

For electronic circuit board makers and others in the electronics manufacturing services (EMS) industry, sourcing and procuring components is time consuming, inefficient and expensive.

Bethlehem's Orbweaver Sourcing has developed a cloud-based software solution that boosts the speed, accuracy and productivity of the parts procurement process. The platform automatically analyzes and filters search results from hundreds of suppliers based on nearly a dozen customizable settings. Tailoring results to a customer's unique demands saves time and money.

Established in 2012, Orbweaver launched its QS2 supply-chain management software in 2013, first as a browser-based app and Excel add-in, and later as a cloud-based product. Today the company has several dozen clients around the country, reports CEO Christopher Ciesielka. 

Orbweaver is preparing to launch two new products in the next quarter.

"We are looking to release a sizable upgrade…that will include client specific pricing, which will enable users to aggregate electronic component pricing based upon the prices specifically offered to them by suppliers, as opposed to generic retail pricing," says Ciesielka. "This upgrade is a substantial improvement in electronic component quote cycle efficiency, [and] moves our toolset into the procurement and logistics cycles of the EMS industry."

In response to feedback from suppliers and distributors, Orbweaver is also preparing to launch a second toolset for use further down the supply chain. 

The company recently hired its fifth full-time employee.

Source: Christopher Ciesielka, Orbweaver Sourcing
Writer: Elise Vider

Workforce Quarterly shines a light on employment in the Pittsburgh region

"Tech careers in the Pittsburgh region these days are not for software engineers only," says Allegheny Conference on Community Development CEO Dennis Yablonsky. 

That was a key finding of the inaugural issue of Workforce Quarterly, a new publication that promises to shine a bright light on the Pittsburgh region’s employment ecosystem. 

The free publication, published by the Conference’s ImaginePittsburgh.com and the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, will analyze and present data about the region's evolving workforce landscape in an easily digestible and visual way. The inaugural issue (Fall 2014) focuses on IT-related careers in the region and the need to shift perception to meet demand.

"Job seekers, educators, career counselors and parents need to understand where the opportunities really are," explains Yablonsky. "Tech, we discovered, is at the heart of many open positions in the region. This is one example of perception-changing news that we hope our Workforce Quarterly reports can communicate." 

Here are a few more of the findings from the first issue:   
• Fifty-seven percent of all the open jobs in the region -- across all sectors -- require some IT skill or knowledge.
• Not every candidate for an IT job needs a four-year degree.
• Web developers (who have experienced the fastest growth rate, 21 percent, between 2007 and 2012) typically require only an associate’s degree.
• Advanced manufacturers are increasingly seeking more brain than brawn in employees, hiring women and men who are tech-savvy and capable of using the technologies that run today’s innovation-driven manufacturing processes.
"It is clear that individuals no longer need a four-year degree to work in IT-related jobs, nor do IT-related careers exist only at such companies as Google, IBM or Microsoft," the report concludes. "Well-compensated IT-related jobs exist in every industry in nearly every company and at every education level. As demand for these occupations continues to grow, it is important for the region to graduate and train more individuals, to develop and promote clear career pathways for all, and to have industry at the table to appropriately align supply to demand."

The next Workforce Quarterly is set for December and will focus on the region's aging workforce. 

Source: Dennis Yablonsky, Allegheny Conference on Community Development
Writer: Elise Vider

Ben Franklin Venture Idol Preview: Bethlehem's Map Decisions software helps manage infrastructure

Keystone Edge is profiling contestants in the upcoming Ben Franklin Venture Idol competition (Nov. 20 at Ben Franklin TechVentures). After earning their way through the afternoon selection process, entrepreneurs pitch their startups to investors and attendees. Ben Franklin will invest $15,000 based on the "crowd-funded" audience vote.

For strapped local governments, compliance with everything from stormwater management regulations to inventorying traffic signals can be a big job.

"With revenues declining and infrastructure aging, municipalities need to maximize the value from their existing assets," says Christian Birch, founder of Bethlehem's Map Decisions. "And even though budgets are getting tighter, demands for high quality service and accountability increase every day. In recent years, local governments face growing regulatory compliance demands that present an increased risk of fines and tort liability claims. Municipalities need to ensure that infrastructure assets are available, safe, reliable and performing to design standards."

Map Decisions streamlines the process of mapping, managing and analyzing infrastructure assets. Its Mobile Enterprise Asset Management System, launched earlier this year, is a secure, cloud-based mobile platform that combines the benefits of geographic information systems (GIS), mobile work orders and computerized maintenance management systems. Aimed at governments, utilities, and the energy, transportation and construction industries, Map Decisions’ products are affordable, easy-to-use, can be set-up quickly and require no long-term commitment, says Birch.

"These services are an attractive option for customers that do not have the staff required to conduct the collection of data for their initial asset inventory," he explains. "For example, our Traffic Sign Management module helps municipalities comply with a federal mandate that requires them to map and capture 30 different attributes for each road sign that is located within their municipality. Our product dramatically reduces the time required to capture and manage asset data versus paper-based processes. If our customers don't have the staff to complete their initial inventories, Map Decisions will conduct [them]. Once completed, Map Decisions will provide them with their complete data and the free use of our software for a year."

Looking ahead, the company will focus on sales and marketing; it is on target to hit revenue projections for this year and projects quadrupled revenue next year. Map Decisions doubled its staff from two to four in the past three months, and anticipates creating four additional jobs in the next 12 months. 

Source: Christian Birch, Map Decisions
Writer: Elise Vider

Chevron's $20 million Appalachia Partnership Initiative addresses skills gap for energy jobs

It is well documented that energy companies in southwestern Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia and eastern Ohio struggle to find applicants qualified to fill skilled jobs.

Now the Chevron Corporation has announced the Appalachia Partnership Initiative, a $20 million effort designed to address education and workforce development in 27 counties in the three states. Launched in coordination with the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and the RAND Corporation, the initiative aims to improve science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and technical training to help growing regional energy and manufacturing industries fill thousands of new jobs. 

The initiative is the culmination of a planning process Chevron engaged in with local partners, business and community leaders, and educators to identify regional needs and priorities. A 2012 workforce analysis by the Allegheny Conference documented the impact of the skills gap in the local workforce, especially in STEM fields. 

"We know that an educated and skilled workforce leads to economic growth -- for our business, our partners and the communities where we operate," says Nigel Hearne, president of Chevron Appalachia. "Our success is deeply linked to the region's progress, and we believe the Appalachia Partnership Initiative will act as a catalyst for social investment that addresses workforce development and helps to build a new energy economy that creates jobs and economic development opportunities across the region." 

The Appalachia Partnership Initiative includes an expansion of Project Lead the Way, focused on STEM programs in K-12 schools, and ShaleNET, a workforce training program for the oil and natural gas industries. In addition, it will develop an Energy Lab in Allegheny County and Bethlehem Center school districts to teach middle school students about a variety of energy resources in conjunction with Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center

Source: Chevron Corporation
Writer: Elise Vider

Mercyhurst U 'Quickstarter' boosts entrepreneurship in Erie

You've no doubt heard of Kickstarter, the popular online crowdfunding platform. Now Kristan Wheaton, a Mercyhurst University professor, has developed "Quickstarter," a tool to identify and help potential entrepreneurs conceive successful crowdfunding campaigns.

Quickstarter is to Kickstarter what entrepreneurs are to "pre-entrepreneurs," Wheaton’s term for individuals with ideas and skills who haven’t yet "made the mental leap to entrepreneurship."

Under Quickstarter, Wheaton and his students form support teams to provide pre-entrepreneurs with targeted assistance needed to move the project forward. The help might come in the form of copywriting, public relations, graphic design, social media management or video production. If crowdfunding is successful, Quickstarter will direct the entrepreneur to appropriate resources to advance their idea.

Three projects are already underway with funding from a Mercyhurst Academic Enrichment Grant. Now, a $10,000 investment from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pennsylvania will enable five more Quickstarter projects through June 2015.

"Quickstarter, which is basically just my plan for supporting crowdfunding campaigns and increasing the likelihood of their success, is a great opportunity for entrepreneurs in the Erie region who need specific kinds of technical support to launch their ideas and potentially turn them into real business opportunities," explains Wheaton.

There is also a larger mission in mind. Citing a March 2014 report, "Northwest Pennsylvania’s ‘entrepreneur problem’ is a simple one. There aren’t enough of them," says Wheaton.

The lack of entrepreneurs and a workforce skills gap, "exacerbate the so-called ‘brain drain’ as both young college graduates seeking relevant skills to build their resumes and entrepreneurs leave the area. To remedy this, the No. 1 recommendation of the study…was to improve the entrepreneurial culture and generate additional deal flow -- in short, increase the supply of entrepreneurs. Quickstarter addresses this recommendation directly."

Wheaton has laid out a strategy for scaling up Quickstarter with the goal of supporting 100 successful projects over three years. 

Source: Kristan Wheaton, Mercyhurst University
Writer: Elise Vider

Freight Train Coming: CSX Pittsburgh intermodal facility will link to Midwest and beyond

CSX Corporation, the transportation giant, is deep into the planning process for its Pittsburgh Intermodal Rail Terminal. When completed, the project will provide Western Pennsylvania companies with a direct freight rail link to the Midwest and beyond.

"Freight rail is the most environmentally friendly way to move goods over land," says CSX spokesperson Melanie Cost. "One CSX train can move a ton of freight 470 miles on one gallon of fuel, and every intermodal train takes up to 280 trucks off the road. CSX's intermodal service involves partnering with trucking companies and other logistics providers to take advantage of the long-haul efficiency of rail and the short-haul flexibility of trucking."

CSX is investing between $50 and $60 million in the facility, which will be built at the former Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Yard in McKees Rocks and Stowe Township. 

The project is expected to generate approximately 350 construction jobs during the building phase, and 40 on-site and 40 drayage jobs once operational. The terminal is also expected to create about 100 indirect jobs at support businesses.

As for the timetable, the project is currently in the planning, development and permitting stage, which will continue into 2015. Construction is expected to take about two years.  

"Once the terminal is completed, businesses in the Pittsburgh region will have double-stack connections to CSX’s intermodal hub in Northwest Ohio, and connections from there to key markets in the West, the Southwest, the Southeast and Mexico," explains Cost. "That means they’ll have more efficient, more reliable access to major consumption markets beyond their current reach."

Earlier this month, The Pennsylvania Economic Development Association awarded CSX the 2013 Economic Development Partner of the Year Award for its work developing the "environmentally friendly rail corridor connecting the Mid-Atlantic and the Midwest."

Source: Melanie Cost, CSX Corporation
Writer: Elise Vider

Ben Franklin Venture Idol Preview: Lewisburg company builds software for accrediting physicians

Keystone Edge is profiling contestants in the upcoming Ben Franklin Venture Idol competition (Nov. 20 at Ben Franklin TechVentures). After earning their way through the afternoon selection process, entrepreneurs pitch their startups to investors and attendees. Ben Franklin will invest $15,000 based on the "crowd-funded" audience vote.

Accrediting the hundreds of thousands of students and physicians who receive clinical training at healthcare institutions in the U.S. and abroad is a vast and complex undertaking. And now the Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education requires hospitals to report performance data for each resident physician on a bi-annual basis, a much more onerous task from its old reporting requirement of every three to five years. 

Meeting the requirements is made even more difficult by outdated software products -- created in the mid-'90s to replace paper -- that dominate the industry. 

Santhosh Cherian, a radiology resident at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, was sure there had to be a better way. Combining his background in medicine and in software and web design, he formed Medtrics Lab in 2013 with Adityo Sagir, a management consultant, to fill the gap in the healthcare technology market.

Working with physicians who are actively involved in graduate medical education accreditation and software engineers, Medtrics developed a cloud-based clinical education management system for hospitals, medical schools and universities. The software handles all aspects of training, including scheduling, performance evaluations, demographics data, procedure credentialing and data necessary to maintain national accreditation. 

Several medical institutions are piloting the platform for their residency programs: Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (Lubbock) Internal Medicine program, Mayaguez Medical Center in Puerto Rico, and Lutheran Medical Center’s Internal Medicine program in Brooklyn, N.Y.  

The startup recently moved to Bucknell University Entrepreneurs Incubator where it is at work adding features to improve efficiency for large institutions and to develop full featured iOS and Android applications. 

"Over the next year we also hope to improve our marketing and sales strategy, so that we can share what we built with more institutions," adds Cherian. "We have already started working with experienced advisors at [Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeast PA] and Bucknell University to accomplish this." 

Source: Santhosh Cherian, Medtrics Lab
Writer: Elise Vider

Chambersburg's GDC continues to grow after acquiring Mechanicsburg's LAM Systems

Chambersburg-based Global Data Consultants (GDC) has acquired LAM Systems of Mechanicsburg, one of Pennsylvania's largest original equipment manufacturers of custom computer systems and a source of hardware, software and peripherals.

The acquisition, says GDC CEO and founder Greg Courtney, enables GDC, an information technology services provider, to expand significantly into the education market. In addition, he notes, "LAM brings a fully mature manufacturing facility and deployment depot along with a seasoned staff of professionals who know their business model and markets well."

GDC has absorbed all 11 LAM employees, bringing its workforce to about 275 and growing, and will retain the LAM facility in Mechanicsburg.
With the acquisition complete, GDC projects strong growth and hiring. Hardware sales for the newly acquired division are expected to double in 2015 alongside similar growth in the services divisions. GDC plans to hire over 75 IT and business professionals over the next 15 months to support this growth.  

The company is also on track with its revenue forecasts: The forecasted annual projected revenue of LAM Systems is $18 million. The forecasted annual projected revenue of GDC without LAM Systems is $24 million.

Earlier this year, GDC acquired Williamsport, Maryland-based Interstate Communication Services (ICS), a leading provider of telephony and communications. GDC also maintains offices in Lancaster and Pittsburgh, and in Maryland, Wisconsin and Virginia. 

Source: Greg Courtney, Global Data Consultants
Writer: Elise Vider

Philly's University City Science Center wins $1 million grant for new commercialization program

Philadelphia's University City Science Center has won a $1 million federal grant, enabling it to offer a new turnkey accelerator for the launch and growth of emerging companies.

The U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) awarded the Science Center the funds to create Phase 1 Ventures (P1V), aimed at promising technologies that have moved beyond the initial, technical proof-of-concept stage.
"Initially, P1V will focus on projects in healthcare and the life sciences; however, it is our intent to expand the scope of the program in the future to assist projects in other science and technology domains, such as materials, energy, advanced manufacturing and communications," says Chris Laing, the Science Center’s vice president for science and technology. "The program is likely to have most impact in launching companies around technologies and industry sectors where there is traditionally a long development lead-time."
This is the second Science Center commercialization program supported by the EDA. In 2011, the Center was awarded $1 million for its QED proof-of-concept program, which Laing says can serve as a potential pipeline for the new effort. 

"It’s too early to identify specific projects/companies in the pipeline. However, we have been having conversations with most of the area universities and research institutions," he explains. "Our QED program is a great starting point for us -- it has earned us relationships with 21 research institutions throughout the region, and of course has developed more than 60 projects that could be candidates for P1V."  
The Science Center applied for the latest grant through a competitive process managed by the EDA, and matched the EDA funding. The grant period is two years and Laing says the Center is actively raising further funds in hopes of running P1V for five years.

Source: Chris Laing, University City Science Center
Writer: Elise Vider

EFE Labs boosts SE PA startups through Ben Franklin Technology Partners alliance

For many aspiring entrepreneurs and small businesses, finding the money to design and prototype their ideas can be a tremendous challenge.

Ben Franklin Technology Partners (BFTP) helps bridge that gap through its various programs and grant offerings, and a new alliance with EFE Laboratories will provide young companies with even more of the connections, technical expertise and financial capital they need to bring their products to market.

Led by majority owner and engineer Kip Anthony, EFE is a leading manufacturer of controllers, communication tools, medical devices, and other electrical and mechanical engineering solutions.

With 35 employees and growing, the Horsham-based lab has already helped clients obtain matching Ben Franklin FabNet (BFFN) prototyping grants.

For example, its work with SureShade has allowed founder Dana Russikoff to both expand the company's market reach, and move the design and manufacturing of its retractable boat shades back to the Philadelphia area.

Not content to simply refer clients to the BFFN program, EFE actively reaches out to growing companies facing various developmental challenges and a lack of R&D capital.

"I’m trying to make sure that, through the network and connections I have, clients receive the help they need to move their manufacturing process forward," says Anthony.

An established engineer with an MBA, Anthony understands the vital role manufacturing plays in the economy, and is passionate about sharing EFE's capabilities and experience with the larger entrepreneurial community.

"There are a lot of good people behind this," he insists, discussing how EFE's new alliance might help bring manufacturing jobs back to the region. "[There’s] a lot of shared passion, and a lot of drive and desire to succeed."

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Kip Anthony, EFE Laboratories

Ben Franklin Venture Idol Preview: Bethlehem's MyNetwork streamlines social media

Keystone Edge is profiling contestants in the upcoming Ben Franklin Venture Idol competition (Nov. 20 at Ben Franklin TechVentures). After earning their way through the afternoon selection process, entrepreneurs pitch their startups to investors and attendees. Ben Franklin will invest $15,000 based on the "crowd-funded" audience vote.

So you've got hundreds of connections on LinkedIn, hordes more on Facebook and Twitter. But will that kid you went to third grade with really be helpful when it comes time to find a job or land a contract?

Bethlehem’s MyNetwork, the brainchild of co-founders Andy Fine and Drew Riley, aims to cut through the clutter.

"We're at a time when we're all more connected than ever before, yet so disconnected from our contacts," explains Fine. "The last thing society needs is another social network. What we do need is a systematic way to manage and foster our existing connections."

With the notion that any individual can realistically manage only about 150 social/professional relationships at a time, MyNetwork integrates with LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and email to consolidate, streamline and optimize contacts. The program helps users select the important connections from their networks, assigning them basic attributes, including contact type, importance and frequency of contact.  

Connections that make the cut are displayed in an immersive network visualizer -- Fine call it the backbone of the application -- allowing users to easily follow and manage their important contacts. Features include recurring reminders to stay in touch, a detailed relationship history for each contact that tracks all communications over the connected platforms, and an intelligent messaging system that provides templates for well-written, concise communications.
Colleges and universities are MyNetwork’s initial market -- annual licenses give students access to the tool for finding internships and jobs. The company had a successful launch this fall at Lafayette College and has inked a deal with Bucknell University

"We’ve designed and built the only application for students to turn connections into career opportunities by taking the work out of networking," says Fine. "Students need a better way to turn the connections they make at career fairs and networking events into real opportunities -- and that's what MyNetwork does best."

The company began offering the platform to individuals in September and already has more than 200 users.

Source: Andy Fine, MyNetwork
Writer: Elise Vider

Manheim's Spooky Nook Sports, already huge, keeps expanding

It's not particularly spooky, but it certainly is big. Spooky Nook Sports claims to be nearly twice the size of the next biggest sports complex facility in the country. (In fact, Spooky Nook says it isn’t aware of any indoor sports complex quite as big anywhere else in the world.)

Owner Sam Beiler acquired the vacant Armstrong Flooring Warehouse on Spooky Nook Road in Manheim in 2011. Surrounded by 65 acres, the vast structure has 14 acres under its roof.

"Even though the building was empty and in need of renovation, everyone agreed it just screamed whistles, cheering crowds, and the hustle and bustle of an exciting sports venue," says the company on its website.

Spooky Nook opened last year and today offers 20-plus sports programs for everyone from the serious athlete to the weekend warrior. Facilities include 10 hardwood courts, acres of sport court and turf fields, an outdoor field hockey pitch, a domed turf field, six tennis courts, an indoor baseball diamond and 14 batting cages. The Nook also features a fitness center, group exercise classes, daycare, a sports performance area, a game arcade, a food court, a smoothie bar, a pro shop, a rock climbing gym, meeting space and birthday party rooms. Orthopedics Associates of Lancaster is on-site and the Women’s USA Field Hockey Team calls Spooky Nook home.

Now Beiler is adding a 130-room hotel and 260-seat restaurant, which he will own and operate. The hotel and restaurant are under construction with a scheduled completion date of spring 2015, says spokesperson Stephanie Jordan.

"Spooky Nook is growing at a rapid rate," explains Jordan. "Each season we've been adding new programs and aspects to our business. New pieces to the business include field trips, senior activities, home schooler events and additional sports programming."

Spooky Nook employs 86 full-time and more than 215 part-time employees, and management anticipates more hires for the hotel and restaurant. 

Source: Stephanie Jordan, Spooky Nook Sports
Writer: Elise Vider

Pipersville Technical Vision launches low-vision mobility-aid product with PA partners

In the why-didn't-anyone-think-of-this-sooner department comes the My Mobile Light Low Vision Aid, launched last month by Technical Vision of Pipersville. The product, which combines an ultra-bright LED with a sturdy walking cane, was designed and developed in collaboration with other Pennsylvania partners. 

"Our goal was to create an effective, practical and easy-to-use assistive device for people with uncorrectable vision loss due to eye conditions such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and other chronic conditions that also cause vision loss, including diabetes, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's Disease," explains CEO Lorraine Keller.

“My Mobile Light combines two different assistive concepts -- bright LED lighting and mobility support -- in a completely new way," she continues. "My Mobile Light projects clear, even, bright light directly onto the ground around the user's feet and immediate walking area to illuminate obstacles in the walking path. The support cane function assists with balance and gait; both are frequently impaired by vision loss and physical instability."

The development of My Mobile Light is a case study in collaboration. 

With a grant from BioStrategy Partners and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, Technical Vision began to develop the product in 2011 in partnership with the Salus University College of Education and Rehabilitation in Elkins Park.  

IMET Corporation in Southampton, a contract manufacturing and product development firm, built the first prototypes (tested under low-vision simulation at night to identify the optimal combination of light color and intensity for visually impaired eyes). Today IMET builds the custom electronic circuitry that provides constant light output and does not gradually dim like a flashlight. MTS Ventures, an Allentown engineering firm, built several generations of prototypes and is Technical Vision's manufacturing agent overseeing components manufacturing and assembly.

Technical Vision is selling My Mobile Light direct-to-consumers online and to medical supplies distributors who service older adults, caregivers and healthcare professionals. 

Source: Lorraine Keller, Technical Vision
Writer: Elise Vider

For three young entrepreneurs in Malvern, 'Maholla' means eco-centric products

Three young entrepreneurs, committed, they say, "to getting back to the basics of good business: high-quality innovative products, unparalleled customer satisfaction, social responsibility and having the smallest environmental impact possible," have launched Maholla Products, an eco-centric lifestyle products company in Malvern.

The company name comes from a mixture of the Hawaiian word "mahalo," meaning thanks or gratitude, and the slang greeting "holla."

"'Mahalo' is a really powerful word that encompasses how we approach people, life and our company," says co-founder Evan Hajas. "We chose 'holla'… to mean 'keep in touch' or 'see you soon.' The combination of the words, to us, is a respectful and friendly greeting. It sums up our company in one word. We respect our customers and our products, and want them to keep in touch. When we sell a product, that is just the beginning of our relationship with the customer -- we don't want it to be a cold 'see-you-never' sale."

Hajas, along with co-founders Andrew Lees and Jim McHugh, recently launched Grassracks, a line of easy-to-hang, bamboo racks that can be used to hang skateboards, bikes, skis, etc. Grassracks make a stylish statement and are made of 100 percent bamboo, a highly sustainable material.

Grassracks are manufactured in Malvern and Ohio, and sold online in a few brick-and-mortar locations around Philadelphia.

"Our product is unique in that brick-and-mortar stores buy them for use as in-store displays, but also to sell to end consumers,” explains Hajas. "That has allowed us to develop some creative referral programs that have worked out great for us and the retailers."

Maholla is currently developing some new home decor lines. "Even some that dip into the audio and accessory industries, but those are still a little hush hush," adds Hajas. "We started this company to live the American dream. We're three young guys that are committed to making high-quality products, being good to our customers, and doing what we can to protect the environment and raise the bar in terms of environmental awareness for companies."

Source: Evan Hajas, Maholla Products
Writer: Elise Vider

Malvern's Sugartown Strawberries keeps growing

Despite the proliferation of farmers’ markets and farm-to-table dining, sustaining a small family farm in Pennsylvania is still a tough row to hoe.

Robert T. Lange, owner of Sugartown Strawberries in Malvern, knows well the challenges of farming. His 230-acre Willisbrook Farm has been in the family since 1896. It’s incredibly hard work from the growing season to harvest, April through November, says Lange. Field corn and soybeans draw low commodity prices. Deer helped themselves to his crops until he fenced off the entire property. 

“The weather is the wild card in the mix," he explains. "You cannot control the weather and if it turns against you, you are out of luck... Being the last farm remaining in an area is difficult because the neighbors do not understand farming practices and become unsupportive and resentful."

Lange has kept the farm going by diversifying with specialty crops such as asparagus, strawberries, sweet corn, sunflowers and pumpkins. He is looking into expanding the sunflower business and selling bouquets commercially.

The farm hosts over 5,000 school children annually, an essential source of income and good will.

"Providing school tours for kids to come out, take a hay ride and pick a pumpkin has helped unbelievably to sustain the farm," says Lange. "The school tours provide a large portion of my yearly income. Allowing schools to come out and visit the farm allows me to help teach the kids a little about what a farm is. The hayrides and parties provide a venue for the community to enjoy the farm, often reaching new customers that would not normally have come to the farm unless they were an invited guest at a private party."

Innovations in agricultural science are critical, too.

"Advances in seed technology, modern farm equipment and herbicides allow a single farmer to accomplish by himself what it would have taken 20 people to do years ago," he explains.

Agriculture continues to be essential to Pennsylvania's economy, and that of Chester County in particular. The Chester County Economic Development Council reports that one in seven jobs in the state are directly related to agriculture. In Pennsylvania, Chester County ranks first in value of crops, including nursery and greenhouse, and second in value of total agricultural products sold in the state including crops, livestock and their products.

The Board of Chester County Commissioners and the Chester County Agricultural Development Council will honor Lange next week as 2014 Farmer of the Year

Source: Robert T. Lange, Sugartown Strawberries
Writer: Elise Vider
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