Factory LLC PA Wolf

Gov. Tom Wolf and Factory LLC partner Keith Caldwell tour the start-up incubator's facility in Bethlehem, Pa, on July 19, 2021.

(The Center Square) – Gov. Tom Wolf visited a one-of-a-kind startup incubator in the Lehigh Valley on Monday as he touted his administration’s commitment to fostering business growth statewide.

“Companies like Factory play a critical role in bolstering Pennsylvania’s workforce and economy,” he said. “Their unique approach to supporting startup companies serves as a model to investors and helps set new businesses up for long-term success.”

Factory LLC, located in Bethlehem, provides new businesses in the food, beverage and pet industries with office space, staff, resources and capital that can otherwise be barriers to entry for most startups.

Richard Thompson, Factory’s founder and managing partner, said Bethlehem provided the perfect environment for his vision. He’s since attracted startups from Phoenix, Brooklyn, Long Island and Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

“This is a great environment with everything we were looking for,” Thompson said. “A thriving business community, lots of experienced professionals, top-tier universities who provide us with talented interns, and state and local leaders who were excited to support us.”

One of the companies that Factory invested in – Stuffed Puffs – created 135 news jobs after it opened a facility in Hanover in March to manufacture its chocolate-filled marshmallows.

Keith Caldwell, a Factory partner, said during Wolf’s visit that the company started with a goal of incubating new businesses until they grew large enough for a buy out from a strategic consumer packaged goods corporation.

“We take a lot of pride in the revitalization of the area, of south Bethlehem and being apart of that,” he said. “We are a growing economic engine for the area." 

What’s happened instead, according to Caldwell, is when some businesses outgrow the Factory’s space, they relocate within the region itself.

“That’s the story that played out with Stuffed Puffs,” he said.

The company, selected as part of the Governor’s Action Team, used a $670,000 Pennsylvania First grant from the Department of Community and Economic Development to launch the project and will receive $268,000 in job creation tax credits.

“We are grateful for the support from the great state of Pennsylvania to help make the project happen,” said Mike Tierny, founder and CEO of Stuffed Puffs. “Thanks to the opening of the new facility, we’ve been able to create over 135 new jobs and counting in the Lehigh Valley.”

The governor’s action team is a group of economic development professionals that serve as liaisons between the administration and businesses looking to relocate into or expand in Pennsylvania.

According to a report on the team’s activities between 2019 and 2020, their efforts preserved 980 jobs and created 946 new positions in the Lehigh Valley.

Statewide, the team has completed 29 projects alone in 2020 that attracted $2.3 billion in private investment, created more than 4,800 jobs and retained an additional 11,183 positions – nearly two-thirds of which were in manufacturing.

“Like he [Caldwell] said, once someone graduates from this place [the Factory], they stay in Pennsylvania,” Wolf said. “Ultimately this is what this is about.”

The news comes as the state’s job creation stagnates, according to an update released earlier this month from the Independent Fiscal Office. The statewide unemployment rate for June, the most-recent data available hovers at 6.9%, outpacing the national average by a full percentage point.

The Department of Labor and Industry said earlier this year the state lost 500,000 jobs in 2020 that it may never recover.

Staff Reporter

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania's General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.