The year was 1974. The Lehigh Valley Mall was still a baseball field and Whitehall Township was hurting for jobs.
Concerned over the difficulty in attracting business and creating jobs in the township, Whitehall officials formed the Whitehall Township Industrial and Commercial Development Authority.
If you haven’t heard of the authority, don’t feel bad. Howard Lieberman, who has been serving as president of the authority, and became its executive director March 1, said the organization has been anything but high profile.
He and the existing board of directors aim to change that. In the past month, they hired a marketing firm, Sahl Communications Inc., to spread the word about its mission, and an attorney, Charles Smith Jr. of Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus, P.A. Attorneys at Law, to help it best get funds to the potential clients that most need it.
Largely inactive for the past couple of decades, the authority took on a new board about two years ago at the behest of the township, Lieberman said.
The township had seen a renewed need for the authority’s services with major development priorities, such as the old Lehigh Dairy, which needs tax exemptions and state funding to help it become a marketable property.
So it would seem surprising to most that the authority’s first major project wasn’t in Whitehall.
Last year, the authority helped Moravian Academy obtain funding toward its Health and Wellness Center, a $10 million athletic facility for the academy’s middle school in Bethlehem Township.
The reason was simple, Lieberman said. As a state-chartered economic development authority, it can assist with funding for any project within Pennsylvania.
“Because all of the other authorities ... like the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. … had all of their allocations that they could use in a calendar year tied up in other projects, they [Moravian Academy] came to us.”
And it was the fee that the Whitehall authority gained from the transaction that has helped the organization step up its game.
The authority has a budget of $50,000 for this year, as compared to a $16,000 budget last year.
With that, Lieberman said, the authority is looking to establish a small loan pool to encourage businesses to locate in Whitehall and create jobs there.
And while Whitehall Township is probably best known for its retail corridor along MacArthur Road, the authority is focusing on non-retail business development.
“Whitehall is a pretty big community outside of the Whitehall malls,” said Lieberman. “We want to create family-sustaining jobs, which retail jobs aren’t always.”
Lieberman said the authority already has a couple of projects in the pipeline, but he can’t yet discuss the details.
He also said he’s not opposed to the idea of again helping business development outside of Whitehall’s borders.
“We don’t particularly want to do projects outside of Whitehall, but we won’t turn them down if a good opportunity comes along,” he said.