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Work nearly finished on Bethlehem innovation hub

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The Factory (Contributed)
The Factory (Contributed)

By the end of September, renovation work will be complete on transforming The Factory, a former Bethlehem Steel factory, into an innovation center for growing companies.

Rich Thompson, founder and CEO of Factory LLC, is continuing to invest in food and beverage companies with the ability to grow by giving them a shared home at 315 Columbia St. in South Bethlehem. The renovation project began about a year ago.

Thompson, former CEO of Freshpet, said the one company inside the 40,000-square-foot-building is Mikey’s LLC, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based gluten-free baked goods company. So far, he has four more companies ready to close by the end of September. The facility could house about 20 companies altogether, he added.

Since Mikey’s moved to the site, it earned about $5 million in revenue, a jump from $1 million about nine months ago, Thompson said.

The space has shared services such as a commercial kitchen, food safety areas, consumer focus groups, social media labs and back-end services, such as accounting, human resources and administration, all under one roof.

With $250 million of investable capital, Factory LLC buys equity stakes in companies and collaborates with them to help them grow and move them to the Bethlehem site.

“One of the key things we are doing is forming a great relationship with colleges and universities to use their students,” Thompson said.

These include Lehigh University, Moravian College, Northampton Community College, Penn State Lehigh Valley and Penn State University.

“They are starting to call this their learning laboratory,” Thompson said.

Entrepreneurs can also use Factory’s staff for advice and help, which includes experts in sales, distribution, marketing, product development, food science, manufacturing, supply chain, and other sectors.

He described The Factory as “The Harvard” for scale-up companies.

“We’ve taken an old 1940 Bethlehem Steel building and we renovated it and turned it into an innovation center for all these companies,” Thompson said. “We plan on expanding this whole concept.”

He plans to add several Factory locations elsewhere but also wants to expand in Bethlehem.

J.G. Petrucci Co. of Hanover Township, Northampton County is doing the construction.

Factory LLC is led by entrepreneurs who created more than $3 billion in enterprise value for American Italian Pasta Co., The Meow Mix Co. and Freshpet.

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Brian Pedersen

Brian Pedersen

Reporter Brian Pedersen covers construction, development, warehousing and real estate and keeps you up to date on the changing landscape of our community. He can be reached at brianp@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 4108. Follow him on Twitter @BrianLehigh and read his blog, “Can You Dig It,” at http://www.lvb.com/section/can-you-dig-it.

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