With about 1,200 professionals in attendance, the annual meeting for the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce at Sands Event Center in Bethlehem added a few surprises this year.
They included an appearance by attorney Susan Wild, the newly elected Democrat, who will serve in the 7th congressional district, which includes the Greater Lehigh Valley. Wild is the first woman the Lehigh Valley has sent to Congress and she walked on stage to thank those who supported her.
The other surprise came from the show’s opening, designed to overshadow the grand entrance made each year by the chamber’s president and CEO, Tony Iannelli. This year, students from William Allen High School in Allentown recreated a construction demolition scene to the pounding tune of “Wrecking Ball,” as Iannelli, dressed in construction gear, burst out on stage, followed by exploding cans of streamers.
But beyond the spectacle, several business leaders earned top awards, including Seifi Ghasemi, chairman, president and CEO of Air Products of Trexlertown, whose company earned the Business of the Year award from the chamber.
Iannelli held a brief Q&A with Ghasemi on stage, focusing questions on how to create a healthy corporate culture and the decision to build its new headquarters in the valley.
“I felt very strongly as a result of Air Products being in this part of the world, we have developed some fundamental values,” Ghasemi said.
Ghasemi said he had conversations with the company’s board, emphasizing that there are no disadvantages to doing business here. Also, Ghasemi said he felt those fundamental values could be lost if they moved out of the region.
“We have a lot of great people we don’t want to lose,” Ghasemi said.
The company announced in July that it would erect its new headquarters on vacant land in Upper Macungie Township.
Ghasemi said Air Products plans to host a grand opening at the new site in March 2021.
As for advice to business leaders, Ghasemi said nothing replaces hard work and getting to know one’s job, not just being smart.
“You’re only as good as your people,” Ghasemi said.
He also recommended companies avoid falling into debt, citing the uncertainty in world events.
“We are going through very uncertain times,” Ghasemi said. “Make sure you keep a lot of cash on hand.”
Nancy Dischinat, executive director of Workforce Board Lehigh Valley, presented Ghasemi with an award established in his name that’s designed to help young people find career success. The Workforce Board will give The Seifi Ghasemi Youth Impact Award to a Lehigh Valley youth who demonstrates a career pathway to success, Dischinat said.
“We see you as a force in embracing change,” Dischinat said. “We see your commitment to young people.”
Ghasemi said he accepted the award on behalf of the 15,000 people who work for Air Products.
Meanwhile, Dischinat earned the chamber’s Champion Award for her efforts in helping people find work and identifying resources and job needs in the region.
The Champion Award honors a business leader who strategically advances the work of the chamber, said Laurie Hackett, manager of community relations and philanthropy at Air Products.
“Her work is truly her calling,” Hackett said. “She truly understands the needs of the business community.”
In addition, the chamber presented the following awards:
• Buckno Lisicky & Co. of Allentown - Milestone Award for 50 years in business;
• Kevin Schmidt, president and CEO of Neffs National Bank - Community Partner Award;
• Fitzpatrick Lentz & Bubba - Milestone Award for 30 years;
• Jewish Community Center of the Lehigh Valley - Milestone Award for 100 years;
• Bruce Palmer, shareholder and director of Buckno Lisicky & Co. - Volunteer of the Year Award.