Often, with big risks come great rewards.
When Peter Wong moved his family from China to the U.S. about 20 years ago, the family didn’t have much, similar to other immigrants, said his daughter, Christina.
Her father started a manufacturing plant in Somerset, N.J. But after several years of sluggish progress to get the facility up and running, the family found a much better and more supportive business climate when it moved to the Greater Lehigh Valley a decade ago and opened Ecopax in Forks Township.
Now serving in a leadership role as vice president of operations, Christina Wong, whose father is president of Ecopax, recounted the story of her father’s business and the road to its eventual success and the risks he took to get there at a Thursday afternoon groundbreaking in Bethlehem.
The event marked the start of construction on its second facility, a 144,000-square-foot manufacturing site off Easton Road in Lehigh Valley Industrial Park VII.
The manufacturer, which makes single-use plates and takeout containers, will continue operations at both sites once the second is up and running. It also plans an expansion of the Bethlehem facility in the next few years.
“When the biggest challenges come, despite all the setbacks, he has built a solid foundation,” she said, referring to her father’s determination to make a successful business.
Ten years ago, Ecopax began with 12 employees and “now it has 85 strong,” she said.
“I’m so proud to call the Lehigh Valley home,” she said.
The company will invest $20 million for construction and bring all types of jobs to the new facility, from entry level to a fully staffed management team, she said.
Once it opens the Bethlehem site, it will employ 20 to 30 people to start and will double its employee count, she said. The building should be finished and ready to open by February, she added.
“We had a lot of trouble finding a facility, especially in Forks Township because we needed a much larger site but also rail service,” she said.
With its close proximity to rail service and Interstate 78, the site was described by officials as a perfect fit for Ecopax.
“It’s the ultimate project for this site,” said Kerry Wrobel, president of Lehigh Valley Industrial Park Inc., which owned the property and is the development arm of the industrial park.
“We were targeting a manufacturer. They needed rail to bring in some raw materials; you have a solid, family-owned manufacturer, family sustaining jobs, building on a brownfield site. It’s perfect,” Wrobel said.
Lehigh Valley Industrial Park Inc. sold the property in July to Beacon Rock Realty LLC for $1.7 million, according to Northampton County property assessment records.
LVIP was patient in waiting for the right company, he noted, having owned the property for 12 years.
The construction manager, JVI-LLC of Wind Gap, has three concurrent projects at LVIP VII, including this one, said Jim Vozar, principal.
Workers will install footings in a few weeks, followed by steel and pavement and building the rail connection, Vozar said.
Vozar said his company also worked on building the Ecopax facility in Forks Township. He said he plans to do a full build-out at the Bethlehem site which would expand the facility by 300,000 square feet, which could occur in three to four years.
Alliance Architecture LLC of Nazareth is the architectural firm. Provident Bank, a New Jersey-based bank with an office in Bethlehem Township, provided financing for the project.