If nothing else, 2019 proved that Northeast Pennsylvania turns its own distinct and essential gears in the global economic engine.
The last year saw major players in several key and emerging sectors invest millions and place big bets on the regional workforce.
Here’s the Sunday Times’ look back on the best business stories of 2019.
Steamtown scores major tenant contracts
The nascent revival at the Marketplace at Steamtown made giant leaps after signing a deal with Geisinger and the Social Security Administration.
Geisinger will drop $21 million to retrofit 83,000 square feet, utterly reshaping the former mall.
Shortly after that announcement, Social Security locked in a $3 million, 15-year full term lease to retrofit more storefronts and leave its current space on the other side of Lackawanna Avenue in the Oppenheim Building.
The deals solidify mall developer John Basalyga’s tenant base and advance his mission of transforming the former retail hub that, like other malls, has suffered amid dramatic shifts in retail trends.
Million square feet
seems normal now
National warehouse kings Trammell Crow and NorthPoint Development picked the Midvalley to expand their domains.
Trammell Crow, the Dallas, Texas-based developer, is building a 1-million-square-foot facility on spec on the Jessup side of the Valley View Business Park; NorthPoint has one under construction on the Archbald side, which will be a fulfillment center for the online pet supply retailer Chewy.
Business parks around Lackawanna County generally all experienced growth, including Process Technologies part-owner Seokoh, which plans a 407,000-square-foot cosmetics manufacturing and distribution center in the Scott Technology Park, Scott Twp.
Lehigh Valley Health acquired Coordinated Health
Coordinated Health’s celebrated hospital project in Dickson City appeared to go on ice. Public officials and the community wondered where the builders had gone. Shoddy stormwater control systems and a surprise storm left at least one property nearby flooded.
Then, competitor and the fast-growing Lehigh Valley Health Network bought Coordinated for an undisclosed price. Patients won’t see much change. LVHN plans to keep the Coordinated name, officials told the Times.
Under the hood,
exemptions weakened trade war’s effect
While President Donald Trump railed against China in the now-subsiding trade war earlier this year, thousands of manufacturers and fabricators, including at least one in Lackawanna County, quietly received sweeping tariff exemptions because they couldn’t find the types or quantities of steel made in the U.S.
Pexco in South Abington Twp. received all 45 exemptions it requested for specific steel products.
Geisinger strengthens its position
Beyond the Steamtown deal, Geisinger ratcheted up its presence and public relations game in 2019.
The nonprofit health system closed deals buying up the last remaining parcels in the Mount Pleasant Corporate Center from the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce’s development arm, SLIBCO, for $1.97 million (Geisinger already owned the other two buildings in the park) where it plans to raise a women’s health center. It re-opened Geisinger Community Medical Center maternity ward, and opened a 65 Forward clinic, a concierge-styled resource for primary care and wellness in the 3 W. Olive St. complex.
Nichols Village project signals end of an era
New Jersey developer Falcon Properties began razing the iconic Nichols Village Hotel & Spa plaza along Northern Boulevard, South Abington Twp., this winter.
The company plans a shopping center, potentially including a Wendy’s, Holiday Hair and Autozone, where the homegrown, locally owned hotel and popular destination once stood.
Scranton adds dozens of high-end apartments
Dozens of luxury apartments in old, forlorn commercial spaces opened up this year. Dozens more are on their way.
Business partners Nick Dye and Adam and Casey Donahue of D&D Realty Group completed the first renovations on the former SNB Plaza bank building, which they renamed “Twelve,” and welcomed their first tenants.
Developer Charlie Jefferson closed on the former Lackawanna County Administration Building at Adams Avenue and Spruce Street, where he plans a $14 million retrofit with 65 rental units and ground floor retail.
Cannabis dispensaries open, struggle to keep inventory
Two medical cannabis dispensaries opened in Lackawanna County this year, Justice Grown in Dickson City and in Scranton, Green Goods, which is an affiliate of the Pennsylvania Medical Solutions medical marijuana grower/processor, also in the city. Lackawanna County now has four dispensaries that sell cannabis to patients who are cleared by the state to use it for specific ailments.
While new dispensaries came online, grower/processors still struggle to keep pace with demand.
New CEO takes helm at hospitals
Scranton’s sister hospitals, Moses Taylor Hospital and Regional Hospital of Scranton, have a new leader. Michael L. Brown, a seasoned executive from the Midwest who began his career as an EMT, took over late this year.
He arrives amid rampant speculation that the hospitals’ parent company, Community Health Systems, is trying to sell them off.
Brown swatted away rumors and said he wasn’t hired to oversee a sale, instead focused on improving the quality of care at both facilities.
Green army women make waves
Jeff Imel of Scranton was the only toymaker to take a 6-year-old girl’s plea seriously.
In a letter that went viral, the girl, Vivian Lord of Arkansas, promised if he recast the historically masculine toy for girls, she would play with them every day.
Imel, who owns BMC Toys, plans to have the little green army women ready for market by Christmas 2020.