Health care investments top last year’s business stories
For sale downtown Scranton Mall Associates, a company owned by the Boscov family, lost two historic buildings along Lackawanna Avenue to foreclosure this year. Then, the Oppenheim building, at Lackawanna and Wyoming avenues, and the Samter’s building, at Lackawanna and Penn avenues, attracted no bidders at a sheriff’s sale Oct. 18. Hinerfeld Commercial Real Estate lists the 193,084-square-foot Oppenheim and the attached Lewis & Reilly building for $2.9 million. The Samter’s building, at 43,712 square feet, had been listed for sale for $500,000. Hinerfeld, which was marketing Samter’s, announced Friday that the building had been sold to a company called Scranton-Samter LP.
Health care, one of the region’s fastest-growing employers, made some big waves in 2016.
Millions of dollars infused into health care services stitched it fast into the region’s economic fabric.
Unemployment in Lackawanna County and the surrounding areas swelled from 5.1 percent in January to 6.1 percent in November, according to the most recent data available.
Fuel prices remained comparatively low last year and fairly consistent, a boon for drivers and auto dealerships selling big pickup trucks alike.
Lackawanna County saw its downtown commerce center, the Mall at Steamtown, rebranded the Marketplace at Steamtown, and continue its crawl out of insolvency. Read about that on today’s cover.
Here’s a look back on last year’s biggest stories in business.
Geisinger acquires medical college
Geisinger Health System in September announced it will acquire the Commonwealth Medical College.
The deal secures a future for the medical college, which had been on shaky ground as strained finances threatened the school’s accreditation.
As part of the acquisition, Danville-based Geisinger will assume all of the medical college’s debt, which includes about $34 million in bonds and $6 million in other debt. Officials also said Geisinger will refund an estimated $25 million to $29 million to the AllOne Foundation, which had extended a line of credit to the school as assurance to the accreditation agency that the college could pay its bills.
Most medical schools around the nation have ties with either large hospital systems or universities. Medical college founders reveled that the college had held together on its own for as long as it did.
Dickson City retail shake-up
The traditional shopping mall sent even stronger signals that its days wane with Sears departing the Viewmont Mall.
Dick’s Sporting Goods, outdoors retailer Field & Stream and HomeGoods will occupy the void Sears left behind.
With reconstruction putting entrance doors facing the parking lot, the new stores reveal a clean break from the traditional shopping mall design that first rose to popularity in the 1970s when customers entered stores from an inside concourse. All three retailers are expected to open some time this year.
Sears, the vanguard department store, has been slipping as a company since Walmart surpassed it as the nation’s largest retailer in 1989. Sears’ revenue has fallen every year since 2006.
CEO pleads guilty
to bank fraud
News that a 33-year-old bank CEO had pilfered nearly three-quarters of a million dollars from the credit union he once controlled sent ripples through the national banking community.
Sean Jelen, now 34, who could face a maximum sentence of 60 years in prison and a $2 million fine, pleaded guilty in July to bank fraud. The former head of Valor Credit Union in Scranton, formerly Tobyhanna Federal Credit Union, was charged with using different schemes to defraud the credit union between July 2014 and August 2015.
Prosecutors said he had employed tactics like rigging elections held for the credit union’s board of directors, altering documents to secure a $350,000 line of credit and collecting $139,000 by misrepresenting a life insurance policy payment the credit union had already paid.
Prosecutors said he spent money, a total of about $718,000, on such luxuries as a $20,000 grandfather clock, a $30,371 birthday party for his wife and paying $18,650 on graduate school tuition.
Sentencing likely will take place early this year.
Second power plant considered
Archbald Energy Partners, a partnership between Alberta, Canada-based Emberclear and DCO Energy of Mays Landing New Jersey, is looking for government approval to build a 485-megawatt power plant.
If it gets the green light, The Archbald plant would be about 1½ miles from the Lackawanna Energy Center in Jessup — a 1,500-megawatt power plant now under construction that uses the same combined-cycle technology for turning natural gas into electricity.
Still in their earliest development stages, Archbald Energy Partners face notably less community opposition than the Jessup plant.
Developers promise the Archbald plant would bring 300 temporary construction jobs and 30 full-time employees when the project is complete.
Incinerator plans on hold
In Susquehanna County, a firm from near Philadelphia had picked a spot on the Interstate 81 corridor in New Milford Twp. to build a hazardous waste incinerator – a large anchor for a proposed accompanying industrial park.
The project, if completed, would have brought millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements to 114 acres just off the Gibson exit, in an area Susquehanna County Commissioners had already tagged the area for development potential.
Amid — though not necessarily a result of — a growing citizen resentment for the incinerator, developer Tyler Corners LP put its plans on hold.
Hospitals pump millions into facilities
Hospitals in the region have pumped millions into updating technology and expanding facilities.
Wayne Memorial Hospital announced a $35 million endeavor to add a 65,000-square-foot wing to its Honesdale hospital. The new construction will allow the hospital to make patient rooms completely private. Earlier in the spring, the hospital opened a new $4.5 million cardiac catheterization lab and it’s also working toward achieving level IV trauma center status to serve critically injured patients.
Regional Hospital of Scranton started construction on a $15 million heart and vascular institute and came under new leadership when Justin Davis, chief executive of Regional’s sister hospital a few blocks away, took control of both facilities in August.
Geisinger Community Medical Center invested about $7.4 million into a new state-of-the-art cancer center, a new interventional radiology suite and a neurology unit among some of the expanded and improved services.
FNCB breaks from federal charter
Following a troubled relationship with federal regulators, First National Community Bank in Dunmore abandoned its federal charter for a state charter through the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities.
In July, the bank officially became a state-chartered bank and shed the “national” from its name becoming simply FNCB Bank.
Bank officials in the spring said FNCB was “out of step” with its community bank competition under a federal charter. Other bank and state officials pointed out that FNCB Bank would get no preferential treatment under a state charter.
FNCB Bank’s departure followed a rocky relationship with the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. The OCC and Federal Reserve Bank had banned bank chairman Louis DeNaples from banking following a perjury charge, which was later withdrawn, related to his pursuit for a gaming license to open Mount Airy Casino.
Mr. DeNaples fought the ban and won on appeal.
The federal office also put the bank under an order in 2010 following losses. The order had been lifted in 2015 after the bank regained profitability.
For sale downtown
Scranton Mall Associates, a company owned by the Boscov family, lost two historic buildings along Lackawanna Avenue to foreclosure this year.
Then, the Oppenheim building, at Lackawanna and Wyoming avenues, and the Samter’s building, at Lackawanna and Penn avenues, attracted no bidders at a sheriff’s sale Oct. 18.
Hinerfeld Commercial Real Estate lists the 193,084-square-foot Oppenheim and the attached Lewis & Reilly building for $2.9 million.
The Samter’s building, at 43,712 square feet, had been listed for sale for $500,000. Hinerfeld, which was marketing Samter’s, announced Friday that the building had been sold to a company called Scranton-Samter LP.
New York man grows tissue products business in Vandling
Simon Roozrokh swept into the region in the spring promising 140 jobs and innovation to the empty former Jerry’s Sports Center along Main Street in Vandling.
The Iranian immigrant and a founder and CEO of Select Products Holdings LLC also brought with him a rags-to-riches story. Trained as an engineer, he still struggled to find work when he arrived in California in 1981 as a refugee.
State grants and tax breaks to the tune of $623,000 helped ease Mr. Roozrokh into the 100,000-square-foot facility. Select Tissue of Pennsylvania’s arrival, he said with a $1.1 million purchase price for the building and outfitting, it would cost around $6.6 million.
What the Fork goes missing
Iconic food truck business What the Fork, responsible for ushering Northeast Pennsylvania into an era accepting of curbside food vendors, mysteriously vanished in August.
As if overnight, the two trucks, nicknamed The Beast and Mooch, disappeared. What the Fork’s social media accounts went dark and phone numbers for the company were dead.
It later came to light that the business, which reached a peak in its four-year life when owner Mario Bevilacqua and staff appeared on NBC’s “Live with Kelly and Michael,” had financial troubles and defaulted on a $100,000 loan from MetroAction Inc., the small business lending unit of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce, and the Internal Revenue Service filed a federal tax lein saying What the Fork owed $44,831 in 2015 taxes.
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