By Mike Murray, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
Today’s Times Leader offers a detailed look at the people and businesses striving to carry Wilkes-Barre and the Wyoming Valley into a new era of growth and development.
The 2018 inNOVAtion special section, included with today’s newspaper, offers insights into the region’s business outlook through the eyes of business people and other innovators.
Readers will find familiar names well-represented, in such fields as community development, retail, manufacturing, health care, government, education, and non-profit organizations. But inNOVAtion also spotlights small- and family-owned businesses, individual entrepreneurs and even historic preservationists.
It is, in short, a rich cross-section of talented and motivated individuals from around the area. It’s also the work of many hands, with journalists from each Times Leader department — news, features and sports — helping tell the story of Luzerne County’s progress and promise.
“Our area continues to grow in its diverse industry and labor mix,” said Wico van Genderen, president/CEO of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce. “With a Northeastern Pennsylvania workforce of more than 250,000 workers, our main industry segments are in the enviable education and health care sectors as well as in the growing tech services and e-commerce sectors.”
Or, as Diamond City Partnership Executive Director Larry Newman put it, Wilkes-Barre is blessed with its concentration of “eds and meds.”
“We have two different four-year higher-ed institutions bookending Wilkes-Barre’s central business district — any other town would turn itself inside out to be in that situation,” Newman said.
Downtown Wilkes-Barre also has something else many cities — even some bigger ones — would envy: A thriving department store.
Boscov’s, on South Main Street, recently underwent a million-dollar-plus renovation, and continues to be a focal point in center city.
“Our goal is to maintain our business in Wilkes-Barre,” said Jim Boscov, president/CEO of the 46-store, family-owned chain.
Boscov’s isn’t the only family business with a longstanding commitment to the region.
Ronne Kurlancheek spoke with us about what it’s like to be the third-generation owner of the home furnishing store that bears her family’s name, while members of the Jack Williams family reflected on the regional tire and auto chain that traces its roots to a Kingston tire shop that opened in 1929. Farther north, Pittston-based Benco Dental has been serving the needs of dentists since 1930, with 12 percent of dentists around the country using its products.
At the other end of the spectrum, inNOVAtion tells the story of entrepreneur Natalie Lynn, 30, a Drums resident who is riding a wave of success selling her own brand of kombucha, a fermented beverage sought for its probiotic health benefits.
Lynn said a lot of her success is owed to word-of-mouth in the beginning, but she also uses social media to interact personally with those who are purchasing the product.
“It’s so amazing and I really thrive on that,” she said.
Some innovators thrive on helping others climb the ladder of entrepreneurship.
The THINK Center, on South Main Street off Public Square, serves as a business incubator where start-ups can rent space as they build their brands.
“We love it here,” said Carmine Falletta, vice president of sales for Mobiniti, a rapidly growing Short Message Service based in the center.
“We really like the space, with the glass ceiling, and the light coming in,” Faletta said, glancing up at an ample expanse of natural light over the entire office space. Then, hardly missing a beat, he hits the metaphor.
“A glass ceiling we’re going to smash someday, as we continue to grow,” he added.
That theme of optimism, and growth, runs throughout inNOVAtion.