HAZLETON — The CAN DO story all began with just a couple of dimes.
The mission of CAN DO, Inc., which is celebrating its 62nd year, remains to improve the quality of life in the Greater Hazleton area through the creation and retention of a full range of employment opportunities.
How it began
In the early 1950s, a volunteer group of local civic and business leaders, led by respected radiologist Dr. Edgar L. Dessen, had a common vision to counteract the impact that the decline of the coal industry was having on the local economy.
• In 1955, that group of leaders, which was known for its “CAN DO” attitude, volunteered their time and joined forces with the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce to support the “Dime-A-Week” campaign, which asked workers to contribute $5.20 a year through payroll deductions.
• Another part of this initial fundraising effort asked residents to show their support by taping dimes along Broad Street in Hazleton in the “Mile of Dimes” campaign.
• A third segment placed lunch pails in businesses around Hazleton to collect patrons’ loose change.
These successful fundraising efforts combined to raise $14,000, which was enough to purchase 500 acres of land west of Hazleton — land that would become the Valmont Industrial Park.
The fall of the coal industry left many wondering what would become of the Hazleton area. But this group of dedicated volunteers had faith in the region and rallied together as a community to save their beloved Greater Hazleton.
The success of the Dime-A Week campaign proved that the community at-large was behind the effort to bring more jobs into the area and that there was an urgent call to develop a formal economic development organization.
As a result, Dr. Dessen took that “CAN DO” attitude in 1956 and turned it into the Community Area New Development Organization — CAN DO.
With the formation of the CAN DO organization and the purchase of land, came the confidence of the community to pursue a much larger drive for funds needed to begin development of the newly acquired parcel. Setting a goal of a half-million dollars and asking the people of Hazleton Area to make an investment in their community rather than a donation, Dr. Dessen wisely used the area’s service organizations to help him sell 15-year 3 percent debenture bonds to local residents and raised more than $740,000.
Two subsequent drives in 1959 and 1964 brought that total to $2.2 million and, since that time, all of the investments have been repaid through the success of the organization. Those service organizations which raised the money in the original drive received one seat on the new CAN DO board for every $25,000 of bonds sold. Those seats were made permanent, as they still exist today.
As it was at its founding, the CAN DO Board of Directors continues to be a community-driven entity. Today, the board is comprised of more than 100 volunteer members and consists of those individuals who represent local service organizations; volunteer directors at large, many of whom work at businesses throughout Greater Hazleton; county, municipal, college and school board representatives; high school students who are part of the Student Action Committee and other community members.
“Our volunteers continue to be an integral part of CAN DO,” said CAN DO President/CEO Kevin O’Donnell. “We are grateful that our board members take time out of their busy schedules to volunteer their time and talents to our organization. CAN DO has always been a community organization and without their support, we would not have accomplished as much as we have over the past six decades.”
After its founding, with available land and money in the bank, CAN DO started work on speculative industrial shell buildings. The hard work and fundraising efforts finally paid off when the Valmont Industrial Park opened in 1957. General Foam Corp. was the first company to open in the park and immediately created 100 new jobs in Greater Hazleton.
Other businesses soon followed, snatching up parcels of land and constructing facilities or moving into shell buildings. These firms created thousands of new jobs that generated millions of dollars in payroll and an increase to the community’s tax base.
Parks and facilities
• Valmont Industrial Park is located adjacent to Interstate 81 via Exit 145 and State Route 93. Today, the park is home to more than 35 companies, including Bimbo Bakeries (and its Stroehmann’s bread line), Henkel (the maker of Dial soap), Bemis, Fabri-Kal, Bradley Caldwell Supply and Atlantic Packaging.
Following the success of the Valmont park, officials began looking for more land to open another park.
• Humboldt Industrial Park opened in 1972, originally with only 1,140 acres, and quickly started filling with well-known tenants. This growth has resulted in four expansion projects — the Humboldt West, Humboldt North, Humboldt East and Humboldt Northwest sections.
With more than 14.5 million square feet of industrial space, Humboldt is CAN DO’s largest park. It is located along Interstate 81 and State Route 924 and stretches five miles long and two and a half miles wide at its widest point.
The park, which now covers more than 3,000 acres, is home to nearly 60 companies in industries that include food processing, plastics manufacturing, e-commerce, logistics and distribution that employ more than 10,000 people. Some of the household names located in Humboldt include Amazon, American Eagle, Hershey, Tootsie Roll, Auto Zone, Michael’s Handcrafts and Simmons.
The early success of the Valmont and Humboldt parks was largely predicated on its immediate access to the newly-established interstate highway system in Greater Hazleton. However, in the late 1980s, two companies who wanted to locate adjacent to each other, but didn’t need the interstate access, caused CAN DO officials to consider a plot of land south of Hazleton for a third park.
• McAdoo Industrial Park opened in 1989 and filled the needs for businesses not requiring a site with direct access to an interstate. The park is one-half mile from Route 309 and near Route 424 (The Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce Beltway), which links Route 309 and Interstate 81. McAdoo Industrial Park is home to industries like Altadis USA, PSI Container and Haulmark Industries as well as Capriotti’s catering.
• In the mid-1990s, CAN DO began an effort to establish a business park to help recruit white collar jobs to the community by purchasing a tract of land in Drums and opened the CAN DO Corporate Center.
Geared toward back office and light assembly operations, features a unique environmentally-sensitive design known as the Terrarium Concept, which preserves the natural ecological beauty of its surroundings. This design earned CAN DO the 1993 Environmental Excellence in Economic Development award from the prestigious Arthur D. Little organization, a highly respected international management and technology-consulting firm.
The CAN DO Corporate Center is located adjacent to Interstate 80 and Route 309, just two miles from the junction of Interstates 80 and 81. The park, which is home to e-commerce companies such as Web.com and BestCigarPrices.com, also holds a STEM campus of the Hazleton Area School District and is the new home of the Butler Township municipal building and police station.
• By the early 2000s, CAN DO, along with officials from Penn State Hazleton, began to discuss the importance of support for start-up companies through targeted resources, services and connections within Greater Hazleton. As a result, CAN DO opened the CAN BE (Community Association for New Business Entrepreneurship) Innovation Center in Valmont in 2005.
The primary mission of CAN BE is to foster entrepreneurship and new venture development in the Hazleton area, leading to business expansion and diversity. Business ventures that have graduated from the innovation center and established permanent locations in Greater Hazleton include Performance Biomedical, Concrete Alternatives and More and Mystic Power Yoga. Current clients include Candelles, Keystone Ballet Academy, Sugar Creative Agency and American Eagle Lighting Solutions.
• In 2007, understanding the need for amenities in Humboldt Industrial Park, CAN DO added a commercial development called Humboldt Station at the intersection of Route 924 and Interstate 81. Humboldt Station provides park employees, residents of the community and interstate travelers with fast-food options, hotel accommodations and gas and convenience store amenities. Humboldt Station businesses include Residence Inn by Marriott, Turkey Hill, Sonic Drive-In, Burger King and the brand new Coordinated Health medical campus.
Mission and focus
CAN DO’s mission remains focused on providing quality jobs throughout Greater Hazleton. It is with this mission in mind that the organization has overseen the development of more than 4,200 acres of land over the past 62 years.
“The question you have to ask yourself is where would the Greater Hazleton area be without CAN DO when, at its infancy stages, there were no industries and no jobs to support the people of Hazleton who were displaced due to the decline in coal production,” said CAN DO Board of Directors Chairman William Magnotta. “Over the years, CAN DO has continued to accomplish its primary purpose to attract and retain jobs for the benefit of the community and has done so with great success.
“I was intrigued by CAN DO in attracting industries, as well as with the wonderful things the organization was doing for the community,” Magnotta added.
“This is what attracted me to volunteer my time, knowledge and experience to try and be a small part in helping CAN DO continue with this mission,” he said. “And, the more I learned about the good that they do through my experiences with CAN DO over the years, the more I wanted to be a part of it.”
Today, CAN DO’s four parks are home to more than 110 businesses and industries that employ more than 14,000 residents and cover nearly 20 million square feet of industrial space.
One of the biggest reasons CAN DO has been able to experience this kind of development and attract so many nationally- and internationally-known companies is the area’s workforce. Greater Hazleton continues to proudly hold its tradition as a region populated with a large labor pool of skilled and dedicated employees who have the knowledge and work ethic to fill available job openings.
An official at an international food processing facility in Humboldt Industrial Park said his company was able to recently invest in a multi-million dollar expansion project because the employees have helped the company achieve so much success in the region.
“We’ve earned a strong reputation in the marketplace because of the consistency our manufacturing team delivers day in and day out,” the official said. “Our plant here in Hazle Township has long been a high-value and high-performing facility. It was clear our investment should be made here. It’s because of the dedication of the people in the Hazleton area that we have fuel to make this investment.”
Throughout its history, CAN DO has helped to provide industries with what they need to do business. In addition to its role as a land developer, CAN DO also services businesses as a landlord and utility provider and assists companies of all sizes with finding access to a variety of services such as business financing and entrepreneurial assistance. These services have helped CAN DO achieve a status of financial stability.
A bright future
CAN DO has come a long way since raising those first few dimes and O’Donnell sees a bright future for the organization.
“The CAN DO spirit of vision, drive and determination brought about the rebirth of a proud community in 1956 and I think Dr. Dessen would be pleased to see how CAN DO has grown into such a multi-faceted and financially self-sustaining organization,” O’Donnell said. “We have accomplished many of the goals that were set forth in our strategic plan and continue to look for innovative ways to acquire and develop the land and infrastructure needed to attract new industries and new jobs to Greater Hazleton. We will continue to work with existing companies to provide them the support they need to flourish and assist the community by bringing new jobs to the area.”
In 1960, a quote appeared in a local editorial, which has just as much meaning today as it did then.
“There is no single person in this community who can say that his or her life is so remote that CAN DO has not touched it, directly or indirectly,” the editorial stated. “Without CAN DO’s transfusion of new industrial blood, thousands of people would have been forced to leave the area.”
“It is a fact that the millions in payroll and the purchases of CAN DO industries created new life for our economy,” the piece continued. “What CAN DO has done for this community has affected everyone in this community for the better.”
For more information about CAN DO and its parks, visit www.hazletoncando.com.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.