The annual meeting of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce was part awards ceremony and part pep rally -- complete with flying cheerleaders from Moravian College, confetti, a few motivational words from former Philadelphia Eagle Vince Papale and an appearance by Iron Pigs mascot Ferrous.
The nearly 1,000 local business leaders who attended the annual meeting at mid-day Tuesday in the Sands Bethlehem Event Center also heard from the head of Ocean Spray, which is building a new bottling plant in the Lehigh Valley.
Appropriately, a generous sprinkling of local business commercials flashed on three screens in the front of the room during the 90-minute program.
Standing on the stage, Tony Iannelli, president & CEO of the chamber, told the audience: “This is what the Lehigh Valley looks like when it comes together. This is what the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber looks like when we come together – businesses and leaders from Slatington to Hellertown, from Emmaus to Phillipsburg, N.J. Ladies and gentlemen, the Lehigh Valley has arrived. We’re here to celebrate the Valley.”
The Lehigh Valley chamber is the ninth largest in the United States and its membership has grown by 10 percent in the last two years, said Gregg Feinberg, chairman of its board of governors, in his State of the Chamber address.
“We are now over 5,000 members strong,” he said. “We have proven that our tag line of ‘on every Main Street’ is more than just a slogan.” He said grants from the chamber’s foundation, Main Street Lehigh Valley, have helped fund more than $2 million in community revitalization projects in 18 municipalities across the Lehigh Valley.
Feinberg said each of the 13 regional chambers that now are part of the Lehigh Valley chamber “have tremendous autonomy to conduct their own business and provide support and leadership in their respective communities.”
He said this year the chamber added the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Council, the Hispanic Chamber and the Young Professionals Council to its ranks. It also opened a fifth office in Nazareth and created a Non-Profit Council.
“This is not your father’s or mother’s chamber,” said Feinberg.
Thirty years ago, at age 30, Papale became the oldest rookie in NFL history when he won a spot on the Eagles, after the football team held an open try-out for the public. He made the team even though he never played college football. He played for three seasons, until his career ended with a shoulder injury. In 1978, he was named the Eagle’s Man of the Year.
In 2006, Mark Wahlberg portrayed Papale in the Disney movie “Invincible.”
Papale said having a movie made about himself was “beyond surreal.” He initially had no idea who Mark Wahlberg was, until a friend told him Wahlberg “was Marky Mark from the Funky Bunch.” Said Papale: “I thought Hugh Jackman would be a perfect me.”
He asked how many people saw “Invincible” and if anyone cried. “I cry every time I see the movie,” he said. “I get no residuals whatsoever, so that brings me to my knees.”
But he said the movie is “our story, about overcoming odds.” Being invincible means having “the will within you to take it to the next level and make it happen.”
Papale advised Eagles fans in the audience to hang in there. “I guess if the Eagles get into the play-offs this year it will be a dream come true. And that’s my story. It’s all about the dream.”
He shared a quote he and his family live by: “Happy are those who dream dreams and are willing to pay the price to make their dreams come true.”
Another featured speaker was Randy Papadellis, president and CEO of Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc. Ocean Spray will open a $135 million juice bottling facility in Upper Macungie Township about one year from now.
“We are fiercely loyal to the communities that we operate in,” Papadellis told the chamber. “I can pretty much assure you that 50 years from now at this event, we’ll be here and hopefully we’ll be an integral part of your community.”
Papadellis said Ocean Spray is the fastest growing national brand of juice in the United States for the last five years. It is a global company that markets in 50 countries. Ocean Spray was the first company to bottle juices and “we invented those little juice boxes that many of you serve your kids.”
Papadellis said transparency is an important part of Ocean’s Spray’s success: “We’ve learned to share both the good and the bad with our constituencies, because we believe being truth-tellers is the best way to operate a company and the best way to be partners in the community.”
U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, who introduced Papadellis, said Ocean Spray’s $135-million juice bottling plant will offer about 165 “good paying,” full-time jobs and will be the most technologically efficient juice bottling facility in America.
Rob Vaughn, news anchor at WFMZ-TV, presented a “Business Year in Review” – both live and on screen. His presentation featured Channel 69 news clips of local business developments throughout the year.
The chamber’s 2012 Business of the Year Award was presented to Sands Casino Resort by Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan. The $800-million casino complex opened in May 2009 on the former site of Bethlehem Steel in south Bethlehem.
Callahan said the Sands provides 2,000 jobs and draws more than seven million annual visitors. It also generates millions of dollars in revenue for the Lehigh Valley’s three cities, two counties and other communities that are adjacent to Bethlehem.
That award was accepted by Bob DeSalvio, the resort’s president.