The former CEO of FreshPet, Rich Thompson, is making a huge investment in the Lehigh Valley in the form of a business incubator for small food and beverage companies in south Bethlehem.
It's called "The Factory" and it's housed in a building that was once used by Bethlehem Steel and the renovation is almost complete.
"The factory itself is a business to help develop these companies with all these assets to grow up sooner, faster, bigger, stronger, with fewer mistakes," explained Thompson.
The Factory is utilizing $250 million in capital to buy small companies that make anywhere from $2 million to $20 million and they will all be housed in the space with their own shipping container "dormitories."
"We invest in business that we believe have a purpose in life, that can scale up, and that we have a buyer that kind of waiting to do it," said Thompson, adding, "the bigger companies don't innovate so well, and they don't really know how to nurture these smaller companies in that big atmosphere."
The incubator provides all the back-in services companies need to grow like sales services, marketing, finance, HR, and accounting.
"So we have all the things that they're going to need instead of getting on a plane and going to see a consultant somewhere, it all happens right here in the factory," added Thompson.
The Factory will have anywhere from 15 to 20 companies at a time.
One company that's already relocated from Phoenix, Arizona is Mikey's, which makes paleo, gluten-free baked goods.
"Part of fundraising has to be more than taking a check because that check only gets you so far. The team that's here, the resources we have access to, the building...you can't put a number on that," said Mikey's owner Michael Tierny.
Thompson considered many locations nationally, but decided to stay in the valley for several reasons.
"There's not really any hub for food and beverage innovation on the east coast, you've got the community you need to surround businesses, and we hope to use a lot of universities' knowledge, the students, because if you think about it this is a living laboratory for all the students," said Thompson.
The whole renovation should be finished in September.