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Archive: March, 2012

POSTED: Monday, March 26, 2012, 2:47 PM

Citibank hopes to expand its new "lending center" at developer Pat Burns' Chelten Plaza Shopping Center, 301 W. Chelten Ave., Germantown, which opens Tuesday, into a full-service bank branch "by the end of the year, if all goes well," says Don Haskin, the long-ago Germantown High School grad (and ex-Daily News reporter) who heads what Citi calls its Community Development unit for PA.

The new Citi office, across the parking lot from Burns' new Save-A-Lot grocery adjoining the Chelten Ave. Septa train station, is "the first new banking services office to open in Germantown in the last 20 years," Citi said in a statement, citing city planning commission data.

The branch marks a departure from Citi's other Philadelphia-area branches, which are mostly in wealthy suburban and Center City neighborhoods. Haskin says he expects Citi to win business in the Germantown Ave. retail revival as it spreads south. "We think a location here makes a positive statement" about Germantown's prospects, Haskin told me. ""Germantown has tremendous potential."

POSTED: Monday, March 26, 2012, 2:00 PM

Since the 1990s, Roland K. Bullard's Philadelphia-based FastShip Inc. has been a lot more successful raising millions from rich investors - and the toll-paying public - than in executing its scheme to build ships that could carry freight from South Philly to France in just three days.

Plans to profit from a new generation of speedy trans-Atlantic cargo vessels have collapsed to the hope of a possible lawsuit -- against the U.S. Navy.

Last week's federal bankruptcy filing by FastShip in Wilmington listed hundreds of common stock investors, including heirs to the DuPont Co., Campbell's Soup and Rome and Haas family fortunes, who are unlikely to see their investment dollars again.

POSTED: Thursday, March 22, 2012, 11:42 AM

Nearly a year after it opened, lawyer-developer Jeff Rotwitt's Sun Center Studios, built from the former Sunoco employee-recreation center on Concord Road just off I-95 and north of Chester City with $50 million from banks, investors, taxpayer financing, plus tax breaks, is frantic with Haddad movie set-up trailers, Sony studio executives,  L.A. and New York grips, costume, make-up and special effects pros, caterers and all the other movie-industry workers and paraphernalia supporting Philadelphia native Will Smith, wife and costar Jada Pinkett-Smith, director M. Night Shyamalan, and others supporting their latest sci-fi film, After Earth. (Revised)

"This thing has been a baptism by fire," Rotwitt tells me, laughing. In the three vast studio buildings are shops building spaceships and alien models, a department store's worth of costume changes, Smith's custom-built trailer (banished from New York as too wide for city streets), and boards groaning with warm meat and vegetables for hungry crews, prepared in open kitchens on site.

"They've been here since October. They'll be here til July," at least, says Rotwitt.

POSTED: Thursday, March 22, 2012, 10:59 AM

Leading Edge Logistics, a Broomall-based company that tells shippers it can find cheaper, faster cargo haulers between ports, truck terminals and airports, says it has purchased C&F Logistics, San Juan, Puerto Rico, from father-and-son owners Jose' and Jose' Andres del Cueto, for an undisclosed sum. 

The move unites Leading Edge, which employs more than 80 people and helps move cargo worth over $100 million a year from offices in East and West Coast U.S. ports and Mexico, with C&F's 55-person business. C&F will be combined with Leading Edge's Puerto Rico division, LEL Caribe, which also serves the Dominican Republic and Central America.

Leading Edge does data analysis for middle-market manufacturing and distribution companies, mostly in North America. "We extract up to a years’ worth of shipment history and put it through a sophisticated modeling program," yielding a "savings proposal" based on cheaper routes and carriers, says founder and chief executive Thomas Torcomian." Client logistics are handled by Leading Edge managers in 14 North American cities. 

POSTED: Thursday, March 22, 2012, 10:09 AM

Writes Reuters here: Philadelphia-based discount chain store operator Five Below "is in talks with bankers about an initial public offering, according to two sources familiar with the situation." 

Five Below, a chain of more than 100 mostly mid-Atlantic area stores, is run by former Zany Brainy owners Tom Vellios and David Schlessinger. Investors include LLR Partners, based at Cira Center, backed by Ira Lubert and Pennsylvania state pension funds; along with  Boston's Advent International.

"Five Below generates earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of $45 million to $50 million," and is growing quickly, Reuters said, citing an unnamed source familiar with the company's efforts to hire investment banks.

POSTED: Wednesday, March 21, 2012, 8:32 AM

Flowers Foods, the Georgia-based breads and snacks maker that bought Philadelphia's Tasty Baking Co. last year, "is a week or three away from an announcement of a new bread bakery with access to the eastern Pennsylvania market," writes Mitchell Pinheiro, food-industry analyst at Janney Capital Markets, in a report to clients this morning.

Flowers considered buying a plant in the region, but after visiting the company's South Philadelphia bakery and talking with officials, Pinheiro says he "get(s) the strong sense that FLO is looking at a green field bakery," a new facility.

The Tasty doughnut and honey buns frying plant in Oxford, originally built by Keebler, now makes packaged snacks for Wal-Mart and other clients. The site has room "to double its footprint," plus "direct access to rail and a good labor market" in nearby low-wage Cecil County, Md., and southern Lancaster County, which makes Oxford "a prime location for expansion," Pinheiro writes.

POSTED: Wednesday, March 21, 2012, 8:21 AM

Comcast Ventures is leading an $11 million investment round in Integrate, an advertising tracking and selection software maker co-founded by Jeremy Bloom and Hart Cunningham. A champion freestyle skiier, Bloom was drafted as a receiver by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2006 but saw little field action following injuries.

UPDATE: Bloom’s company, Integrate, said Wednesday it has raised $11 million from Comcast Ventures, cable TV mogul John Malone’s Liberty Global, and Colorado-based Foundry Group. Foundry also invested $4.2 million in 2010.

Integrate, based in Denver, says it helps advertisers manage the complexity of advertising markets, in which Americans are split into thousands of micro-audiences, by sorting the enormous piles of data collected on our media and spending habits by websites, media companies and merchants, and using it to rank viewership and purchase that follow consumer exposure to ads.

POSTED: Tuesday, March 20, 2012, 2:09 PM's agreement to buy robot-maker Kiva Systems Inc. for $775 million yesterday raises questions about the job impact of Amazon's warehouse-building spree in central Pennsylvania, northern Delaware and other states.

Pennsylvania - America's Warehouse - is one of the California-based online retail giant's employment centers, with five locations in Allentown-to-Carlisle corridor on the Interstate freeways that bypass I-95 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Amazon is also preparing a second, larger distribution center in northern Delaware, "Home of Tax-Free Shopping," as other states prepare to tax online purchases.

Full-sized Amazon centers each hire a thousand or more mostly low-paid fulltime employees, plus a few thousand each in the Christmas shopping rush. Only California, Virginia and Tennessee have as many as Pennsylvania, according to Amazon's hiring board.

About this blog

PhillyDeals posts drafts, transcripts and updates of Joseph N. DiStefano's columns and stories about Philly-area business, which he's been writing since 1989.

DiStefano studied economics, history and a little engineering at Penn and taught writing at St. Joseph's. He has written thousands of columns and articles for the Inquirer, Bloomberg and other media, wrote the book Comcasted, and raised six children with his wife, who is a saint.

Reach Joseph N. at,, 215.854.5194 or 302.652.2004.

Reach Joseph N. at or 215 854 5194.

Joseph N. DiStefano
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