Federal Reserve chairman Ben S. Bernanke toured the new Tastykake factory and shook hands with shipyard workers on a visit to Philadelphia this morning.
Staff with the central bank said the chairman was keen to see the progress Philadelphia has made in transforming the Philadelphia Navy Yard since the military closed the shipyard in the mid-'90s.
Bernanke made no official remarks as reporters and photographers followed the nation's banker-in-chief and Tasty Baking CEO Charles Pizzi along the observation area over the snack-food maker's new production lines. Later, Bernanke talked with two workers about how the new factory has changed their jobs.
Then, it was off to the Aker Philadelphia Shipyard, which makes container ships and product tankers. The $400 million in federal, state and local subsidies that were used to restart shipbuilding in Philadelphia were controversial from the start more than a decade ago.
Jim Miller, president and CEO of Aker Philadelphia, told Bernanke that the investment has built a modern shipyard that now employs 1,200 people. Apprentice Brian Hudson described his experience with Aker's three-year apprentice program. Gary Gaydosh, president of the Philadelphia Metal Trades Council, told Bernanke that a lot of people had doubted the shipyard would ever approach what it once was. "We're getting back there," he said.
The path the tour took showed both the new and old as the van carrying Bernanke and the bus filled with journalists and staff members of the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. and the Federal Reserve passed old buildings rehabbed and reused by Urban Outfitters Inc., the quirky retail chain that has expanded greatly since moving into the Navy Yard five years ago. Urban Outfitters now has 1,200 workers there.
The last stop was Building 100, a former Marine Corps barracks that is now home to the Ben Franklin Technology Center of Southeastern Pennsylvania. President and CEO RoseAnn Rosenthal described how the state-funded organization has been trying to build a "power valley" of energy-sector companies in the Navy Yard in partnership with the Navy's Ship Systems Engineering Station, a federal lab.
Lothar Budike Jr., CEO of Light-Pod Inc., a technology start-up, gave an "elevator pitch" to Bernanke and Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia president Charles Plosser. The company has been developing new light fixtures that incorporate LED technology to replace current lighting systems on Navy ships. Light-Pod's product, which Budike said generates twice the light while using half the energy, would also have commercial application.
Bernanke asked Budike about his background and the entrepreneur told that he'd worked for the Navy on several projects after graduating from Drexel University. "I always worked down here at the Navy Yard," he said.
And he still does.