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Garner Report: Lehigh Valley’s Economic Vitality Tied to Change

By LV Staff on February 19, 2014

Garner: The Lehigh Valley will have to work together and be committed to raising the bar for economic development.

Garner: The Lehigh Valley will have to work together and be committed to raising the bar for economic development.

Editor’s Note- This is the first in what will be a series of articles and discussions about the content of the Garner Economic Study.

Tempered with a careful 66-point analysis, a blueprint for the region’s economic future has been forged.

The long-awaited findings of a report to identify the Lehigh Valley’s strengths and weaknesses as part of developing a strategic economic growth and marketing plan show that the Lehigh Valley and the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation need to do things differently.

So reveals a report by Jay Garner, proprietor of Garner Economics, LLC, of Atlanta, Ga. As part or the region’s HUD funded Envision study, LVEDC engaged the services of Garner, a site selector and economic development consultant, last year to conduct a review of our region and to recommend economic development and marketing strategies for the Lehigh Valley.

Out of the 66 variables measured by Garner, 38 are considered an asset for the region. The report notes: “This ratio of Assets to Challenges is one of the strongest positive ratios we have conducted and analyzed over the last 11 years.”

But it points out that some challenges remain.

“The perceptions of the region as compromising old industrial towns, the lack of skilled workers, and the existence and autonomy of multiple municipalities and areas of jurisdiction may inhibit the Valley in its abilities to attract high-quality companies and world-class talent,” Garner noted in his report.

In order to “take the region to the next level” the region must take steps to be “more proactive in marketing the region if it is to be successful in business development efforts” to national site selectors and corporations. In addition LVEDC should be more involved with marginalizing “the challenges that affect its competitiveness as a place for business.”

“It was my belief we needed to take a hard look at ourselves in comparison to other regions,” said Don Cunningham, LVEDC president and CEO. “If you are smart, you don’t guess at important things. And this helps us understand our own backyard and gives us something to build our thinking around for how we are going to forge our future economic development.”

Calling his plan a “blueprint for success,” Garner said the Lehigh Valley “will have to work together and be committed to raising the bar for economic development in its fast growing and asset-rich region.”

The strategy suggested by Garner is predicated upon building a “focused economic development service delivery mechanism for existing and potential businesses in the region and collaborate with county and municipal economic development entities to work more seamlessly as a region and present a unified brand to external clients.”

Garner suggests LVEDC should streamline its organizational structure to clarify and streamline the role of the business development unit to something called a “business investment” function. By doing that, it will help prospective companies looking to relocate to the Lehigh Valley in a more structured and efficient manner.

Business retention and expansion proves to be another important subject for Garner and his economists.

“A key function of a BRE effort should be able to serve as an intermediary with existing businesses and to help companies break down the business climate barriers,” the report indicates.

The report also encourages municipalities to identify a municipal economic development ombudsman, which in part, will help government staff associated with economic development more adaptive and flexible in garnering success with companies in job creation and capital investment.

Garner also says LVEDC should continue to use “its status as the region’s lead economic development group to advocate” for economic development with appropriate state and local government entities.

In another area, the report indicates LVEDC should help to create a workforce alliance leadership group to address unmet industry needs to “remedy the identified skills gap.” This group, Garner says, could help regional leaders establish workforce priorities to address employer occupational demands currently not up to snuff.

The report says LVEDC should market the region to “site location advisors and companies within targeted industries and clusters.”

And Garner devotes copious space to fostering a favorable business climate needed to attract investment in our region. And that, he says, can only be accomplished by developing “transformational initiatives and assets. The goal is to have the Valley transform itself from a historically industrial economy to one that better leverages its economic fundamentals and geographic proximity to leading markets.”

If this is done, Garner believes the region will “have a business climate and quality of place that attracts the world’s most talented people and companies.”

Garner has been selected to serve as keynote speaker at the upcoming 2014 LVEDC Investors Meeting which will be held March 19 at the State Theatre in Easton. He will serve up an economic report card for Lehigh Valley.

For more information – and for a chance to sponsor the event – contact John McGran, LVEDC’s VP of Marketing at (610) 266-7682 or jmcgran@lehighvalley.org.

Garner Economics Lehigh Valley Analysis (pdf)

A Competitive Realities Report of Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania (pdf)

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