Lehigh County Executive Phillips Armstrong Delivers His First State of the County Address
By Colin McEvoy on February 23, 2018
Just a little over three months after his election, Phillips Armstrong delivered his first State of the County on Feb. 22 as the new executive of Lehigh County.
“I hope that you will find that your trust has not been misplaced, and that my door is always open to you, the residents of Lehigh County,” he said. “And to those who are newer to our county, we want to make sure that we tell every worker, every business, and every culture that you are welcome here.”
While introducing the event, LVEDC President and CEO Don Cunningham noted that the Lehigh Valley gross domestic product has reached $39.1 billion, with manufacturing making up $6.9 billion, or nearly 18 percent of the total regional GDP.
“Over the past several years, our local economy has undergone a renaissance,” Armstrong said. “No more are we dependent on industrial-age manufacturing, but, as they like to say at LVEDC, we still make stuff here.”
Armstrong noted two accomplishments that have already occurred in his brief tenure as county executive. The first is approval from the board of commissioners for a construction plan at the Cedarbrook Nursing Home, a topic that has been an item of discussion for years.
The second is an administrative notice Armstrong signed prohibiting discrimination on the basis of someone’s gender identity: “I believe that everyone deserves a fair chance to be themselves. You will not do business in Lehigh County if you do not follow these rules.”
Armstrong noted that many of the jobs of the future will require an entirely new set of hard and soft skills, and a significant amount of specialized training. He stressed the need for a comprehensive economic development strategy to keep the economy innovative and creative, and to help it grow organically.
“We need to collaborate with our private sector partners to promote balanced growth and appropriate workforce training to ensure that when businesses choose to locate here, they will find a workforce with the skills that they need,” he said.
Armstrong advocated for efforts to make homes affordable for working class people, called for continued preservation of farmland, and said the county must ensure it provides a qualified pool of workers that businesses can count on for expansion.
He also said the county must do a better job of helping its smaller boroughs and townships gain access to grants. In emphasizing the importance of providing quality infrastructure, Armstrong advocated the reintroduction of a $5 vehicle fee as a source of support for the county’s municipalities.
“If we don not provide quality infrastructure, we make it harder to make our case to new businesses and difficult to attract new residents,” he said.
Addressing an epidemic
Armstrong also discussed the opioid epidemic, which he called a public health crisis both in Lehigh County and across the nation. To combat it, he voiced support for expanding the county’s Communities That Care (CTC) network, which combines the efforts of school districts, government, and community leaders and focuses it all in the same direction.
“As a former teacher, it pains me to watch the loss of our young people to this crisis,” he said. “I focus on the crisis in our schools first because the greatest tragedy any community can ever experience is the loss of a child, but the opioid epidemic does not discriminate. Men and women of all ages are being hit hard by this disease.”
Armstrong acknowledged the county board of commissioners, emphasizing his belief in a “progress over politics” approach in working with them. He also praised county employees, supervisors, and department heads, whose efforts he said ensure resident receive high quality services while keeping costs down.
“I hope that you will all come to know what I already know: Lehigh County couldn’t ask for a better team,” he said. “We are fortunate to have such great people who choose to serve the county. I want them all to know that their service never goes unnoticed or underappreciated by me.”
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