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LVEDC 2016 Year in Review: A Banner Year for Economic Development

By Colin McEvoy on December 29, 2016

Mack Trucks announced plans in April for $70 million in improvements to its Lower Macungie Township plant this year.

Mack Trucks announced plans in April for $70 million in improvements to its Lower Macungie Township plant this year.

The year 2016 has been an eventful one for the Lehigh Valley economy.

The region saw record-breaking numbers in terms of economic output, celebrated expansion projects from major existing businesses, and welcomed new investment of international companies coming into the Lehigh Valley for the first time.

“2016 was a banner year for economic development in the Lehigh Valley,” said Don Cunningham, President and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC). “Our GDP topped out reached a record $37 billion, manufacturing is once again our largest economic sector, foreign direct investment in the region is on the rise, and we celebrated several success stories in terms of business attraction and retention projects.”

As we enter 2017, see below for a few of the major accomplishments from this past year:

Major employers reaffirm investment

Guardian Life Insurance President and CEO Deanna M. Mulligan and Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack were among those at the Guardian Life Insurance ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Guardian Life Insurance President and CEO Deanna M. Mulligan and Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack were among those at the Guardian Life Insurance ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Although new businesses moving into the region tend to draw the biggest headlines, the behind-the-scenes work done to help retain and expand the Lehigh Valley’s important existing companies is just as important, and is a major part of what LVEDC does every day.

Guardian Life Insurance, one of the nation’s largest mutual life insurers, celebrated the opening of its new three-story office complex in Hanover Township, Northampton County this summer, further bolstering its already strong presence in the region.

“This building is both a testament to the future growth of our business and our commitment to the Lehigh Valley,” said Deanna M. Mulligan, Guardian’s President and CEO.

Another of the region’s biggest employers, Mack Trucks, also reaffirmed this year that it is “here to stay”, formally announcing plans to invest about $70 million in improvements at its Lower Macungie Township plant, to further improve manufacturing quality and efficiency and modernize the facility.

Mack Trucks employs more than 1,800 workers at the Lehigh Valley plant, where new enhancements will include a 75,000 square-foot expansion to improve material handling and flow, new manufacturing IT systems, and a new building for conducting quality audits on completed vehicles.

New business attraction projects

Julien Caron, president of Norac Group USA, speaking about Norac's investment in the Lehigh Valley during the LVEDC Annual Meeting.

Julien Caron, president of Norac Group USA, speaking about Norac’s investment in the Lehigh Valley during the LVEDC Annual Meeting.

Headlining the LVEDC Annual Meeting in March, Norac, a French manufacturer of natural bakery snacks that employs more than 3,700 worldwide, announced it will build its first American manufacturing facility in Forks Township, a 79,160 square-foot facility that will create 62 jobs over three years.

This project – which resulted in part from a business development tour LVEDC took in Western Europe last summer – is part of a growing trend of international investment in the Lehigh Valley. Another example from 2016 was Nihon Kohden America Inc., a Japanese medical device manufacturer that established a new East Coast facility in South Whitehall Township.

The Lehigh Valley also remains at the forefront of the booming e-commerce industry due to the region’s available land, strong workforce, and central location. Amazon.com announced it will open a new fulfillment center in Palmer Township, and StitchFix opened a distribution facility in Lower Nazareth Township. Each of those projects will create more than 500 new jobs.

Other major Lehigh Valley business attraction/retention projects from 2015 include Paychex announcing a $1.3 million expansion, Sharp Packaging Solutions completing a $45 million expansion, Central Garden & Pet Company establishing a new facility, Ecopax holds breaking ground at new manufacturing plant, and DevTech PET opening a new facility.

Strong economic numbers

The Lehigh Valley’s gross domestic product rose to a record-high $36.97 billion, with particularly impressive growth in manufacturing, which is now the region’s top sector for the first time since the days of Bethlehem Steel. The regional GDP is now larger than that of 97 other countries in the world and the entire state of Vermont ($30.4 billion).

Additionally, for the third straight year, the region had the best post-Recession job growth of any region in Pennsylvania, with 3.53 percent more jobs today than before the Great Recession began. The Lehigh Valley’s economic success story is so impressive, it was featured in a Philadelphia Business Journal story earlier this month.

The Lehigh Valley also ranks in the 65 metropolitan markets in the nation for patent development, and, according to the most recent Lehigh Valley Industrial Real Estate Report, a total of 10.8 million square feet are currently under construction in the industrial market. Bethlehem also ranked in Money magazine’s “Best Places to Retire” this year.

Finance, redevelopment successes

Hundreds came out for the long-awaited grand opening of the Easton Public Market, a project of the Greater Easton Development Partnership.

Hundreds came out for the long-awaited grand opening of the Easton Public Market.

LVEDC received national recognition this year for the Lehigh Valley Lending Network, a revolutionary partnership between LVEDC and 15 regional banks that offers a single point of entry to both private and public financing.

The network, which continues to become recognized as a best practice across the country, was selected to receive the prestigious Excellence in Development Finance Program Award from the Council of Development Finance Agencies (CDFA) in October.

“Most regions aren’t fortunate enough to having competing banks working in this unique way to support regional economic growth,” Cunningham said. “This is made possible because of the commitment our banks and the strength of a regional economic development effort led by LVEDC.”

The Lehigh Valley Land Recycling Initiative (LVLRI), LVEDC’s redevelopment program, also continued its pattern of success in 2016. The program is currently working on 14 projects in various stages – far more than the average of about a half-dozen from previous years – and works with a prospect count of about 5 to 7 possible new projects each month.

Among the successful brownfield projects supported by LVLRI was the Easton Public Market, a 16,000 square-foot marketplace located at the at the former Weller Center that held its grand opening in April.

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