LVEDC Discusses Lehigh Valley Manufacturing on PBS39’s FOCUS
By Colin McEvoy on April 20, 2017
Manufacturing has been a hot topic in the Lehigh Valley this year. It’s once again the region’s top economic sector, has been the subject of a billboard campaign, and, most recently, was the focus of an expert panel discussion that drew attention from outside the region.
This week, it the spotlight again, as Don Cunningham, President and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), appeared on the PBS39 show FOCUS to discuss the region’s thriving manufacturing sector.
“It’s quite extraordinary, because people tend to view communities like the Lehigh Valley and Bethlehem as past manufacturing centers,” Cunningham said. “The reality is that’s the complete opposite of the truth. In the Lehigh Valley right now, the biggest part of our economic output is manufacturing.”
During the interview with PBS39’s Laura McHugh, Cunningham discussed job opportunities for skilled STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) workers in the Lehigh Valley, and how the region’s manufacturing sector compares to other regions in the nation.
Growth in the sector has been on the rise since the Great Recession in 2007, and currently makes up 15 percent of the Lehigh Valley’s overall $37 billion gross domestic product, compared to 10 percent of the economy nationally.
“We’re actually running well ahead of the national average,” Cunningham said.
The full FOCUS episode, which first aired on April 18, can be found on the PBS39 YouTube channel.
While there are fewer jobs in manufacturing today than in the past due to technology and automation, manufacturing in the Lehigh Valley has evolved from being focused on a single large employer in Bethlehem Steel, to a strong and diversified collection of many smaller companies.
There are about 680 manufacturers in the Lehigh Valley employing about 32,000 workers. Manufacturing today requires a highly-skilled workforce, as many companies are particularly focused on technology and medical devices, like Olympus, B Braun, and OraSure Technologies.
“About 30 or 40 years ago, someone could have a high school diploma, a strong back, and a work ethic, and go down to the steel mill or some other foundry and get work,” Cunningham said in the interview. “Today, manufacturing work is really about skills development, because many of the manufacturers on the plant floor today are running machinery and equipment.”
Cunningham discussed LVEDC’s efforts to ensure the Lehigh Valley maintains a strong pool of skilled workforce, including its efforts with the Lehigh Valley Workforce Development Board (LVWDB) to create the LVEDC Workforce and Talent Supply Council.
The council includes representatives from the region’s secondary and higher educational institutions, economic development and workforce development organizations, and industry leaders to help identify workforce needs and ensure the pipeline of talent flows to those high-demand jobs.
“Workforce and talent is the key component to economic development and economic growth today,” Cunningham said. “… We’re connecting educators to those that are hiring and trying to project out what will jobs look like in 5 or 10 years, to get that information to kids and to families about the things they need to train and prepare themselves for.”
The FOCUS episode also includes a segment about Smooth-On, a manufacturer of mold-making and casting materials used as special effects products by the film industry. Special effects products made by the Lower Macungie Township-based company have appeared in such film franchises as Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, James Bond, and The Matrix.
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