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National Museum of Industrial History Highlights LVEDC, Lehigh Valley Manufacturing

By Colin McEvoy on January 24, 2017

Don Cunningham, LVEDC President and CEO, was a guest columnist for the most recent issue of the National Museum of Industrial History's quarterly newsletter.

Don Cunningham, LVEDC President and CEO, was a guest columnist for the most recent issue of the National Museum of Industrial History’s quarterly newsletter.

Part of the mission of Bethlehem’s National Museum of Industrial History (NMIH) is to forge a connection between our industrial past, the innovations of today, and the next generation of inventors.

That’s why it is the perfect platform for the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) to discuss the continued regional importance of manufacturing, which is once again the top economic sector of the Lehigh Valley economy.

The front cover of the National Museum of Industrial History newsletter. Click the image to download the full newsletter.

The front cover of the National Museum of Industrial History newsletter. Click the image to download the full newsletter.

Don Cunningham, LVEDC President and CEO, was a guest columnist for the most recent issue of NMIH’s quarterly newsletter, which was released this week. The column is an abridged version of a column he contributed for The Morning Call in October.

“We are glad to have an institution like the National Museum of Industrial History here in the Lehigh Valley that will not only preserve our rich industrial past, but also foster a continuing conversation on manufacturing through exhibits and programming that forge a connection to the innovations of today and inspire future generations of inventors and achievers,” Cunningham said.

The full column can be read in the NMIH newsletter, which can be downloaded here, or read on the LVEDC blog. A portion of the column can be found below:

Contrary to what you may hear on your television lately, we still make stuff here in
the United States of America.

Here in the Lehigh Valley, manufacturing is the largest sector of economic output. It may be different than it was 25 years ago. It may be much more diverse and, yes, automation may have reduced the size of the workforce, but manufacturing is alive and well in the Lehigh Valley. There are about 680 manufacturers in Lehigh and Northampton counties. They employ about 33,000 workers and generate $5.56 billion in economic output.

In 2015, Lehigh Valley businesses topped out at $37 billion of Gross Domestic Product, a record-breaking year. That’s more GDP than the state of Vermont and 97 small nations in the world. Most significantly, however, manufacturing returned to leading the way in the Lehigh Valley for the first time since the days of Bethlehem Steel Corp., representing 15 percent of our total GDP. Warehouse and distribution ranked a mere sixth.

How can that be? One very focused and innovative company at a time, representing a multitude of different industries with the common denominator of all making something.

Yes, gone are the days of massive manufacturers like Bethlehem Steel that employed thousands and thousands of workers. Today, the typical manufacturer employs anywhere from 20 to 75 workers, usually located in anywhere from 5,000 to 80,000-square-feet of space. Technology, machines and automation do a lot of the work that people once did but automation is also the key to vastly increasing productivity at American plants and keeping industries competitive with cheaper foreign labor.

That’s not going to change, just as the development of automobiles drove blacksmiths banging out horseshoes out of business; there is no magic wand to bring back the days of old. But, all of our eggs are no more in one or two baskets like steel and textiles. Today, Lehigh Valley businesses make medical devices, food and beverages, machined parts, lighting controls, water coolers and ice dispensers, guitars, pharmaceuticals, pumps for aquariums and components for cell phones.

(Click here to read the rest of the column.)

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