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Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee Roundtable Discussion Held in Lehigh Valley

By Colin McEvoy on January 11, 2018

The Pennsylvania Democratic Policy Committee roundtable discussion was held at CareerLink Lehigh Valley in Allentown.

The Pennsylvania Democratic Policy Committee roundtable discussion was held at CareerLink Lehigh Valley in Allentown.

Don Cunningham, President and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), participated in a roundtable discussion this week with the Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee.

The discussion, hosted by state Rep. Mike Schlossberg, sought to discuss jobs and employment trends with Lehigh Valley policy experts and legislators from all over the state, with a particular focus on the changing nature of the retail market, and the rise of automation in the manufacturing sector.

“These are two issues I don’t feel the state has paid enough attention to,” Schlossberg said at the discussion, which was held at CareerLink Lehigh Valley in Allentown. “The purpose of this discussion is to identify what works and what doesn’t, so it’s helpful for you all to be as candid as possible.

Cunningham said the Lehigh Valley has been fortunate enough to benefit from “both ends of the retail equation.” Unlike other regions, the Lehigh Valley has not lost its brick-and-mortar retail stores, but the e-commerce sector has “exploded” due to the region’s central location and access to markets.

The Lehigh Valley’s transportation and warehousing sector has grown from 17,000 jobs five years ago to more than 28,000 jobs today, making it the region’s fastest-growing sector. Furthermore, Cunningham said, the average wage in fulfillment centers are $15 per hour, which is higher than in most retail stores.

LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham (center) was among the panelists in the roundtable discussion.

LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham (center) was among the panelists in the roundtable discussion.

“We’re not going to change the fact that we all buy products online, so let’s not demonize it and realize it for what it is: thousands of jobs that pay a higher minimum wage than the types of jobs people tend to champion even more,” he said.

Cunningham also urged the committee to do whatever it can to support skills development, including technical schools, community colleges, or apprenticeship programs. These subjects are often an area of focus with the LVEDC Education and Talent Supply Council.

Chris Naylor, legislative and political director with UFCW Local 1776, said those skills development programs are important, but also noted the median age for a retail worker is 38, and that many of them are not in a position to go back to school or seek such training. He said fighting wage stagnation and ensuring these workers have a livable wage are of paramount importance.

Regarding the issue of automation and robotics, Michelle Griffin Young, Executive Vice President of Government & External Affairs with the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, discussed results from a survey conducted with about 1,000 retail and manufacturing businesses.

Young said 85 percent of respondents said they have not eliminated jobs due to automation and technology, but that 41 percent said they forecast such eliminations in the future. However, almost 60 percent said they believe such technology will lead to the creation of new jobs as well.

“I think the key is making sure our students are seeing a future in manufacturing as a real possibility,” Young said.

Anthony Durante, program manager for the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, a business incubator run by the Allentown Economic Development Corporation (AEDC), told the committee that state funding for Pennsylvania’s entrepreneurial community has “slowly chipped away and gone flat” in recent years.

“I think we have an opportunity to make Pennsylvania a place where things really happen,” Durante said, citing Lehigh Valley incubators like Bridgeworks and Ben Franklin TechVentures, as well as in those other cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. “I think if we can recommit to investing in the entrepreneurial community, we’ll see it pay off in job creation and innovation.”

Other participants in the discussion included Diane Lewis, manager of Business Development Services at the Manufacturers Resource Center (MRC), and Edward Hozza Jr, Mayor of Whitehall Township. Pennsylvania representatives in attendance included Scott Conklin, Paul Costa, Mark Longietti, and Chris Sainato.

Lehigh Valley Talent Supply Study Featured in Connections Magazine

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