State of Economic Development in Lehigh Valley Delivered at LVEDC Investors Meeting
By Colin McEvoy on March 19, 2015
As the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation celebrates its 20th anniversary, CEO and President Don Cunningham took some time during the LVEDC 2015 Annual Investors Meeting and Awards ceremony to reflect on the dramatic changes the Lehigh Valley has experienced in the last two decades.
Allentown thrives with $1 billion in new development and one of the most dramatic urban turnarounds in the country. Bethlehem has converted old steel lands into the Lehigh Valley’s largest cluster of manufacturers, e-commerce providers, entertainment, public parks and mixed use redevelopment in a four-mile long area. Easton is the quintessential “small city,” a retail and restaurant destination vibrant with cultural attractions, a glistening riverfront and activity for everyone.
“It wasn’t that long ago that it wasn’t this way,” Cunningham said. “And this is just our cities. Western Lehigh County has become the hub of food and beverage production in Pennsylvania. The center of Northampton County, soon to have a new interchange off Route 33, is poised to be the region’s next center of growth with the development of the Chrin lands.”
He added, “I’d say our leadership in the Lehigh Valley has gotten it right. We’ve been the fastest growing region in Pennsylvania for the last five years, and the fastest of our size in the entire northeast last year.”
A regional approach
A record crowd of nearly 400 people attended the investors meeting and awards ceremony on March 18, which was held at the headquarters of Olympus Corporation of the Americas.
Cunningham said 69 percent of the job growth in the Lehigh Valley during the last five years have come from existing businesses and start-ups. He also noted the increase in international companies showing an interest in the Lehigh Valley, with about one third of LVEDC’s current prospects coming from outside the country.
But he also said just as the Lehigh Valley can recruit companies to come here, ours could be recruited to go anywhere. That’s why LVEDC initiated a Business Outreach Program, which has completed hundreds of site visits with companies to ensure their needs are being met. He also advocated for the need for an expanded freight rail terminal, and improved infrastructure in the Slate Belt and other areas of the region.
LVEDC has also commissioned a firm to conduct a skills gap analysis of the Lehigh Valley workforce, studying both the needs of our employers and the annual talent output of the region’s vocational technical schools, community colleges, four-year colleges and for-profit institutions.
“The days of worrying about Lehigh County competing with Northampton County or Bethlehem competing with Allentown are over,” Cunningham said. “Our competition is in the rest of Pennsylvania, the other 49 states and the world. We are winning and we can keep winning but only if we do it as a region.”
New board leadership
The meeting marked a change in leadership for the LVEDC Board of Directors. Stephen Kalamar, vice president and relationship manager with TD Bank, became the new board chairman, and welcomed four new board members: Cindy Feinberg, Lauren Goff, Patricia Johnson and Dan McCarthy.
Outgoing chair Tom Garrity recognized two outgoing board members: William Michalerya, who had been on the board since 2004, and Anthony Biondi, who had served since 2009.
“As I leave the position of chairman, I’m happy to say the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation is strong, well-positioned, and on the right track to continue to lead the Lehigh Valley into an exciting and prosperous future,” Garrity said.
Olympus President and CEO Nacho Abia delivered the keynote speech, speaking about the success the company has achieved since moving from Long Island to the Lehigh Valley in 2006.
“Our mission is sustainable growth, customer satisfaction, operational excellence and employee satisfaction,” Abia said. While Olympus is best known for their digital cameras, Abia noted the company’s product line includes voice recorders, diagnostic systems, medical systems, photo printers, microscopes and imaging systems.
LVEDC Awards were bestowed upon seven individuals or companies. The only award winner who was not notified in advance of the meeting was Sally Handlon, who was awarded MVP of the Year.
A member of the LVEDC Board of Directors, Handlon is the president of Handlon Business Resources, chairs LVEDC’s Women and Minority Owned Business Council, and has been a committed voice for advancing the growth of Lehigh Valley’s small and often disadvantaged businesses.
“I’m very honored,” Handlon said upon accepting the award. “There are a lot of excellent volunteers at LVEDC and I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to combine my passion for the Valley with my passion for small business, women and minorities.”
Video acceptance speeches, produced by the Allentown-based company First Generation, were shown for the other six award winners. They include:
Partner of the Year: Lafayette Ambassador Bank
Urban Project of the Year: PPL Center
Entrepreneur of the Year: Dr. Katy Worrilow, LifeAire Systems
Business Expansion Project of the Year: Hospital Central Services
International Project of the Year: Fuling Plastic USA
New Business Project of the Year: Curtiss-Wright Corporation
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