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2021 Year-in-Review: Pandemic Creates Both Challenges and Opportunities in Lehigh Valley

By Colin McEvoy on December 29, 2021

Like everywhere else in the nation and the world, the Lehigh Valley continued to experience tremendous economic and social change throughout 2021 as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, creating new challenges and opportunities alike for economic growth.

Trends like the movement from traditional retail to online shopping were accelerated. The availability of workers became more challenging, driving up wages. Many office workers continue to work from home, sometimes from many miles or even states away from employers. The disruption of shipments of goods overseas led companies to rethink their supply chains.

As we enter 2022, below are a few of the major accomplishments from this past year in economic development for the Lehigh Valley.

Economic data

Project Manager Matt Kennedy of a tour of the new Martin Guitar facility at 130 Commerce Lane in Tatamy.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lehigh Valley has seen a continued growth in manufacturing output, launching the region into a Top 50 manufacturing market in the United States. The Lehigh Valley’s gross domestic product for 2020 came in at $42.9 billion, with $7.9 billion coming from the manufacturing sector.

Health care and medicine remains the region’s largest employment sector, and is more important than ever. Domestic production of bio pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, and medical diagnostics is growing as life sciences has become one of the fastest growing sectors in the nation, and the Lehigh Valley is well-poised for growth in that industry.

New Census data this year shows the Lehigh Valley is among Pennsylvania’s fastest-growing regions, and growth in the 18-to-34 demographic in particular bodes well for the regional economy. Additionally, LVEDC research has found the Lehigh Valley is a top spot for super commuters, and also includes one of the country’s hottest ZIP codes.

LVEDC initiatives

Last month, the LVEDC Board of Directors approved a new three-year strategic economic development plan for the organization based on input from public and private sector leaders in the region, a national consultant’s study, and the global economic transformations that have occurred since the COVID-19 crisis began in early 2020.

In the coming weeks, LVEDC will publish a series of articles in its weekly e-newsletter detailing elements of the strategic plan.

LVEDC continued several of its ongoing initiatives in 2021, including support for the Made Possible in Lehigh Valley marketing initiative, as well as its talent supply initiative, which was named the best talent development and retention program by the IEDC, and also honored as the best economic development program in Pennsylvania by PEDA.

LVEDC’s Education and Talent Supply Council is conducting a survey to gauge the perspectives of employers about the current state of the regional talent supply market. The Council also organized the third annual Lehigh Valley Internship Summit, as well as a new internship toolkit and the Lehigh Valley Career Development & Internship Directory.

Regional projects

Cigars International has broken ground on the expansion project at Lehigh Valley Industrial Park VII in Bethlehem. (photo courtesy J.G. Petrucci Company Inc.)

Despite the pandemic, the Lehigh Valley continued to see significant business expansions and projects throughout 2021, bringing new jobs to the region or retaining existing ones. Some were highlighted in our mid-year review, such as Cigars International, Sharp, Yourway, Bio Med Sciences, Follett, LVHN, LVIA, Stuffed Puffs, SunOpta, and the Waterfront.

A.P. Deauville, one of the nation’s leading marketers and manufacturers of men’s personal care products, relocated from New Jersey to the Lehigh Valley, creating 105 new jobs. Martin Guitar opened a new 200,000 square-foot distribution facility in Tatamy.

Additionally, Capital Blue Cross completed a $4 million renovation in Allentown. BusPatrol America LLC leased new space in Allentown, with plans to hire 50 employees. The military equipment manufacturer D. Gillette Industrial Services acquired a new facility in Forks Township. And Penn State Lehigh Valley completed a $14.4 million expansion at its campus.

Events and activities

Also in 2021, LVEDC concluded its second series of video interviews highlighting recently-appointed corporate leaders at some of the largest and most prestigious companies and employers in the Lehigh Valley.

LVEDC released interviews with seven leaders from Lehigh Valley companies, including Mack Trucks, Olympus Corporation of the Americas, PPL Electric Utilities, and Victaulic. Those videos can be viewed on the LVEDC website or the organization’s YouTube channel.

Also this year, LVEDC representatives were invited to speak about best practices at two IEDC events, and the region saw visits from President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen Bob Casey. Additionally, U.S. Rep. Susan Wild attended a virtual meeting of the Entrepreneurship Council of the Lehigh Valley.

Don Cunningham Discusses Workforce Trends During WFMZ Appearance

As the year 2021 came to a close, Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) President & CEO Don Cunningham spoke to WFMZ News about workforce trends, pred[...]

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Lehigh ValleyQuick Facts

By the Numbers
$43.3 Billion

2020 Gross Domestic Product

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City Center Lehigh Valley
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10.6% of Labor Force
Employed in Manufacturing

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Lehigh Valley Health Network
By the Numbers
$3.8 Billion

Exports in 2019

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Air Products
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Lehigh Valley Electricians
By the Numbers
$66,865

Median Household Income

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PPL Electric Utilities
By the Numbers
676,700

Population

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Olympus
By the Numbers
347,612

Labor Force

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26.6% of Labor Force
Employed in "Eds & Meds" sectors

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5,073

Technology Patents

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Mack Trucks
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UGI
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Magestic Realty Co
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NFI
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14% of the total community college degrees awarded in PA

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Wells Fargo
By the Numbers
$7.1 Billion

Manufacturing Contribution to GDP

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Truist
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69th largest metropolitan area in the U.S. by population

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Key Bank
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10,754 degrees awarded by Lehigh Valley colleges (2017-18 academic year)

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St. Lukes University Health Network
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82,270 employed in "Eds & Meds" sectors

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By the Numbers
149,000

Population between ages 18 and 34

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FirstEnergy