CEOs Discuss Why the Lehigh Valley is the Right Place for Them
By Colin McEvoy on May 16, 2016
This story first appeared in the second issue of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development magazine, a publication developed by LVEDC and Journal Communications. This magazine highlights the region’s competitive advantages for targeted sectors, as well as providing an overview of the region’s business climate, livability, transportation infrastructure, and other economic assets.
(NOTE: Since publication of this story, Mike Perry has become President and CEO of Hallmark Greetings. Crayola is a subsidiary of Hallmark Cards.)
The Lehigh Valley is the center of activity for several internationally known companies. Crayola has been making its top brand of crayons in the Easton area for more than a century. Fortune 500 firm Air Products has provided atmospheric, process and specialty gases, along with other technologies, to industrial markets worldwide from Allentown for nearly seven decades. Olympus, the leading manufacturer of cameras and audio products as well as precision imaging systems for life science, industrial and medical markets, relocated its headquarters to Center Valley in 2006. We asked CEOs from these companies to share what makes the Lehigh Valley their location of choice.
Q: What drew your company to the area, and why have you chosen to keep your headquarters here?
Seifi Ghasemi: In 1946, Air Products moved its operations from Chattanooga to the Lehigh Valley because major markets for the company’s gas generators were in the Northeast and Midwest. Additionally, the Lehigh Valley offered an industrious workforce that was attracted to the region by the iron mines and foundries that flourished here. Already home to companies like Bethlehem Steel, PPL, Mack Trucks, Lehigh Portland Cement, and Lehigh Structural Steel, the Lehigh Valley seemed to be the right fit for us. We are proud to call the Lehigh Valley home. The collaborative nature of business, economic, educational, and philanthropic organizations in the area that continually work to improve the quality of life here make it an outstanding location for our company, our employees, and their families.
Mike Perry: In 1900, the founders of Crayola settled in the Lehigh Valley because of the area’s natural resources. They operated an old mill on the Bushkill Creek, grinding slate found in the area to make one of our first products – slate pencils for schoolchildren. During the next few years, Crayola began making chalk, and eventually safe, affordable crayons in 1903. Today, we make hundreds of Crayola products under the brand name recognized in households around the world. The Lehigh Valley is full of creative, resourceful and hardworking individuals. More than 250 of our employees have been at Crayola for 20 years or longer, and we have had generations of families working here throughout our 112 years. Our dedicated, innovative employees are the reason we have been successful all these years.
Nacho Abia: When several markets were being analyzed for our relocation, the Lehigh Valley presented – and continues to present – a vast amount of benefits for Olympus such as reasonable cost of conducting business; labor costs in line with the national average; logistical channels and resources for product distribution; and access to talented and educated individuals due to the area’s number of colleges and universities. Employees were also an integral factor in the decision-making process. The Lehigh Valley offered an area where we could provide market-leading benefits for employees, affordable housing options, and an excellent quality of life all around – everything from cost of living and good schools to recreational opportunities and easy access to cultural activities.
Q: What are the competitive advantages of operating a global business from the Lehigh Valley, and how has your location here contributed to your success?
SG: Today’s technological capabilities make it possible to run a business from virtually anywhere in the world. However, I do believe there is one area where Air Products gains a competitive advantage – and that is from our people. The talent, enthusiasm and commitment of our people are key to our success, and the Lehigh Valley offers us a diverse and talented workforce to help drive that success. Our location helps us attract talented workers from outside the region as well.
MP: The Lehigh Valley has much of what big cities offer, but on a smaller, manageable scale. When you need to venture to or access a larger city for business or pleasure, both New York City and Philadelphia are about 90 miles away. Major highways, airports, an intermodal rail yard, available warehousing space, and close proximity to ports make it easy to set up operations and deliver products to our customers around the globe in an efficient, cost-effective manner.
NA: We have experienced successful growth driven in part by an expanding, skilled employee base, thanks to both local talent and the ability to attract candidates to the area based on an attractive cost of living; exceptional and various healthcare options; numerous higher and continuing education opportunities; and an excellent quality of life. Our employees are our greatest asset and make our successes reality.
Q: How would you describe the workforce talent in the region, and what distinguishes it from other areas? How easy is it to recruit talent to the area?
SG: Air Products has a long history of attracting and developing talent from the Lehigh Valley and surrounding areas. The Lehigh Valley offers a diverse talent pool that meets our current and future business needs. We hire and develop talent for all of our area locations, bringing talent into the organization through multiple entry points. Whether it is through our regional technical school, college and university partnerships, mid-career applicants, or an executive talent search, the Lehigh Valley and surrounding areas offer a robust talent pool that drives our business forward.
MP: The most important and valued resource in the Lehigh Valley is its people – people who care and are willing to give their time and talent to help each other. Workers at Crayola and many Lehigh Valley companies reach out in their communities, providing thousands of volunteer hours every year to local nonprofit boards, civic organizations, and community events and activities. We are able to show potential candidates all the Valley has to offer – from quality school districts and higher-education institutions for their children to excellent health-care systems for their families to a vibrant arts, food and music scene for them to enjoy – and recruit talent from around the country to Crayola.
NA: We have found that the Lehigh Valley offers great opportunity to recruit talented, educated individuals. Some may be from the immediate area, or even nearby Philadelphia, and looking for a new career opportunity. Some may just be finishing college and starting in the workforce. The numerous colleges and universities here enable us to recruit individuals for our Fellows Program – a full-time, benefits-eligible leadership development program for new college graduates – as well as host shorter-term internship positions.
Q: What resources does the region offer for major corporations like yours, and how have you utilized these to grow and innovate?
SG: Air Products enjoys a great partnership with the many nationally-recognized institutions of higher education. Our relationship with these colleges and universities is active and engaging, which helps to feed our talent pool. The students who graduate from these schools and become part of the Air Products workforce are bright, articulate, passionate about their work and socially responsible. Another resource we appreciate is the work of Valley-wide economic development partners, including the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, the Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, and the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board. There is an excellent coordination of activities among these dedicated partners who share a commitment to ensuring we continue to have a strong, skilled workforce in the Lehigh Valley. We are also grateful for the leadership and support of the nonprofit organizations who do so much in the Lehigh Valley in the areas of health and human services, arts and culture, education and sustainability. We have a longtime commitment to the communities where we operate, and we partner with many of these organizations to help meet the needs of our friends and neighbors in the community, creating an even better quality of life in the Lehigh Valley.
MP: One of the ways we are growing our business is through our Crayola Experience attractions. The city of Easton, the Lehigh Valley and the state of Pennsylvania have helped us achieve our vision to create a fun, creative attraction for visitors to Easton. Our downtown Easton location provides 30 million people within a 100-mile radius access to 21 experiences where color, chemistry and technology combined to create a colorful adventure for our guests at Crayola Experience. Our success in Easton has prompted us to expand the attraction to other locations like Orlando, Fla.
NA: Shortly after we settled our new headquarters in Center Valley, we built a distribution center in the industrial park in Breinigsville to allow some of our supply chain and distribution operations to be nearby. Over the years, this particular facility has become Olympus’ largest distribution center for finished products being shipped throughout North and South America. The Lehigh Valley’s proximity and location within the U.S. is also very beneficial for conducting our operations. Although the main headquarters for our North and South American operations is in the Lehigh Valley, we also have headquarters for two of our core businesses in Massachusetts, both of which are easily accessible through a car trip or short flight. Our Canadian headquarters is located near Toronto – also accessible through a short flight. Access to the two major airports in Philadelphia and Newark is especially convenient given our frequent domestic and international employee travel. Additionally, the area has provided us with access to many valued partners for a variety of services such as printed materials, promotional products, marketing communications, advertising, construction, electrical contracting, groundskeeping and office furniture, among other areas.
Q: What do you appreciate about the quality of life in the Lehigh Valley, and how has that influenced your decision to stay in the area?
SG: The Lehigh Valley stands out as a best practice for other communities across the country in many areas, including early childhood education, workforce skills development, economic development, post-secondary partnerships, and business/education collaborations. Our Chamber of Commerce is the ninth largest in the country, which adds to the strength and sustainability of our small and large businesses.
MP: The region offers solid transportation and communication infrastructure that gets better all the time, 11 colleges and universities, an educated workforce, business-minded government, leaders with a strong connection to helping the community, arts, sports recreation, and a great mix of history culture and diversity. Personally, as co-chair of the Lehigh Valley United Way campaign last year, I got to see firsthand how families, nonprofit organizations, school districts, and businesses are all working together to create a stronger community for all of us. I love the feeling of partnership that runs through the Lehigh Valley.
NA: In 2011, I moved myself and my family from Barcelona, Spain – which I believe is one of the best cities in the world to live – to the Lehigh Valley in continuation of my career with Olympus. My family and I have grown to love the area and find the quality of life very satisfying. I think most Olympus employees feel the same. The area offers a reasonable cost of living; varied businesses and industries for careers; a lot of recreational activities for families and individuals; and close proximity to several other large cities and resources. We are very happy here.
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