Corporate Executives on Why Lehigh Valley is a Top Manufacturing Market
By Colin McEvoy on October 7, 2022
The Lehigh Valley is a Top 50 market in the United States for manufacturing, with nearly $8 billion in annual output in that sector. But unlike the days of Bethlehem Steel, manufacturing today encompasses a wide range of companies and products.
“We’re making everything from Mack Trucks, to medical devices, to food and beverages, to thousands of products in between which are used every day by Americans and people across the world,” Don Cunningham, President & CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, said at the LVEDC Fall Signature Event on Sept. 20.
The region’s manufacturing growth and success was one of the main topics at the event, which was held at the State Theatre Center for the Arts. LVEDC assembled a panel discussion with leaders from some of the region’s top manufacturers to discuss why the Lehigh Valley is once again a national leader in this sector.
The panel discussion, moderated by Cunningham, included Rick Bucher, President & CEO of Victaulic; Jean-Claude Dubacher, President & CEO of B. Braun Medical; Fred Horowitz, President & CEO of A.P. Deauville; and Michael Tierney, founder & CEO of Stuffed Puffs.
“The four of you are a great representation of what makes Lehigh Valley manufacturing so great: the new and the long-time, the growing and expanding,” Cunningham said.
Below are a few highlights from the manufacturing panel discussion at the LVEDC Fall Signature Event:
Jean-Claude Dubacher on why the Lehigh Valley is the place for B. Braun
There are a couple of reasons. First of all, just having the scale here, the access to talent, being here in a location very close to everything and everywhere you need to be. So all of those things are critically important. But I think for us, having the right infrastructure here in the Lehigh Valley is definitely a big plus. When I talk about infrastructure, I mean having great universities and colleges, and being able to collaborate with organizations like the Ben Franklin Technology Partnership and the Manufacturers Resource Center. So all of those things help us to get stronger, get the right talent, and really be able to support our growth. And I think lastly is the size of the Lehigh Valley allows leaders of companies to be able to get together as a community, which makes it even better and helps us all to solve issues and address challenges.
Fred Horowitz on why A.P. Deauville left New Jersey for the Lehigh Valley
“We think of ourselves as refugees from New Jersey. So the good news for you is you have an easy competitive environment. The worst news for New Jersey is you are totally on your game. We were looking mostly through New Jersey, we looked at a few other places even further south, and just by chance, we found the Lehigh Valley, we found a building that works for us in Forks. I fell in love with Easton and the area, and it really said to me, ‘Wow, I can attract great people here.’ We’re all about innovation, but we’re only as good as our people. We couldn’t get good people anymore in New Jersey. The good ones basically moved to Pennsylvania: mechanical staff, people with strong mechanical skills, machine operators, and even mid-level management. They couldn’t afford the property taxes. They couldn’t afford the income taxes. When we came here, we could get incredible talent. It’s changed our company, and our sales are growing.”
Don Cunningham on the Lehigh Valley manufacturing sector’s “comeback story”
“There’s something special about a comeback story. When something or someone you thought had run its course gets even bigger and better and that’s the story of manufacturing in the Lehigh Valley. … Lehigh Valley manufacturing is once again a powerhouse and a national story. We still make things here. Just as manufacturing in the Lehigh Valley of yesterday drove the industrial revolution of the last century, today Lehigh Valley manufacturing 2.0 serves the new diversified economy of today. There are more than 750 manufacturers in the Lehigh and Northampton counties in 2021. … The output of the Lehigh Valley’s combined manufacturers has been record-setting. Manufacturing makes up more than 18% of the Lehigh Valley’s economy; by comparison it’s 12.5% in the United States, and it’s growing much faster than the country as a whole. We have 35,000 workers employed in manufacturing in our campus. In fact, during the last five years, manufacturing employment here grew 11 times faster than that of the nation.”
Rick Bucher on how the Lehigh Valley lets Victaulic make things close to its customers
“We’re a global company with 4,500 employees worldwide, with 1,200 here in the Lehigh Valley, and we’re proud to make things close to our customers. Eighty percent of the products that we sell in the U.S. are made here in the U.S. We’re global, but our philosophy is to manufacture close to our base, and we’ve been proud to call the Lehigh Valley our home for the last 50 years. … About a year ago, we opened up a 400,000 square-foot manufacturing facility in Easton, with 280 hard-working Lehigh Valley employees. We could have put that anywhere around the United States, but we decided on the Lehigh Valley for a number of reasons. One, we could leverage our leadership teams already here. Two, we could give our employees who are here in the Valley growth opportunities. … And finally, the work ethic. The pride. The loyalty here in Lehigh Valley. It seems like people here love manufacturing things, they take pride in it, and we really, really experienced that.”
Michael Tierney on creating Stuffed Puffs’ s’mores marshmallow with the chocolate already inside it
“I got laughed out of many of the major food suppliers, both in Pennsylvania and globally across a one year world tour that I took. And I said, ‘OK, we’re going to have to do this ourselves if we want to do it.’ And so you go back to that innovation piece that’s so deeply rooted here in the Lehigh Valley. We partnered with Rich Thompson over at the Factory LLC in Bethlehem, who helped built up the Freshpet business years ago. Here’s a guy who loves manufacturing. I said I have this really innovative idea and I know a way to do it, but everybody said it’s impossible. He’s like, ‘That’s the perfect idea.’ Here we are four years later, we lead the traditional marshmallow category; in two-and-a-half years, we took the number one pole position in that category across the 44,000 stores nationwide. And a lot of that came from our ability to grow here in the Lehigh Valley.”
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