What Does Economic Development Have To Do With The Price Of Cheese?

By Nicole Radzievich Mertz on January 19, 2021

Hundreds came out for the long-awaited grand opening of the Easton Public Market, a project of the Greater Easton Development Partnership.

Consumers browse produce at Easton Public Market.

Manhattan has Little Italy. Seattle is famous for its coffeehouses, and Iowa City sits amid America’s ‘Bread Basket.’

But when it comes to prices, Lehigh Valley shoppers got a better deal than Manhattan for parmesan cheese, Seattle for coffee and Iowa City for a loaf of bread, according to the latest results of the Council for Community and Economic Research’s quarterly Cost of Living Index.

The index measures the differences in prices of grocery items, health care, housing costs and other goods and services among 274 urban areas across the country. Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) is among the organizations that volunteer to collect 90,000 prices each quarter.

So, what does economic development have do with the price of cheese?

“Parmesan cheese is just one of more than 60 items we price to get a clearer understanding of the differences in purchasing power between regions,” said George Lewis, LVEDC’s Vice President of Marketing, Communications and Research. “That information is helpful to us in marketing the economic advantages of living and working in Lehigh Valley.”

Indexed at 106.6, Lehigh Valley may not be among the cheapest places to live the country but is more affordable than nearby urban areas including New York, northern New Jersey and Philadelphia. The index is based on an average of 100 for all participating regions nationwide. Lehigh Valley’s score of 106.6 means that the overall cost of living here is 6.6% greater than the average.

Lehigh Valley, which includes two of Pennsylvania’s 21 counties that have grown over the last decade, owes much of its growth to migration, according to LVEDC analysis of demographic data.

And companies are following the talent. From payroll service provider ADP to manufacturer A.P. Deauville, companies have made decisions in recent years to move into Lehigh Valley. Meanwhile long-time Lehigh Valley businesses such as Sharp Packaging, a global market-leading packaging company which has facilities, have not only stayed in Lehigh Valley but expanded here because of the work force.

Sharp President Kevin Orfan noted in a recent interview the favorable housing prices and other costs when talking about Lehigh Valley’s attractiveness for corporate investment.

“As long as there is a diverse and robust and skilled workforce in Lehigh Valley, I think you will continue to attract not only investments from our company specifically, but also investments from other companies as well,” Orfan told LVEDC President and CEO Don Cunningham during the video-recorded interview.

The Cost of Living Index, which is recognized by the U.S. Census and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, has helped communities benchmark themselves to other metropolitan regions across the country since 1968, and the data is particularly consequential amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said Jennie Allison, program manager for the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER), which publishes the index.

“Especially in this time of remote work, people are actively looking to and moving out of large cities and to communities that offer a great quality of life and affordable place to live beyond a studio or one-bedroom apartment,” Allison said. “This is a unique opportunity for communities to highlight their regional assets and attract new residents.”

LVEDC conducts the pricing survey with the support of regional partners including the Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors, PPL Electric Utilities, UGI, and Carbon County Economic Development.
Here is a look at how Lehigh Valley ranked some of those items in the Fourth Quarter.

Parmesan Cheese

(Priced for an 8 oz. canister of Kraft in supermarkets)
1. Honolulu, HI: $6.74
2. San Francisco, CA: $6.07
3. Oakland, CA: $5.93
82. Lehigh Valley: $4.18
272. Daytona Beach, Fla.: $3.26
273. Augusta, Ga.: $3.09
274..San Antonio, TX: $3.06


(Priced at a 4- to 5-pound package of beet or cane sugar in supermarkets)
1. Manhattan, NY: $5.46
2. Honolulu, HI: $5.01
3. Grand Junction, CO: $4.69
230. Lehigh Valley: $1.96
272. Temple, TX: $1.58
273. Waco, TX: $1.58
274. Lynchburg, Va: $1.49


(Priced for a dozen Grade A or AA large eggs in supermarkets)
1. Honolulu, HI: $3.43
2. Oakland, CA: $3.13
3. San Francisco: $3.07
168. Lehigh Valley: $1.28
272. Richmond, Va.: $.84
273.Dayton, OH: $.84
274.Fort Wayne, IN: $.74

Ribeye Steak

(Priced per pound, supermarkets)
1. Bloomington, IL: $16.33
2. Olympia, WA: $16.24
3. St. Louis, MO: $15.99
40. Lehigh Valley: 13.84
272. San Antonio, TX: $8.74
273. Rio Rancho, NM: $8.52
274. Harlington, TX: $8.47

Cost of Living Index

(The average for all participating places equals 100, and each participant’s index is read as a percentage of the average for all places. The Index does not measure inflation.)
1. Manhattan, NY: 237
2. Honolulu, HI: 198.3
3. San Francisco: 192.3
56. Lehigh Valley: 106.6
272. Amarillo, TX: 80.6
273. Kalamazoo, MI: 76.8
274. Harlington, TX: 73.2




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