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Don Cunningham: An Excellent Time to be in the Lehigh Valley

By Colin McEvoy on October 15, 2018

This column by LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham originally appeared in the November 8, 2018 issue of “Quarterly Connections,” a quarterly newsletter LVEDC distributes to municipal officials in the Lehigh Valley.

Don Cunningham

Don Cunningham

It is an excellent time to be in the Lehigh Valley.

The Lehigh Valley’s gross domestic product has reached a record-high $40.1 billion, with much of the economic growth driven by the region’s thriving manufacturing sector, according to federal data. The $40.1 billion regional GDP for 2017 is about a 5 percent increase over the previous year, and growth in manufacturing was responsible for about 36 percent of that year-over-year growth, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

The Lehigh Valley is unique among major metropolitan areas in the United States in that manufacturing is driving such a large percentage of its growth. Manufacturing is clearly alive and well in the Lehigh Valley, and our regional GDP is the largest it’s ever been, far surpassing even the days of Bethlehem Steel.

In addition to the new GDP figures, the Lehigh Valley currently has a much more affordable cost of living than practically every other major market in the Northeast, according to a recently released national study. The Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER) released its quarterly Cost of Living Index, which compares prices for various goods and services across 259 major markets across the United States. The index found the Lehigh Valley’s cost of living was much lower than most Northeast markets in most of the categories measured, including housing, transportation, groceries, and overall cost of living.

Across the Lehigh Valley, downtown life is back. We hear often of Bethlehem, Allentown and Easton, but outside of the cities, the boroughs are burgeoning as the Lehigh Valley continues to transform. Emmaus. Bangor. Nazareth. Catasauqua. Hellertown. Macungie. In the old Lehigh Valley – the one I grew up in – you went to the commercial district of a borough if you lived there. If you didn’t, you drove through on the way to somewhere else, or not at all.

The new generations are changing that – and the boroughs are reinventing themselves.

Craft beer, brewpubs, coffee shops and the desire for affordable rents and cool new places to meet and mingle have cross-pollinated people beyond the old parochial borders. GPS and Uber are kind of like 21st Century welcome mats leading the way for urban borough explorers.

We have also had major economic development project news in 2018 that will help to continue redefining what the new Lehigh Valley looks like.

The Fortune 500 company Air Products announced that its new global headquarters will remain in the Lehigh Valley, in a new spot in Upper Macungie Township not far from its existing location. Freshpet has announced it will renovate an existing building and build an addition at its campus at Hanover Township, Northampton County, adding 100 new full-time jobs over the next three years. Air Liquide, a manufacturer of specialty chemicals in the semi-conductor business and the world’s largest industrial gas company by revenue, has expanded its operations in the Lehigh Valley, a move that will create and retain a total of nearly 270 jobs.

These successes are made possible by folks like you engaging in partnerships throughout the region and it is our goal at LVEDC to serve as a connector to the resources that make projects and developments like these happen. 2018 was a great year for economic development in the Lehigh Valley and we are looking forward to new successes in 2019.

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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

By the Numbers
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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Workforce Board
By the Numbers
149,000

Population between ages 18 and 34

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FirstEnergy