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Don Cunningham: Crisis Often Creates Innovation and Positive Change

By Don Cunningham on May 7, 2021

This column, written by LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham, originally appeared in The Morning Call and on the newspaper’s website on May 6, 2021. (Click here to read Cunningham’s previous columns.)

Don Cunningham

Don Cunningham

My father met my granddaughter last week.

It was a forever moment.

His eyes welled with tears, while hers filled with an infant’s trepidation of seeing someone for the first time. She worked to make sense of this new, smiling face that bore a resemblance to other faces she’d come to know during her seven short months.

The pandemic and retirement in Florida kept them from meeting until last week.

My daughter — who now amazingly seems like she was always a mother — guided the moment.

“It’s G-Pop, he’s your great-grandfather,” she said in her new mom voice.

For a moment I was confused. Who’s G-Pop?

Did Dad become a rapper and take a stage name? He’s always been Pop to my kids, but with me now being Pop, he can no longer be Pop, at least not to this new little one.

My daughter worked out family member names in advance and passed out our assignments.

Since becoming a mom, she pretty much runs things.

We posed for a four-generation photo. One day it will be a treasure greater than gold.

This good fortune is not really a product of family longevity. It’s more about a working-class Bethlehem culture of marrying and reproducing young. My parents were 19 when I was born. I was 24 at the birth of my first.

Like much in society and the economy, that’s different now. My daughter, Bridget, moved to Philadelphia and was 30 in September when Josie Charlotte was born.

The math, however, still works, and my dad is a 75-year-old great-grandfather.

The meeting of the patriarch and the newborn went quite well.

He told me on his way out that he and my stepmom will be home more often.

Each time he returns, he comments about how Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley have changed.

“There’s so much more here now.”

My kids call him the OG, the original. He’s old school. A steelworker for 32 years. He lost his wife, our mom, when he was 33. He lost his job in the Ingot Mold Foundry in 1995 when steel production stopped.

He started a second vocation as a deputy sheriff in Northampton County, eventually working for the judiciary.

He made his way with what was available.

He marvels at the headlines of today, which he now reads on the internet, not in a newspaper. He reads them on his iPhone, iPad or new iWatch. The OG is an early adopter.

In his day, the headlines here were more about companies closing or leaving. Today, they’re about companies and employers coming to the Lehigh Valley.

Decades ago, regional leaders talked of stemming “brain drain,” the departure of the young. He remembers the exodus of my friends and classmates in the early 1980s.

Today, the majority of Lehigh Valley’s workforce is under the age of 40. Millennials and Generation Z — 18- to 34-year-olds — have grown by 10% during the last decade. They are now the largest part of Lehigh Valley’s population.

Population growth is fueling economic growth.

Companies will not locate where there aren’t enough people with the right skills to provide the talent and muscle to meet their needs.

On the same spot where my father and his generation made steel, OraSure Technologies develops and makes medical diagnostics to help solve worldwide health problems like AIDS, Ebola, Zika, and now COVID-19.

In total, life science and medical manufacturing companies are the Lehigh Valley’s most under-recognized and fastest growing economic sector. Employment in surgical and medical instrument manufacturing here is nearly five times higher than the typical U.S. region.

There are about 180 life science companies in the Lehigh Valley, attracted to the region’s colleges, large health networks, quality of life, talent and manufacturing and distribution capabilities. The cluster had its highest employment last year in more than two decades with about 6,300 workers earning an average wage of $94,000 per year.

Along with OraSure, Olympus and B Braun are the largest and best-known, but there are dozens of fast-growing companies like Thermo Fisher Scientific, Saladax Biomedical, Hager Biosciences, Tyber Medical, USSF US Specialty Formulations and many others.

The Lehigh Valley’s future economy will be known by these companies.

The region’s location between New York and Philadelphia puts it amid a supercluster of life science companies within a 400-mile stretch from Boston to Washington, D.C., and right in the middle of the pharmaceutical belt of northern New Jersey and suburban Philadelphia. Pharma and pharma-related companies like Sharp Packaging, the Irish-based company that now has more than 1,000 employees in the region, are a growing presence.

The pandemic is leading to the growth of life sciences companies in the U.S. due to a desire to shorten supply lines and produce more medicine here.

Crisis often creates innovation and positive change.

Tomorrow is never the same as yesterday, but that doesn’t mean it will be worse. There’s always hope in a new sunrise, a new generation, new technologies and new medicines.

The old becomes young again.

Pop becomes G-Pop, and those familiar features become recognized.

Development Interest in Lehigh Valley Remains at a High Level

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