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Don Cunningham Discusses Coronavirus’ Impact on Lehigh Valley Economy

By Colin McEvoy on April 8, 2021

PBS Health Reporter Brittany Sweeney interviewing LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham on Community Update on Coronavirus.

The Lehigh Valley economy saw many changes in the past year, both positive and negative. Some sectors struggled while others thrived, some workers were more adversely affected than others, and new projects were announced even as other businesses temporarily closed.

Don Cunningham, President & CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), appeared on the PBS39 and WLVR television program Community Update on Coronavirus to discuss these changes, as well as what the future might hold for the Lehigh Valley after the coronavirus pandemic has passed.

“Every time a country goes through something cataclysmic, you never go back to where you started, whether it’s an industrial evolution, whether its a world war, or clearly a pandemic,” Cunningham said. “There are certain behaviors that have changed during the pandemic that are likely to stay with us.”

Community Update on Coronavirus provides news about the COVID-19 crisis and interviews various regional experts about how it has impacted Lehigh Valley. The episode with Cunningham was broadcast live on April 7 and can be viewed online here.

In the interview hosted by PBS Health Reporter Brittany Sweeney, Cunningham said that although restaurants, hospitality, and other companies with direct customer interaction were hit hard by the pandemic, other industries like manufacturing, life sciences, fulfillment, and distribution have actually grown.

“The industrial growth in the Lehigh Valley really has not slowed,” he said. “Our biggest concern is getting our downtowns, our hospitality, our arts and culture, our restaurants and bars and nightlife back to its full capacity when it’s safe again to do that, and to return that employment sector to full activity.”

Despite the pandemic, the Lehigh Valley had 41 major expansion or new development projects that created or retained more than 6,000 jobs last year, Cunningham said. The region also ranked among the Top 5 regions in the Northeast for 2020 in terms of economic development projects completed.

The Lehigh Valley has also benefited from its unusually well-balanced economy. The region has a gross domestic product of $43.4 billion, and the top four industries driving Lehigh Valley’s private-sector output in 2019 were separated by just 5.4 percentage points.

“I grew up here, my father was a steelworker, and there was a time when all our eggs were in one basket,” Cunningham said. “… We’ve seen in the past year that our balance helps us. No one is ever recession-proof, but when one sector is hit hard and you have other sectors not as affected, your region stays healthy economically.”

It remains to be seen how the increase in remote working caused by the pandemic will affect the office space leasing, Cunningham said. But the Lehigh Valley could benefit from companies that once sought large cities instead locating in smaller cities or suburbs that are less densely populated and not reliant on public transportation.

Cunningham also discussed misconceptions people have about warehousing in the region, noting that many large industrial buildings that people mistake for warehouses actually house manufacturing operations and direct-to-consumer e-commerce, some of with which jobs that pay a market-driven minimum wage of $15 per hour.

“So for folks in our economy with a high school diploma or less who want to work hard, the opportunity is there,” he said. “I realize from a land use or traffic and trucks perspective, there are some downsides. But on the positive side, it’s creating a lot of economic opportunities for folks who quite frankly wouldn’t have anywhere less to go.”

The Community Update on Coronavirus episode also featured an interview by Dr. Joseph Schellenberg, a pulmonologist with the Lehigh Valley Health Network. He discussed the recent rise in COVID-19 cases, how vaccines are helping people, the importance of the continued use of masks, and confusion between symptoms of allergies and those of the coronavirus.

April 2021 Issue of LVStartup Has Been Released

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$43.3 Billion

2020 Gross Domestic Product

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10.6% of Labor Force
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14% of the total community college degrees awarded in PA

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