Don Cunningham Discusses Economic Impact of Coronavirus on Lehigh Valley

By Colin McEvoy on May 12, 2020

LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham appearing on “Community Update on Coronavirus,” a television program by PBS39 and WLVR.

Don Cunningham, President & CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), made several public appearances last week to discuss the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and what it may mean for the region’s future.

Cunningham appeared on the May 4 episode of “Community Update on Coronavirus,” a television program by PBS39 and WLVR that provides news about the COVID-19 crisis and interviews various regional experts about how it has impacted Lehigh Valley.

He was also a guest in a telephone town hall organized on May 6 by Pennsylvania Sen. Lisa Boscola, who asked Cunningham questions about the regional economy while also hosting experts from St. Luke’s University Health Network.

During both appearances, Cunningham said the diverse and multifaceted base of the Lehigh Valley economy, which includes several strong sectors instead of depending too heavily on one large sector, may limit the overall impact of the quarantine and recession in the region.

In fact, he said, some cornerstones of the Lehigh Valley economy will grow in value and importance, including health care, manufacturing and production, and distribution and e-commerce.

“The fundamentals of the Lehigh Valley economy are strong,” Cunningham said. “The foundation is good, and we’re well-positioned to recover much more quickly than a lot of other areas.”

The full “Community Update on Coronavirus” episode can be viewed online here.

Cunningham noted that Lehigh Valley is in the top ten of U.S. regions with the highest percentage of its workforce employed outside the home in industrial centers, health care facilities and other parts of the economy deemed essential during the quarantine.

More than 125,000 workers, or 38.7% of the Lehigh Valley workforce, are in jobs deemed essential to the current economy by the federal government but cannot be done from home, such as nurses and grocery store workers, Cunningham said.

“While we’re certainly focused on reopening, there is a significant portion of the Lehigh Valley economy that has never stopped working, and have continued to operate throughout the quarantine,” Cunningham said during his PBS39 appearance.

While unemployment has increased drastically due to the pandemic and mitigation efforts, Cunningham noted there were more than 20,000 online advertisements in 650 different occupations last month for jobs on the front lines of the pandemic in Lehigh Valley.

The large number of essential businesses in Lehigh Valley mean unemployment in the region could drop back down to the 5% or 6% range relatively quickly after the COVID-19 crisis has passed, Cunningham said on Boscola’s telephone town hall.

“We know a lot of companies are hurting and people have been without jobs in the short-term, and we certainly hope we can get back to normal, or at least some new normal, sooner rather than later,” he said.

Cunningham also touched upon efforts undertaken by LVEDC to help connect Lehigh Valley small businesses with emergency coronavirus relief funding.

The organization applied for loans through a Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority program on behalf of 26 companies in Lehigh and Northampton counties, totaling $2.4 million in loan financing for regional businesses before the application window closed.

Economic development activity in Lehigh Valley has continued despite the pandemic, Cunningham said on Boscola’s program. LVEDC has continued work in recent weeks on projects and expansions that had been in the pipeline before crisis, as well as fielding inquiries about potential projects for after the pandemic ends.

Construction activity, previously halted by an order by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, resumed in Lehigh Valley this month. And some companies have even announced new construction projects or expansions in recent weeks, such as the medical supply distributor TwinMed, and the aquarium equipment manufacturer EcoTech Marine.

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