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Don Cunningham: New York Media Taking Notice of the Lehigh Valley

By Colin McEvoy on September 13, 2021

This column, written by LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham, originally appeared in The Morning Call and on the newspaper’s website on September 10, 2021. (Click here to read Cunningham’s previous columns.)

Don Cunningham

Don Cunningham

My Sundays start quietly.

It’s the one day I’m up before the rest of the house. Not fully awake, I stumble into the kitchen, put on a pot of coffee, and then stagger down the driveway to pick up the Sunday newspapers.

If I’m lucky, no one driving by on Linden Street spots me in bad sweat clothes and horrible hair. If I’m real lucky, no one hammers the car horn, making it clear that I’ve been seen.

With my dignity and tranquility intact, I proceed to my favorite chair and immerse myself in coffee and news. By the time I finish The Morning Call and The New York Times about two hours later, I’m hopped up on caffeine and covered in black ink.

I’m certain decades of this activity has shaved a few years from my life.

But I’m not stopping. They’ll need to outlaw newspaper ink or stop printing newspapers to finish me off.

My wife, Lynn, prefers to stay in bed far from me and read four newspapers on her iPhone, along with Twitter and Facebook, and send me links to stories and videos that she thinks I need to see.

As a counter measure, I cut out news articles with a scissor and put them on her chair.

When she emerges from the bedroom and finds the stack, she tells me most of the time that she already saw them online and to please put them in recycling.

Our battle of ink and clicks continues.

Sometimes I leave the ink smudges on the countertop where I do my cutting just to make a point.

A few Sundays ago, one of my finds couldn’t wait for the scissor. The chart on page 2 of the New York Times Real Estate section required me to break the solitude of our Sunday morning solo reading.

The headline read: This Year’s Hottest Neighborhoods.

The chart below it listed 12 ZIP codes from a review of 30,000 across the United States.

There among the country’s hottest housing neighborhoods during the first half of 2021 was code 18018 in Bethlehem.

That’s the ZIP code I wrote down as my address for half my life. The same for Lynn.

That’s the ZIP code in which five generations of my family have inhabited everything from rowhomes to half-doubles to single houses.

This was not your standard Sunday morning news. Whether reading it online or paper, it required opening the bedroom door and making an announcement. Even better, I saw it first.

The story came from a Realtor.com study comparing ZIP codes using two metrics: demand for homes in a location and how long they were listed before sale. The Morning Call ran a story on it later that week focused on the super-hot Lehigh Valley housing market where houses average a listing of only 13 days. While Bethlehem’s 18018 was on top, this is really a Lehigh Valley phenomenon.

A common denominator among the 12 top neighborhoods in the Realtor.com list is proximity to larger metropolitan markets and a desire of homebuyers to seek smaller regions nearby. While the COVID-19 pandemic increased the number of people leaving larger, more-crowded cities for nearby markets, it only heightened a trend that’s been noticeable in the Lehigh Valley since the recession of 2008-2009.

This is no longer the Lehigh Valley where so many of us grew up, where my dad poured hot metal in a steel mill or where you needed to drive to Philadelphia or New York for entertainment, a great restaurant or to watch a top-tier sporting event.

Today, Philadelphia and New York are finding their way here — especially young people, a great indicator of a region’s change and success.

The millennial population is the fastest growing in the Lehigh Valley and the largest part of the workforce.

During the past decade, the population aged 18- to 34-year-olds grew by 10.7%. That growth in large part is driven by job opportunity, growth of restaurants, nightlife, arts and culture and a desire to live in cities and downtowns, which have added apartments and amenities.

No other region in Pennsylvania grew faster in young people during the past decade than Lehigh Valley. Half of the Lehigh Valley population now is under age 40 and they constitute 45% of the region’s workforce, by far the largest segment.

Lehigh County was first among all 67 counties in growth of young people the last decade.

It’s not just the young. Northampton and Lehigh counties are in the state’s top 10 growing counties in population, driven by relocations and immigration. Economic growth has mirrored population growth.

During 2019 and 2020, relocations from the New York metro to the region grew by nearly 14%.

The New York media has begun to take notice.

The region has finally shed its description as a former industrial center. National media in recent years have taken note of the Lehigh Valley’s quality of life, economic and population growth, schools and health networks and authentic cities and unique culture.

Just days after the Realtor.com list was released, USA Today announced that Hotel Bethlehem — located in the heart of ZIP code 18018 — was named the best historic hotel in the U.S. as part of its Readers’ Choice Awards. It was the only hotel in Pennsylvania to be nominated.

Things are changing here, just not everywhere.

Somewhere along Bethlehem’s Linden Street — ZIP code 18017 — there’s still a guy in sweatpants every Sunday morning gathering up newspapers from his driveway prepared to go get ink on his hands.

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