Facebook Interview Highlights Economic Development Topics in Lehigh Valley

By Colin McEvoy on June 23, 2021

Don Cunningham, President & CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), recently participated in a video interview with Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Schlossberg about economic development-related issues in the region.

Among the topics discussed were COVID-19’s impact on the regional economy, the growth of Lehigh Valley’s life sciences sector, long-term economic challenges facing the region, and the possible future redevelopment of the Allentown State Hospital site.

“It’s always struck me that one of the reasons that we’re relatively lucky, especially compared to some of my other colleagues in Pennsylvania, is because we have such a diverse economy,” Schlossberg said. “We happen to be fortunate enough to have some real strength and some rapidly-growing sectors.”

The eight-minute interview was conducted via Microsoft Teams and broadcast on Scholssberg’s Facebook account on Tuesday, June 22. It can be viewed on Facebook, as well as on Pennsylvania House’s YouTube channel.

Cunningham said the COVID-19 pandemic impacted parts of the Lehigh Valley economy in different ways. The region’s hospitality, restaurant, and arts & culture sectors were particularly harmed by the shutdowns that were required due to health concerns.

But other parts of the economy that have been growing rapidly over the past decade have continued on pace, such as manufacturing, the industrial sector, commercial, and the region’s emerging life sciences sector.

“It’s been a little bit of the tale of two economies,” Cunningham said.

Consisting of nearly 180 different establishments, the Lehigh Valley’s life sciences sector is one of the fastest-growing in the Lehigh Valley, due in part to the region’s educated workforce, strong colleges and universities, and history of manufacturing, Cunningham said.

He cited large companies in the Lehigh Valley like B. Braun, Olympus, and OraSure Technologies – which recently received FDA authorization for its home COVID-19 test – as well as smaller companies like Tyber Medical and U.S. Specialty Formulations.

In terms of economic challenges for the Lehigh Valley, Cunningham cited the difficulties brick and mortar retail companies have experienced due to pandemic, as well as uncertainty about office space following the COVID-19 crisis.

“It’s kind of a question mark as companies reevaluate how much physical office space they need to build or lease,” Cunningham said. “Obviously, we want to continue to attract office professionals into downtowns and our suburbs. That might be a challenge coming out of COVID as the world tries to figure out where that sector is going.”

Regarding possible future uses for the Allentown State Hospital site, Cunningham noted that the Lehigh Valley has a need for smaller-footprint manufacturing and life science production space in the 20,000 to 60,000 square-foot range.

“That space is just a fraction of some of the mammoth facilities that we see around the Lehigh Valley, and they are the home for a lot of great job creation and a lot of innovative economic development,” he said. “So I see that site as really having a lot of opportunity for that.”

The conversation with Cunningham is one of several video interviews Schlossberg has conducted with community leaders in Allentown and the Lehigh Valley in recent months.

Past interview subjects include Sherri Binder, Executive Director of Ripple Community Inc., Vicki Kistler, Director of the Allentown Health Bureau, Marci Lesko, Executive Vice President of United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, Nick Miller of the Allentown School Board, and Rob Nicolella, Executive Director of Catholic Charities.

Schlossberg represents the 132nd district, which includes portions of Allentown and South Whitehall Township in Lehigh County.

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