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Five Trends That Set Up the Lehigh Valley for Success in 2022

By Nicole Radzievich Mertz on January 3, 2022

Downtown Allentown features a diverse business landscape of professional offices (including a Fortune 500 company headquarters), apartments and restaurants. The growing city exemplifies the Lehigh Valley’s strong position heading into 2022.

The worldwide ramifications of COVID-19 continued to shape the Lehigh Valley’s economy in 2021. Employment in most sectors rebounded but fell short of pre-pandemic levels. While employers posted record job openings, a notable number of people watched the recovery from the sidelines instead of rejoining the workforce for a myriad of reasons. Wages increased as the competition for talent became more pronounced. Inflation grew. Housing prices soared. Global supply chains bottlenecked. U.S. manufacturing revved up. The return to the office began and then stalled. The hot industrial market got even hotter.

What happens next depends much upon public policy and the very future of the COVID-19 virus itself. But the emerging data show the Lehigh Valley possesses a strong foundation for the recovery. Here are five trends that set up the Lehigh Valley for success in 2022:

Lehigh Valley’s Population Gains in Slower-Growing Northeast

The map, created by the U.S. Census Bureau, shows Lehigh Valley was among Pennsylvania’s fastest growing region since 2010. With a population growth of 6.2%, Lehigh Valley outpaced Pennsylvania, which grew by 2.4%.

The Lehigh Valley’s population grew by 6.2% since 2010, making it among Pennsylvania’s fastest growing regions and within the top 25% of all counties nationwide, Census data show.

The once-in-a-decade mandatory counting pegs the population in Lehigh and Northampton counties at 687,508, a gain of more than 40,000 residents in the last 10 years.

The Lehigh Valley owes much of its growth to people moving here. The Lehigh Valley was among the top five regions in the Northeast for net population growth due to in-migration from other metro regions between 2015 and 2019, according to Commercial Café.

The Lehigh Valley gained an average of 3,640 people a year with New York City as the top region from where they’re moving. A CBRE analysis of U.S. Postal Service data suggest the number of people moving from New York to the Lehigh Valley increased by 13.7% in 2020.

Love Where You Live

Bethlehem’s historic Main Street is flush with residents and visitors enjoying an evening in the downtown. Bethlehem’s 18018 ZIP Code was ranked the 12th hottest ZIP Code in the nation.

People move to the Lehigh Valley because of its strong schools and health care providers, affordable real estate, economic stability, low crime rates, and recreational and cultural amenities.

That perception was underscored in 2021 when the Lehigh Valley landed on several prestigious lists by national publications.

  • Bethlehem ranked 70 on the Top 100 Best Places to Live in America, according to Livability.com, a website that ranks America’s most livable small and mid-sized cities.
  • Bethlehem’s 18018 ZIP Code, which includes the city’s historic district, was ranked by Realtor.com as the twelfth hottest ZIP Code in America.
  • The Lehigh Valley ranked 14 on a list of the best cities and regions for remote work in the nation, according to real estate analytics company Ownerly.
  • The Lehigh Valley ranked 11 on U.S. News & World Report list of best places to retire.
Young Adults are Fueling the Growth

The population between 18 and 34 years old in the Lehigh Valley is the fastest growing in Pennsylvania.

Lehigh Valley’s population between the ages of 18 and 34 grew by 10.7% over the last decade, a faster rate than every other region in Pennsylvania. Lehigh County led the state’s 67 counties and Northampton County came in fourth, according to Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation analysis of population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The prime work force age group, those 25 to 54 years old, is projected to grow by six-tenths of a percent annually through 2034 in Lehigh Valley, according to data analyzed on Chmura Economics’ JobsEQ platform.

That trend is attractive to companies looking to expand or relocate because access to talent is one of the top priorities for employers.

The Number of People Living and Working in the Lehigh Valley is on the Rise

The number of people living and working the Lehigh Valley is rising, according to data recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Between 2015 and 2019, the number of people living and working in the Lehigh Valley grew by 6% to 197,559, according to commuting data recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s a faster pace than the overall population growth in the Lehigh Valley.

What’s more: 66% of the workers employed in the Lehigh Valley live in the Lehigh Valley. That’s a larger share who live and work in the same region than every other workforce investment area in southeastern Pennsylvania, which drives the state’s population growth.

The data reflect the growing job opportunities. Between 2015-2019, the Lehigh Valley added 27,000 jobs – 5,000 in manufacturing.

Lehigh Valley’s Manufacturing Sector is Strong
Mack Trucks announced in December that it was adding another 400 workers to its Lower Macungie Township plant.

Mack Trucks is among the more than 700 manufacturers that call the Lehigh Valley home. The Lehigh Valley is among the top 50 manufacturing markets in the country.

In spite of the economic headwinds brought on by the pandemic, Lehigh Valley’s manufacturing sector in 2020 grew into one of the top 50 markets in the country.

Economic output by the Lehigh Valley’s diverse manufacturers reached $7.9 billion in 2020 as local companies produced food, drinks, medical supplies, and other essential items that sustained the nation during the pandemic.

The Lehigh Valley’s manufacturing might was not lost on the White House, which chose Mack Trucks in Lower Macungie Township to launch its “Made in America” initiative last summer.

Manufacturing will be key in the post-COVID economy as companies look to shorten supply chains and re-shore operations. The Lehigh Valley is an attractive market to land those projects because of its location, lower costs, skilled workforce, and manufacturing tradition.

2021 Year-in-Review: Pandemic Creates Both Challenges and Opportunities in Lehigh Valley

Like everywhere else in the nation and the world, the Lehigh Valley continued to experience tremendous economic and social change throughout 2021 as a result of the ongoing CO[...]

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Lehigh ValleyQuick Facts

By the Numbers
$43.3 Billion

2020 Gross Domestic Product

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City Center Lehigh Valley
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10.6% of Labor Force
Employed in Manufacturing

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Lehigh Valley Health Network
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$3.8 Billion

Exports in 2019

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Air Products
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Lehigh Valley Electricians
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$66,865

Median Household Income

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PPL Electric Utilities
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676,700

Population

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Olympus
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347,612

Labor Force

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26.6% of Labor Force
Employed in "Eds & Meds" sectors

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5,073

Technology Patents

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Mack Trucks
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UGI
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Magestic Realty Co
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NFI
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14% of the total community college degrees awarded in PA

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Wells Fargo
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$7.1 Billion

Manufacturing Contribution to GDP

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Truist
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69th largest metropolitan area in the U.S. by population

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Key Bank
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10,754 degrees awarded by Lehigh Valley colleges (2017-18 academic year)

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St. Lukes University Health Network
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82,270 employed in "Eds & Meds" sectors

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149,000

Population between ages 18 and 34

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FirstEnergy