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Forbes Article Highlights Lehigh Valley’s Thriving Manufacturing Sector

By Colin McEvoy on July 18, 2019

Today, there are about 680 manufacturers in the Lehigh Valley with about 32,000 employees making everything from Mack Trucks (pictured) to medical supplies and devices, and much more. (Photo by Marco Calderon)

Mack Trucks was one of several Lehigh Valley manufacturers highlighted in the Forbes article. (archive photo by Marco Calderon)

Those of us who work and live in the Lehigh Valley know that manufacturing is not a thing of the past. The Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) has long worked to spread that message outside the region in no uncertain terms: “Hey, world, we still make stuff here!”

And the world is getting the message. A recent article in Forbes, one of the nation’s leading business magazines, details the rejuvenation of Lehigh Valley’s manufacturing sector following the closure of Bethlehem Steel, and the region’s evolution into a more balanced, diversified economy.

LVEDC worked closely with Forbes reporter Jim Vinoski as he worked on the story, which first ran on the magazine’s website on July 16. LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham is quoted extensively, and several Lehigh Valley manufacturers are featured, including Martin Guitar, Mack Trucks, Victaulic, and OraSure Technologies.

In the story, Cunningham speaks about the cultural heritage of manufacturing in the Lehigh Valley, the strong engineering programs in the region’s higher education institutions, and the fact that 33 percent of U.S. consumers are within an eight-hour truck drive.

“In 2017 we went over $40 billion for our local GDP for the first time – the GDP is higher today than when we had steel,” Cunningham said in the story. “Manufacturing is now third largest for numbers of jobs, and second largest for output for Lehigh Valley. We’ve got 680 different manufacturers across two counties.”

LVEDC has been heavily focused on efforts to attract and retain employees in the manufacturing sector and other industries in the Lehigh Valley.

Below is a brief excrept of the Forbes story, which ran with the headline “Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley Bounces Back From Big Steel’s Departure.” Click here to read the full story.

When the old headquarters tower for Bethlehem Steel was demolished in May, many news stories portrayed it as just another piece in a long line of bad news for Pennsylvania industry. After all, it was the final chapter of a company that at one time was the second largest steel producer in the country, and an economic mainstay for the Bethlehem area.

But to the people there in the Lehigh Valley, which encompasses the cities of Bethlehem, Easton and Allentown, it was just a sensible next step in the revitalization of manufacturing in their region that’s been going on for many years.

The loss of that key industry was definitely tough for the area. “The Bethlehem Steel operation here locally closed in 1998,” said Don Cunningham, President and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), and former mayor of Bethlehem. (Bethlehem Steel’s coke works were the last part of the plant to close. The blast furnaces had shut down in 1995, and the combination mill in 1997.) “The site represents 25% of our taxable land mass. It’s the largest single-owner brownfield site in the U.S.”

That being said, Bethlehem Steel’s closure certainly wasn’t a knock-out punch for the Lehigh Valley. The region is the longtime home of other major manufacturers, including others in heavy industry. There’s Victaulic, the 100-year-old pipe connections solutions company headquartered in Easton (read their story here). There’s Mack Lehigh Valley Operations in Macungie (just outside Allentown), the cab and vehicle assembly plant for Mack Trucks, Inc. at which every one of their trucks for the North American market gets its start. (Allentown is also home to the Mack Trucks Historical Museum). And there’s the Curtiss-Wright Engineered Pump Division as well.

Unlike other rust belt regions that relied almost exclusively on heavy industry producers and are still reeling decades after their disappearance, the Bethlehem area was already diversifying before the loss of big steel. Manufacturers of numerous kinds have made it their home for many years – companies ranging from Crayola to guitar builders C.F. Martin & Co., Inc. to Just Born Quality Confections (makers of Peeps and Mike and Ike) to medical diagnostics, tools and services company OraSure Technologies, Inc.

The full story can be found on the Forbes website.

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Lehigh ValleyQuick Facts

By the Numbers
$40.1 Billion

Gross Domestic Product

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11% of Labor Force
Employed in Manufacturing

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$3.65 Billion

Exports

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26,000

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669,899

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345,260

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26.1% of Labor Force
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5,073

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14% of the total community college degrees awarded in PA

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$7.4 Billion

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

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10,328 degrees awarded by colleges and universities

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81,000 employed in "Eds & Meds" sectors

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Population between ages 18 and 34

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