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With a ‘Rich History’ of Foreign Investment, Lehigh Valley Wins Spot in Competitive Economic Research Program

By Nicole Radzievich Mertz on June 21, 2021

SunOpta held a grand opening ceremony in November for a $25 million addition to its Upper Macungie Township facility.

SunOpta announced in February that it will be expanding again at its Upper Macungie Township facility. The Canadian manufacturer is one of many companies from other countries investing in Lehigh Valley.

The Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) landed one of the 12 spots in a competitive economic research program because of its “rich history” in investment by companies from other countries.

SelectUSA, a government program led by the U.S. Department of Commerce, chose Lehigh Valley among the 40 applicants to analyze, in part, because of its track record in landing companies like Safran of France, Fuling Plastics of China and Primark of Ireland.

Lehigh Valley has “a rich history of Foreign Direct Investment and working with international companies, and it has a solid plan going forward,” said Samantha Luban, research analyst at Ascendant Program Services, which provided support to Select USA for the research program.

SelectUSA, which has facilitated more than $80 billion in investment since its inception a decade ago, debuted the pilot program this year as part of its mission to court job-creating business investment into the United States. The research takes a deep dive into industrial sector strengths and weaknesses, talent supply and other economic indicators for regions.

The data diagnostic report, which was completed in May, shows that Lehigh Valley ranks within the top 10% on the Foreign Direct Investment Attractiveness Index. Lehigh County ranked No. 182 of 3,110 counties and Northampton County No. 265. (SelectUSA consulted a 2016 index, the latest available, from StatsAmerica.)

LVEDC leaders have traveled on international mission trips to England, Germany, France and China to promote and assist companies investing in Lehigh Valley and Pennsylvania. Among the recent successes from those trips was Norac Foods/bakerly, a French maker of baked pasta and frozen desserts that opened a new facility in Forks Township. SunOpta of Canada announced in February its plans to expand its Upper Macungie Township facility

LVEDC is a grantee of a Foreign Trade Zone, which reduces tariffs on exports. Lehigh Valley exported $3.8 billion worth of goods in 2019, ranking the region 66th among 386 metro regions in the country. Among its largest exports were chemicals ($1.4 billion) and machinery ($425.8 million). Exports dipped during the pandemic in 2020 but rebounded to more than a $1 billion in the first quarter this year, according to the U.S. Census.

“Lehigh Valley is an attractive market for foreign investment because we have the talent, infrastructure and location in the heart of the densely populated Northeast corridor. Companies value those assets in a competitive global market,” said Karianne Gelinas, LVEDC Vice President of Business Development and Talent Supply. “The data in SelectUSA’s diagnostic report help us tell that story to national and international companies we want to retain and attract, especially in a time when companies are considering whether to re-shore operations.”

Part of Lehigh Valley’s strength is in its manufacturing sector, Luban said. The industry employs more than 10% of the region’s work force and produced in 2019 a $7.1 billion Gross Domestic Product, making Lehigh Valley the 52nd largest manufacturing economy in the nation. Employment in the industry has grown 1% faster than the national average, and the average annual wage is $1,000 more.

The output per worker is nearly $567,000 – about 4.4% more than the U.S. average. Among the reasons for a higher output is automation and the production of high value goods. Lehigh Valley has a high concentration of employment in the medical device industry, which produces high value goods, and iconic employers such as Mack Trucks.

The SelectUSA program is just the latest LVEDC effort to keep track of the region’s economy and business and development trends. The LVEDC recently selected Garner Economics LLC, a nationally recognized economic development consultants, to update its action plan for Lehigh Valley. The LVEDC also contracted with Camoin 310 on an in-depth analysis of Lehigh Valley’s talent supply and demand. It will address how regional and workforce needs have been changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the top skills employees need now and in the future and other insights that will inform a revised strategic action plan.

Don Cunningham: Service Sector Workers Are in Short Supply

This column, written by LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham, originally appeared in The Morning Call and on the newspaper's website on June 18, 2021. (Click here to r[...]

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Lehigh ValleyQuick Facts

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$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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Lehigh Valley Electricians
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$66,865

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676,700

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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

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UGI
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NFI
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14% of the total community college degrees awarded in PA

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

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

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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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