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International Companies an Economic Growth Opportunity for the Lehigh Valley

By Don Cunningham on June 23, 2015

This column, written by LVEDC President and CEO Don Cunningham, originally appeared in Lehigh Valley Business on June 22, 2015.

Don Cunningham

Don Cunningham

Companies based outside of the United States are proving to be an economic growth opportunity for the Lehigh Valley.

During the last year, five internationally owned companies have opened operations in the Lehigh Valley as part of expansions into the United States market. Most recently, Messier-Buggati-Dotwy, a world leader in aircraft landing and braking systems, established a new airplane wheel and brake repair facility in Lower Nazareth Township off Route 191. Messier is a subsidiary of Safran, a French-owned multinational high technology, aerospace, defense and security contractor with 7,000 employees in the U.S. and 69,000 across the world.

Messier chose the Lehigh Valley to repair airplane wheels and brakes because of the region’s location in close proximity to major airports in the East Coast market, including Newark, Philadelphia, JFK and LaGuardia. The availability of the airfields at Lehigh Valley International Airport also helped company leaders choose the Lehigh Valley.

It’s too early to tell if this is part of a lasting business development trend, but the Messier opening follows closely on the heels of other international business openings or expansions. In the past year, SunOpta Inc., a Canadian organic foods company; Mountain Warehouse, a London-based outdoor clothing retailer; Primark, an Irish online fashion retailer: and I2R Nanoware, a Canadian aerospace equipment manufacturer have opened or expanded Lehigh Valley locations.

Last summer, the Lehigh Valley announced a unique new business: a Chinese-owned manufacturer, making products in America with Americans. Taizhou Fuling Plastics Co., China’s largest manufacturer of plastic tableware and kitchenware, became the first Chinese-owned manufacturing facility to open in Pennsylvania. The $21.3 million plant began operations this spring in Upper Macungie Township. Fuling sells plastic knives, spoons and forks to the fast food industry and made it know that they want to be close to their customers.

These companies add to a base of dozens of internationally owned companies already operating in the Lehigh Valley such as Olympus Corp., B. Braun, Nestle, Mack Trucks, Sodexo, Bosch Rexroth, Porsche, BMW and Lafarge. German-owned companies have the largest presence with more than a dozen operating here.

I recently returned from an eight-day series of meetings, speeches and visits with European companies in France, Germany and England. The visits were set up by the Pennsylvania Office of International Business Development, which has a global network of trade and investment office around the world. I was often accompanied at meetings and presentations by in-country consultants who work under contract with Pennsylvania to develop prospects for foreign direct investment. Pennsylvania’s wise investment in international business recruitment is a huge benefit to the Lehigh Valley.

The reality is that the United States remains the world’s largest consumer market and the Eastern United States is home to more than one-third of America’s consumers. Most successful consumer product companies in other parts of the world eye the United States market often with a focus on the Eastern seaboard.

The Lehigh Valley is perfectly located between Philadelphia and New York City with great access to multiple ports and international airports and the ability to provide a good quality workforce to make products. In addition, the region has become a top three logistic destination due to the first-rate infrastructure and that provides access to the East Coast market from Boston to Richmond, Va., and west to the Midwest and the Great Lakes region in a one-day drive. Lower land, building and wage costs create a competitive advantage against larger metropolitan areas.

As we look to continue to infuse our economy with new companies, new energies and new jobs, some of the answer will come from overseas and North and South America. Our economic assets, quality of life and business advantages are as appealing to companies based in other countries as they are to those in New York and New Jersey.

As the world becomes more interconnected the Lehigh Valley will continue to grow.

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