Lehigh Valley Chamber Economic Outlook Predicts ‘Better Days Are to Come’

By Colin McEvoy on February 23, 2021

Jay Bryson, Managing Director and Acting Chief Economist with Wells Fargo, was one of the guest presented at the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce’s 2021 Economic Outlook.

Last year, more than 700 people from the regional business community gathered to attend the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Outlook. This year, as with so many other events, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the annual 2021 Economic Outlook to go digital.

But if the content of the event is any indication, better times are ahead from both an economic and a public health perspective, and with any luck next year’s event will be held in person once again.

“Better days are to come,” Lehigh Valley Health Network President & CEO Brian Nester, one of the guest presenters during the Economic Outlook, which was broadcast live by the Chamber on Feb. 23.

“I’m remaining optimistic, which is uncharacteristic for an E.R. doc, but I really am,” Nester said. “… I’m really optimistic about having a lot more people back to work, kids back to school, the economy improving, people accessing care again and getting healthier.”

The full event can be viewed here and below:

The Chamber, along with the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) and Discover Lehigh Valley, is one of the coalition partners of Made Possible in Lehigh Valley, a regional marketing initiative that seeks to market the positive attributes of the region and attract a talented workforce here.

The Economic Outlook included presentations from a number of regional and economic experts, including Jay Bryson, Managing Director and Acting Chief Economist with Wells Fargo; Nancy Dischinat, Executive Director of Workforce Board Lehigh Valley; and Concannon Miller Shareholder Andrew Desiderio.

Bryson provided an economic and financial outlook at both national and regional levels. He noted that the United States has regained about 60% of the 22 million jobs lost in March and April of 2020. The goods-producing and industrial portions of the economy have performed fairly well during the pandemic, he said, and retail sales jumped significantly in January.

But the services-based portion of the economy – like bars, restaurants, movie theaters and elective surgery – has taken a particularly hard hit, Bryson said. The leisure and hospitality sector has lost 4 million jobs, and job losses have been concentrated on the lowest-paying industries.

Looking ahead, however, Bryson believes economic growth will be very strong going forward. He projects the U.S. gross domestic output (GDP) will grow by 6% in the next year, compared to an average of 2.5% per year over the last decade.

“People haven’t really gone out to restaurants and bars for the last year or so; they haven’t gone to movies, they haven’t traveled,” he said. “There’s tons of pent-up demand for services like that, and they’re sitting right now on $1.5 trillion of excess spending power. When the economy opens up, we think the economy’s going to take off like a rocket.”

Dischinat said Lehigh Valley’s unemployment rate as of Feb. 2 is 6.5%, about on pace with Pennsylvania (6.7%) and the United States (6.3%). A total of 17,300 unemployment compensation claims have been filed in Lehigh and Northampton counties based on a four-week average as of Jan. 16.

“However, even with the pandemic, Lehigh Valley companies are feeling worker shortages, with thousands and thousands of available jobs,” she said. “… We know every single dislocated worker, we know their skills, we know their experience, and they can be and will be retooled to fit into your workforce.”

The Lehigh Valley Community Partner Award was presented the funders of the Chamber 2021 COVID Relief Fund: Capital Blue Cross, Delicker Strategies, Boyle Construction Management, Embassy Bank, and Fromm Electric.

The Chamber provided $250,000 to Lehigh Valley businesses via its own funds, and worked with Lehigh and Northampton counties to facilitate almost $20 million in grants to regional companies, according to Chamber President & CEO Tony Iannelli.

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