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Lehigh Valley Commercial Real Estate Outlook: Brighter Times are Ahead

By Colin McEvoy on September 15, 2020

Tony Iannelli, President & CEO of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, speaking at the 2020 Lehigh Valley Commercial Real Estate Outlook, which was held virtually on Zoom on Sept. 15.

The coronavirus pandemic has created economic challenges for Lehigh Valley and temporarily reduced employment levels, but brighter times for the regional economy are ahead.

That was one of the messages from the 2020 Lehigh Valley Commercial Real Estate Outlook on Sept. 15. The annual event organized by the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce was held virtually on Zoom this year due to COVID-19 mitigation mandates.

Don Cunningham, President & CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Developent Corporation (LVEDC), was among the speakers at the event, and he took note of an economic forecast about Lehigh Valley job recovery by Chmura Economics & Analytics and JobsEQ.

That study projects that in such many key economic sectors of the Lehigh Valley economy, job levels that dropped after March as a result of the pandemic will return to pre-COVID levels – or, in some cases, exceed them – by the first quarter of 2022.

“While we’re going through a speed bump in the road, and certainly there are folks struggling through COVID and through the mitigations that have been put in place for it, I think the outlook is strong,” Cunningham said. “We just need to keep doing what we’re doing, and we’ll keep growing.”

The Chmura study projects that in Lehigh Valley, the manufacturing sector will reach 18,500 jobs by Q1 2022, while distribution will reach 34,400 and life science will reach 6,000, roughly the same as in Q1 2020.

That same study projects health care job levels will reach 51,000 in Q1 2022, business services will reach 27,400, and hospitality will reach 26,200 by that time. Those are higher than the job levels in those sectors in Q1 2020, which were 50,000, 27,200, and 25,800, respectively.

Even despite the pandemic, LVEDC is currently tracking 24 active development projects, which would create more than 2,500 jobs and $1.26 billion in investment, Cunningham said. He also highlighted several recent positive signs of job growth in the region.

Lehigh Valley’s 2.4% job growth in July, the most recent month for which statistical data is available, ranked in the top 10 in the country for regions of 500,000 to 1 million people. Cunningham also noted that, after an initial decline, job numbers have already climbed to higher levels than they had been at the end of the Great Recession in 2009.

LVEDC was a presenting sponsor for the Lehigh Valley Commercial Real Estate Outlook, as was the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission. Becky Bradley, Executive Director of LVPC, was among one of the speakers during the event, during which she discussed FutureLV, the comprehensive plan that establishes goals, policies and actions for the region.

The event also included a panel discussion about “What’s Trending in the Boroughs and ‘Burbs,” featuring speakers David Jaindl, President of Jaindl Land Company; David Spirk, President of Spirk Brothers, Inc.; John Hayes, Executive Vice President of New Tripoli Bank; and Justin Fanslau, Vice President, Leasing Officer at Prologis.

Fanslau said he remains bullish on the Lehigh Valley market, and he particularly dispelled misconceptions that most of the region’s industrial buildings were merely warehouses. Many contain manufacturing facilities, he said, including more than 30% of Liberty Property Trust’s users.

“I think what isn’t talked about enough, and something we take great pride in, is manufacturing that still exists in our buildings and the jobs that go along with it,” Fanslau said.

Chamber President & CEO Tony Iannelli, who served as emcee of the Outlook event, said to help small businesses stay afloat during the pandemic, the Chamber dispensed grants totaling nearly $400,000 in multiple phases through its Lehigh Valley COVID-19 Relief Fund.

Additionally, he said, the Chamber is working with Northampton and Lehigh counties to provide almost $10 million in additional grants to businesses across the region.

“We want to help, we want to fight for our businesses and restaurants so they can stay open,” he said. “It’s a balance between physical health and economic health, and we’re going to fight for that balance.”

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