Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation Marks 25th Anniversary
By Colin McEvoy on May 26, 2020
It’s been exactly a quarter-century since the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) was first formed in 1995, and then, like now, the Lehigh Valley was facing unique economic challenges.
Most of the mills, factories, and quarries that drove the economy for a century would soon cease to exist, and a new millennium was on the horizon. A new approach would be needed to build a future better than the past.
That’s why a coalition of the region’s business community through Lehigh Valley Partnership came together to form LVEDC, which is marking its 25th anniversary as an organization this year.
“The Lehigh Valley business community realized that to compete in the new global economy, we couldn’t be three cities or 62 municipalities; we had to be one region,” said LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham. “That same regionalization that has allowed Lehigh Valley thrive all these years will ultimately help guide us through our present-day challenges as well.”
The full participation of Lehigh and Northampton counties and all three cities, Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton, solidified the public-private partnership and made possible a regional approach to economic development, Cunningham said.
Dan McCarthy, secretary of the Lehigh Valley Partnership and a member of the LVEDC Board of Directors, said a major factor in the region’s economic successes in recent years is the diversified economy that LVEDC has long helped work to establish.
Unlike decades past, when the region depended on a single large employer like Bethlehem Steel, Lehigh Valley’s economic output is now more evenly balanced across multiple sectors, from finance and manufacturing to education and health care. That diversification brought Lehigh Valley more stability, and rose its pre-pandemic GDP to record heights.
“What I think we now take for granted is that before LVEDC, people weren’t even using the term ‘Lehigh Valley,’” McCarthy said. “Of course, LVEDC is important from an economic development standpoint, but the idea that it was a harbinger for the Lehigh Valley as a concept is, to me, just as important.”
Lehigh Valley has reinvented itself in the 25 years since LVEDC’s foundation, Cunningham said.
Allentown revitalized its City Center neighborhood, Easton embraced its downtown as an attraction for all ages, and Bethlehem turned former steel land into a center of manufacturing, entrepreneurship, and entertainment. Northampton County invested in technology centers and roads to open new land to growth, and Lehigh County established facilities to grow new manufacturing in its suburbs.
The nation and the world has taken notice of these changes, and for the last two consecutive years, LVEDC has been named one of the Top 20 economic development organizations in the United States by Site Selection magazine, the nation’s leading real estate industry economic development publication.
Cunningham credited much of the organization’s success to the investment by the region’s business community, as well as the continued dedication and engagement of the volunteer members of the LVEDC Board of Directors.
Scott Fainor, a past chair of Lehigh Valley Partnership and a past long-time LVEDC board member starting with its formation, said a regional strategy was something the business community desperately desired when LVEDC was first formed, and that the longevity of the organization shows the strategy has been effective.
Fainor also believes that regionalization has placed Lehigh Valley in a better position to weather the economic difficulties expected in upcoming months as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and its mitigation efforts.
“When you have a crisis like this, you’re much stronger working together than you would be if we were all separate,” Fainor said. “I believe we’re in a better position to come out of this on the other side from a position of strength, thanks in part to LVEDC.”
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