Lehigh Valley Job Growth Continues; Manufacturing a Key Driver
By George Lewis on September 19, 2019
New federal and state labor data show continued job growth in Lehigh Valley, including an increase in manufacturing jobs that contrasts with statewide employment trends.
Lehigh Valley added 4,000 jobs during the 12 months ending June 30, representing 1.3% growth. Over the last five years, employment has increased by 26,000.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported more than 380,000 jobs at mid-year in the four-county metropolitan area (which includes Carbon and Warren counties in addition to Lehigh and Northampton). The total for Lehigh and Northampton counties is 328,500 jobs.
Health care is the leading employment sector, with nearly 60,000 jobs, driven by the region’s two largest employers: Lehigh Valley Health Network and St. Luke’s University Health Network.
Within the next group of employment sectors, however, changes are occurring.
Historically, retail trade has had the second largest job total. Over the last five years, retail employment has been flat while manufacturing has added nearly 5,000 jobs.
In 2018, manufacturing surpassed retail as the region’s second largest job sector, with employment of more than 34,000 as of the first quarter of 2019, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.
The manufacturing story here stands in stark contrast to what’s happening statewide. While Lehigh Valley saw a 1% increase in jobs for the 12 months ending June 30, Pennsylvania’s net loss of 6,000 manufacturing jobs resulted in a 1% decrease.
“The Lehigh Valley is unique among major metropolitan areas in the United States in that manufacturing is driving such a large percentage of its growth,” said Don Cunningham, President & CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation. “Manufacturing is clearly alive and well in the Lehigh Valley, and our regional GDP is the largest it’s ever been, far surpassing even the days of Bethlehem Steel.”
Recent announcements of new or expanded operations – including Keurig Dr. Pepper, Freshpet, Continental Cup, and Tyber Medical – illustrate the vitality of Lehigh Valley manufacturing and the value of LVEDC’s focus on advanced manufacturing as a primary target sector for business attraction.
One more indicator of the job market’s strength is low unemployment. In each of the first six months of 2019, the regional unemployment rate has been right around 4%. The last time Lehigh Valley unemployment was that low for an extended period was in 1999-2000, when the rate dropped as low as 3.6%.
The transportation sector, which includes distribution, logistics, and fulfillment, has added 12,000 jobs in the last five years, fueled by significant growth in online commerce. It’s likely that these “new retail” functions will employ more people in Lehigh Valley than traditional retail by 2024.
An upside to this shift is that the median hourly wage for “new retail” fulfillment jobs is $14.45, compared with $10.75 for “old retail” sales workers, according to current Lehigh Valley labor market data.
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This column, written by LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham, originally appeared in The Morning Call and on the newspaper's website on Sept. 18, 2019. (Click here to read[...]Continue to Next Page