Lehigh Valley One of Few U.S. Regions Fully Recovered from Recession, Study Says

By Colin McEvoy on January 27, 2015

A study by the Brookings Institute, which looked at changes in employment and GDP per capita, show the Lehigh Valley is one of the 38 out of 80 major metropolitan areas in the U.S. to fully recover from the Great Recession.

A study by the Brookings Institution, which looked at changes in employment and GDP per capita, show the Lehigh Valley is one of the 32 out of 80 major metropolitan areas in the U.S. to fully recover from the Great Recession.

Unlike the majority of the nation’s metropolitan areas, the Lehigh Valley has fully recovered economically from the Great Recession, according to a new study by the Brookings Institution.

The Lehigh Valley is one of only 32 out of 80 United States metropolitan areas with equal or higher GDP per capita and employment in comparison to 2007 levels, according to the study.

That puts the region a step ahead of metros the study describes as not recovered, like Chicago, Memphis, Sacramento, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Philadelphia; as well as those only partially recovered, like San Francisco, Atlanta, Charlotte and Washington D.C.

“We’ve weathered the storm here in the Lehigh Valley, and one thing this study shows is that we’ve not only shown consistent long-term economic growth over the last several years, but we’re also primed to continue that growth heading into 2015 and beyond,” said Don Cunningham, president and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC).

The study attempts to chart the economic growth of the world’s 300 largest major metropolitan areas through an analysis of their employment and GDP per capita growth.

The Lehigh Valley ranks 193rd out of 300 from the period of 2009 to 2014. But that ranking appears misleadingly low given that the study includes metropolitan areas in both developed and developing countries.

All but three of the 25 highest-ranked metropolitan areas in the study are from developing countries. Only 80 metros fall within the United States, and none reached the top 35. Austin, Texas, was the highest-ranked U.S. region at 38th.

“It’s very logical that the developing world is going to show more rapid growth: they are developing,” Cunningham said. “It’s the same as saying suburbs with open cornfields are likely to outpace a fully-developed city with only redevelopment parcels.”

The study also does not distinguish by population. The Lehigh Valley is one of only 38 metropolitan areas out of the 300 with a population of less than 1 million.

Most other economics studies measure markets with comparable populations. For instance, Site Selection magazine ranked the Lehigh Valley as the second-best performing region for economic development in the United States for 2013, comparing it against other metro areas with populations between 200,000 and 1 million.

“In that category, we shine in the United States, which is the relevant measure,” Cunningham said. “It’s a better apples-to-apples comparison.”

In terms of GDP per capita, a good indicator of a region’s quality of life, the Lehigh Valley’s $44,954 ranked 106th on the list.

When looking at the 2013-14 year alone, Allentown has an overall rank of 272 out of 300. But Jesus Drujillo, research assistant and co-author of the report, stressed a long-term look shows employment and GDP per capita growth from 2000 to 2014 (see picture) has largely been on the rise in the Lehigh Valley.

“One thing we like to stress is it’s very important to understand the 2013-14 ranking is just a snapshot of economic activity in that year,” Drujillo said. “In the big picture, (the Lehigh Valley) is heading in the right direction.”

For 2013-14, the Lehigh Valley ranks ahead of such regions as Columbus, Ohio (#273); Washington, D.C. (#275); and the Italian cities of Rome (#274), Bologna (#276), Milan (#277) and Venice (#278), according to the study.

Drujillo also noted the study’s 2013-14 rankings are merely projections because the U.S. government is still processing the final data for the year, and that “the numbers tend to be higher.”

Financial Incentives Help Pennsylvania Remain Competitive

This column, written by LVEDC President and CEO Don Cunningham, originally appeared in Lehigh Valley Business on Jan. 26, 2015. If you live in the Lehigh Valley and pay[...]

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