Lehigh Valley Outlook: ‘Never Underestimate the Underdog’

By Colin McEvoy on April 12, 2019

More than 600 people attended the Lehigh Valley Chamber's 2019 Commercial Real Estate Outlook event on April 11.

More than 600 people attended the Lehigh Valley Chamber’s 2019 Commercial Real Estate Outlook event on April 11.

2018 was a record year in a five-year growth spurt for the Lehigh Valley. Our economic output is at an all-time high, and the region has been recognized as one of the Top 5 regions of its size in the nation for economic development.

“Not bad, considering that 20 years ago, many wrote us off as a dying rust belt region,” Don Cunningham, President & CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), said during the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce‘s 2019 Commercial Real Estate Outlook.

“Never underestimate the underdog,” Cunningham said. “We’ve come back greater than we ever declined, and the economic renaissance of the Lehigh Valley and its cities continue at a remarkable pace.”

More than 600 people attended the Commercial Real Estate Outlook event, which was held April 12 in the Holiday Inn in Upper Macungie Township. LVEDC provided programming for the event.

“Looking around at this great crowd, all I can think is how far we’ve come,” said Tony Iannelli, President & CEO of The Chamber. “Thank you to everyone in this room who has invested in the region. The Lehigh Valley is alive and we’re so glad to be part of it.”

LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham speaking at the 2019 Commercial Real Estate Outlook.

LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham speaking at the 2019 Commercial Real Estate Outlook.

Cunningham provided an overview of the Lehigh valley economy. The region’s gross domestic product has reached a record-high $40.1 billion, he said, which is larger than that of Vermont ($27.4 billion) and Wyoming ($34 billion), as well as 112 other countries in the world.

The Lehigh Valley has seen an overall 5-year job growth rate of 5.4 percent, Cunningham said. In 2018 alone, LVEDC tracked 33 business attraction or expansion projects, creating 4,419 new jobs and retaining another 3,006.

“Ours is not a story of one sector, or one industry, or one city, or one county,” Cunningham said. “It’s a story of balance and diversity. Jobs are being created in offices, on manufacturing floors, and in industrial centers.”

The Lehigh Valley has a labor force of 345,000 and the lowest unemployment since before the 2008 recession, Cunningham said. The region’s average hourly wage of $22.94 across all occupations, and a median household income of $62,489.

The Commercial Real Estate Outlook also included a panel discussion about “What’s Trending in Downtown and on Main Streets,” led by Iannelli.

It included panelists John Callahan, Director of Business Development with Peron Development; John Hayes, Executive Vice President with New Tripoli Bank; Mark Mulligan, CEO of VM Development; and Jill Wheeler, Vice President of Sales & Marketing with City Center Allentown.

Callahan said the Lehigh Valley offers a vibrant live and work environment not only for millennials, but for all ages. He cited the continued economic rejuvenation of South Bethlehem, including the recent opening of Five10Flats at 510 E. Third Street and the Gateway Building on Greenway Park at Third and New streets.

“I don’t think you can call what’s happening in the Lehigh Valley just a trend anymore,” he said. “It’s the new normal.”

Hayes, Vice Chair of the Chamber’s Board of Governors, said not only the cities of the Lehigh Valley are thriving, but also the suburbs. He praised LVEDC for working more closely with the municipalities of the region than the organization ever has before.

“We don’t want to see the small towns get left behind because they’re part of who we are,” he said.

Kim Jacobsen, Managing Director of Industrial Services with JLL, provided an industrial and manufacturing market upgrade, while Tom Skeans, Managing Director with SNV | Imperial Realty, delivered a medical and commercial market update and outlook.

Two awards were also presented at the event. The 2019 Commercial Real Estate Development Impact Award was presented to The Rockefeller Group, the developer that helped bring the Lehigh Valley FedEx Ground Distribution Hub project to fruition.

Additionally, the 2019 Commercial Real Estate Development Adaptive Reuse Award went to Factory LLC, a business incubator in South Bethlehem for food and beverage companies, which was founded by former Freshpet CEO Richard Thompson.

Lehigh Valley is a Region That Embodies Meaningful Evolution

This column, written by LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham, originally appeared in the spring edition of Network Magazine on April 8, 2019. The digital version can b[...]

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