Lehigh Valley Ranks Among the Nation’s Top Hot Spots for Super Commuters
By Nicole Radzievich Mertz on September 26, 2021
Her reality is her two dreams have been separated by a super commute over the last decade – up to 90 minutes at one point.
While raising a family Schnecksville, Beckwith has transferred between work locations in West Chester, Somerville and Springhouse as new professional opportunities arose at one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. Beckwith, who hold a chemical engineering degree from Lehigh University, is now a strategic program leader, driving patient recruitment strategies for clinical trial operations in oncology at Johnson and Johnson.
“If I would have moved to any of those areas, it would have been more expensive, and it was not guaranteed that I would be staying there,” Beckwith said. “The Lehigh Valley is very strategically located.”
Beckwith is not alone. The Lehigh Valley landed among the nation’s top 10 regions with the highest rates of super commuting before the pandemic, according to a recent report by Apartmentlist.com, a leading source of real estate analytics.
In the Lehigh Valley metro region, 17,500 residents – 4.4% of the work force – commuted 90 or more minutes to work in 2019. Super commuters grew by 26% since 2010 – more than twice the rate of the region’s overall workforce, according to the report.
It’s not hard to understand why Lehigh Valley ranked No. 7 on the list considering the region’s proximity to high-paying jobs in New York City (90 miles east) and Philadelphia (60 miles south), its affordable cost of living among Northeast markets, and its exceptional quality-of-life attributes, said George Lewis, Marketing, Communications and Research Vice President at Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation.
“Super commuting is important for us to track because of the impact on the local talent pool. Unlike bedroom communities, whose economies are inextricably linked with their large urban neighbors, the Lehigh Valley has a strong, diverse economy distinct from nearby big cities,” Lewis said.
“For employers in the Lehigh Valley and companies we are looking to attract in sectors such as Life Sciences, super commuters are a rich and diverse talent resource hidden here in plain sight.”
Access to talent is among the main reasons employers have moved to and expanded in the Lehigh Valley. The region added 27,000 jobs in five years before the pandemic began and posted a record $43.3 billion GDP.
The Lehigh Valley is among the fastest growing regions in Pennsylvania, in particular among young adults ages 18-34. Much of the growth has been due to migration – people moving from other counties, states, or countries. Some studies suggest this has been exacerbated by the pandemic, particularly among people moving from the New York City metro region. With a strong housing market, Lehigh Valley now commands one of the nation’s hottest zip codes, Bethlehem’s 18018, according to Realtor.com.
Rents in super commuting hotspots have been heating up since March 2020, increasing in Lehigh County, for example, by 24%, according to Apartmentlist.com. The report estimates that one in three super commuters work in an occupation fully compatible with remote work, suggesting most jobs will still require being on-site, at least part of the time.
That’s the case for Alyssa Beckwith. While she has enjoyed working from home during the pandemic, she has restarted her commute – though she expects it only to be a few days a week.
While the number of days super commuters are on the road may dwindle in post-pandemic work, there is the potential that the flexibility may increase the number of them because more workers will find the commute more palatable if it’s only required a few days a week, Chris Salviati, a senior economist who co-authored the Apartmentlist.com super commuter report.
“Super commuting has been an issue in the Allentown area and, like many other parts of the country, this has only been worsening over time,” Salviati said. “I think remote work will have an impact, but I don’t think the shift will fully alleviate it.”
Apartmentlist.com estimates 4.6 million U.S. workers – or 3.1% of the workforce — commute 90 or more minutes to work each way. That number of super commuters increased by 45% nationally from 2010 to 2019, more than tripling the growth rate of the overall workforce.
Lehigh Valley’s growth rate among super commuters was not as high as the national average but it still among the top in the nation because of the critical mass of super commuters that has been building over the decades.
Among the top destinations for Lehigh and Northampton County residents commuting to workplaces outside the two-county region are Montgomery and Bucks counties, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
While a small percentage of Lehigh Valley workers can claim the super commuter label, 28.4% of Lehigh County workers and 30.8% of Northampton County workers are employed outside the county where they reside, according to the Census Bureau.
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