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Lehigh Valley’s Economic Strength Explained in Six Data Points

By Nicole Radzievich Mertz on December 27, 2022

The Lehigh Valley has consistently ranked among the top 10 regions in the Northeast in terms of economic development because the eastern Pennsylvania region has the talent, location and affordability that employers need to succeed. From global leaders like Crayola to startups like Meraki Co., the Lehigh Valley boasts 15,000 businesses of various sizes and industries in a thriving market within a day’s drive of a third of the U.S. population.

Here are six key data points published in 2022 that explain just how strong the Lehigh Valley’s economy is:

$47 Billion

Mack Trucks announced plans in April for $70 million in improvements to its Lower Macungie Township plant this year.

Mack Trucks employs more than 2,500 people in the Lehigh Valley, and last year it completed an $84 million expansion project at its regional facility that included equipment and improvements, the insourcing of chassis assembly, and a 300,000-square-foot addition..

The Lehigh Valley produced a Gross Domestic Product of $47 billion in 2021, a record high that came within a year of the worldwide economic collapse brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing supply chain and labor force challenges.

The private sector economic output has recovered from the adjusted figure of $42.5 billion in 2020. After factoring in inflation, the GDP rose by 6.4% from 2020 to 2021.

The GDP of the Lehigh Valley’s top four sectors were still within about $2.5 billion of each other, indicating a balanced and vibrant economy: manufacturing ($8.4 billion), finance, insurance and real estate ($8.1 billion), Educational services, health care and social assistance ($6.9 billion), professional and business services ($5.9 billion).

The Lehigh Valley’s private economic output is the 65th largest in the nation and bigger than three states: Alaska, Vermont and Wyoming.

GDP measures the total market value of the goods and services produced in a region over a year. The GDP covers the Lehigh Valley metro region, which includes Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon and Warren counties.

$8.4 Billion

SunOpta Inc., a leading global healthy food and beverage company focused on plant- and fruit-based foods and beverages, has recently expanded in the Lehigh Valley.

Manufacturing output totaled $8.4 million in 2021, placing it as the Lehigh Valley’s top GDP contributor for the first time in 15 years.

Home to Crayola and Mack Trucks, the Lehigh Valley’s manufacturing economy is among the top 15% of the U.S. metro regions ranked in 2021. The Lehigh Valley in 2021 ranked among the top 50 markets for the production of food, medical supplies and other non-durable goods.

Underscoring the strength of the economy, manufacturing employment in the Lehigh Valley had recovered by the end of 2021, outperforming overall the recovery industry-wide.

Manufacturing made up 18% of the Lehigh Valley’s private sector output compared to 12% in the nation as a whole last year.

330,432

iDEAL Chief Technology Officer David Jauregui explains the company’s breakthrough technology developed at Ben Franklin TechVentures in the Lehigh Valley. The company announced in 2022 that it is expanding its footprint and adding 63 jobs. (Photo/Ben Franklin Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania)

Lehigh Valley employers added nearly 11,000 jobs over the last five years, bringing total employment in Lehigh and Northampton counties to 330,432 by mid-2022.

That growth rate amounts to seven-tenths of a percent annually over the last five years– slightly outpacing the nation, according to data analyzed on Chmura Economics JobsEQ platform.

Manufacturing sector showed stronger employment growth at 2.4% or about eight times faster than the nation’s growth.

689,167

Like 58% of U.S. counties, the Lehigh Valley grew in population during the pandemic mainly because of net domestic migration as people moved from the nation’s largest metro regions.

The population the Lehigh and Northampton counties reached 689,167 in 2021, a notable 5.8% increase over the last decade in the slower growing Northeast, according to population estimates published by the U.S. Census.

The Lehigh Valley experienced even stronger growth among young people who are of prime workforce age. The number of residents between 18-34 has grown by 9% from 2011-2021, among the fastest in Pennsylvania.

Over the last decade, the region has gotten more diverse. While white people still make up the majority at 70%, with minorities increasing by double-digit percentages and the number of white people have been declining.

Historically, the region’s growth has been propelled by international migration, Lehigh County in particular. But the borders tightened during the pandemic.

While international migration was down during the pandemic as borders tightened, the Lehigh Valley continued to grow because of people moving into the region from other counties.

The 56 largest metro regions, including the regions encompassing Philadelphia and New York City, experienced an aggregate decline in population.

The population shift occurred as U.S. population grew at a tenth of a percent between 2020 and 2021 – the slowest growth rate since the country’s founding, according to the Census.

The U.S. population rebounded by this year, growing by another four-tenths of a percent to 333.3 million as international migration resumed and the number of births increased. Lehigh Valley population data is expected to be published in the coming months.

10,664

Moravian College students learn about anatomy. The Lehigh Valley’s 11 colleges and universities produce a strong pipeline of talent.

In 2020-21 academic year, 10,664 students graduated from the 11 colleges and universities in the Lehigh Valley. The number of graduates has been consistent over the last five years, producing an able workforce in the backyards of Lehigh Valley employers.

In particular, Lehigh Carbon Community College and Northampton Community College are responsible 15% of all associate degrees awarded by Pennsylvania community colleges.

The region is home to prestigious institutions including Lehigh University, Lafayette College, Moravian University, Muhlenburg College, Cedar Crest College, Penn State Lehigh Valley, DeSales University, East Stroudsburg University and Kutztown University.

Those colleges have produced talent that has shaped the world in which we live for the past century. Among the famous graduates who studied in the Lehigh Valley are Lehigh alumnus Lee Iacocca, who became the chairman of the Chrysler Corp, Lafayette alumna Fran Horowitz, who became President & Chief Merchandising Officer of Abercrombie & Fitch Co and Kutztown alumnus Thomas Hylton, who became a Pulitzer Prize winning writer.

 

146.9 Million

B. Braun Medical Inc. held a ribbon-cutting on Sept. 22 for its new 310,000 square-foot expansion in Hanover Township, Lehigh County. (Photo/Glenn Koehler)

Industrial and flex space in the Lehigh Valley reached 146.9 million square feet in 2022, carrying a 3.3% vacancy rate by year’s end, according to CoStar, a leading source of real estate analytics.

Another 4.7 million was under construction by the year’s end. Since 2017, more than 24.3 million square feet has been added in the two-county area.

Among the notable new manufacturers the Lehigh Valley welcomed into the industrial and flex space this year were: Easy Signs, Spot & Tango, Phoenix Tube, and Pianca Packaging. Others, including B. Braun Medical and OraSure Technologies, increased their industrial footprints in the Lehigh Valley.

 

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Lehigh ValleyQuick Facts

By the Numbers
$43.3 Billion

2020 Gross Domestic Product

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City Center Lehigh Valley
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10.6% of Labor Force
Employed in Manufacturing

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Lehigh Valley Health Network
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$3.8 Billion

Exports in 2019

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Air Products
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Lehigh Valley Electricians
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$66,865

Median Household Income

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PPL Electric Utilities
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676,700

Population

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Olympus
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347,612

Labor Force

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26.6% of Labor Force
Employed in "Eds & Meds" sectors

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5,073

Technology Patents

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Mack Trucks
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UGI
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Magestic Realty Co
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NFI
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14% of the total community college degrees awarded in PA

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Wells Fargo
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$7.1 Billion

Manufacturing Contribution to GDP

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Truist
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69th largest metropolitan area in the U.S. by population

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Key Bank
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10,754 degrees awarded by Lehigh Valley colleges (2017-18 academic year)

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St. Lukes University Health Network
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82,270 employed in "Eds & Meds" sectors

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149,000

Population between ages 18 and 34

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FirstEnergy