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Lehigh Valley’s Economic Transformation Highlighted by PBS NewsHour

By Colin McEvoy on September 14, 2020

PBS NewsHour correspondent Christopher Booker (left) speaks to Flexicon Executive Vice President Dave Boger at the Flexicon facility during a PBS NewsHour segment.

The economic transformation of the Lehigh Valley was on display on one of the most popular evening television news programs in the country this week.

Lehigh Valley was the subject of a segment on PBS NewsHour on Sept. 10 as part of the program’s “Roads to Elections 2020” series. The report focuses upon the upcoming presidential election, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the evolution and diversification of the regional economy in recent decades.

“The Lehigh Valley has become a booming region, with a gross domestic product of $41 billion, employing more than 300,000 people,” said PBS NewsHour correspondent Christopher Booker. The 11-minute segment and a full transcript can be found here.

Don Cunningham, President & CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), was interviewed for the segment, during which he discussed how the regional economy – and manufacturing in particular – has changed and evolved since the closure of Bethlehem Steel.

Rather than depending too heavily on one sector or company like Bethlehem Steel, the Lehigh Valley economy now has a diverse and multifaceted base, with its gross domestic product spread fairly evenly among its top sectors of finance, insurance & real estate ($7.8 billion); manufacturing ($7.3B); education & health care ($6.1B); and professional & business services ($5.1B).

“We’re better off today without the steel company than we were,” Cunningham said “We have a more diverse economy, cleaner air, cleaner water. While it’s a proud part of our history, economically we’re better today than we were 50 years ago, and that’s something nobody would have believed at that time.”

In addition to facilitating Cunningham’s interview, LVEDC assisted PBS NewsHour with their production of the Lehigh Valley segment, providing economic data about the regional economy and helping connect them with regional companies.

The segment also highlights such manufacturing companies as OraSure Technologies and Flexicon, the latter of which moved to Lehigh Valley from New Jersey in 2001.

With 235 employees, Flexicon is a world leader in the design and manufacturing of bulk handling equipment. Dave Boger, Executive Vice President with the company, said Flexicon moved to Lehigh Valley due to such factors as availability of labor and land, and the quality of the local workforce.

OraSure Technologies, developer and manufacturer of point-of-care diagnostic tests and specimen collection devices, is expanding its manufacturing operations in the region, creating and retaining more than 400 jobs. The expansion will support the development of the company’s the OraQuick® Coronavirus Rapid Antigen Self-test.

In the PBS segment, OraSure President & CEO Stephen S. Tang described the changes Lehigh Valley has experienced since his time as a student at Lehigh University years ago.

“You’ve seen a complete revitalization in those city centers: Bethlehem, Easton, Allentown in particular has really transformed itself,” Tang said. “So I think that’s good clearly for the economic health and cultural health of the region, and it’s still maintained by a vast meds and eds economic engine.”

The segment also includes interviews with Christopher Borick, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, about the upcoming election, and Rachel Griffith, owner of the Apollo Grill restaurant in Bethlehem, about how the coronavirus has impacted Pennsylvania’s restaurant and hospitality industry.

This is not the first time this year the Lehigh Valley economy has generated national attention. In January, The New York Times published a story about the region’s economic success story and thriving manufacturing sector.

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Lehigh ValleyQuick Facts

By the Numbers
$41.2 Billion

2018 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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$3.8 Billion

Exports in 2019

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$65,119

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672,907

Population

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358,000

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26.1% of Labor Force
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5,073

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UGI
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NFI
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14% of the total community college degrees awarded in PA

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

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

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85,000 employed in "Eds & Meds" sectors

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149,000

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