Lehigh Valley’s Transportation Network Offers Convenient Market Access for Businesses
By Colin McEvoy on July 1, 2016
This story first appeared in the second issue of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development magazine, a publication developed by LVEDC and Journal Communications. This magazine highlights the region’s competitive advantages for targeted sectors, as well as providing an overview of the region’s business climate, livability, transportation infrastructure, and other economic assets.
If the two-county Lehigh Valley formed a nation, its $34 billion economy would be larger than the economies of 104 existing nations.
The region is the fastest-growing, third most populous area in Pennsylvania, with more than 650,000 residents. Contributing to the impressive local economy is a strong transportation network that offers direct access to Interstate 78 and 80, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Northeast Extension and major roadways such as U.S. Route 22, PA Route 33, and PA Route 309.
Its convenient location benefits a number of large companies with distribution centers in the area, including Air Products, Olympus, PPL, B. Braun Medical, Boston Beer, Coca-Cola, Kellogg, Nestle, Ocean Spray, Amazon, and Crayola.
In 2014, Seattle-based online retailer zulily announced plans to establish a $43.6 million fulfillment center in Bethlehem that will eventually support up to 1,200 jobs. Walmart recently opened a new fulfillment center in Bethlehem that is the retailer’s largest ever, measuring 1.2 million square feet and employing roughly 400 workers who fill orders for its e-commerce division.
“We gain a significant advantage by being positioned in this important Lehigh Valley location,” said Joel Anderson, president and CEO of Walmart.com. “The Lehigh Valley allows us to get more products to regional customers faster and at a lower cost.”
By Air, Sea and Rail
For air travel, international airports in Philadelphia and Newark are within 60 to 90 minutes, while the Lehigh Valley International Airport includes four major passenger carriers with nonstop flights to several destinations along the East Coast and Midwest.
“Lehigh Valley International draws about 130,000 passengers a year and its services also include air cargo and small-package handling that are all critical to business,” said Don Cunningham, President and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC).
For companies looking to ship by water, the region offers easy access to the ports of Newark and Philadelphia, and plans are also being discussed to eventually expand freight rail access for the region by establishing a new inland port. The port would provide direct service between Bethlehem’s already established intermodal railroad terminal and the Port of Newark.
“Bethlehem has an excellent intermodal freight yard and handles multiple inbound and outbound trains seven days a week, but an inland port designation would encourage even more shipping because it could increase the import and export of international goods,” Cunningham said. “Talks are continuing to move forward toward establishing the new inland port service.”
Cunningham points out that a good rail system is already in place in the Lehigh Valley with Class I carriers Norfolk Southern and Canada Pacific.
“Lehigh Valley is an ideal location to serve East Coast and Midwest markets that include Boston, New York, Ohio, the Great Lakes region, Richmond and even Canada, and we are more affordable for shipping and receiving by rail and truck than many big cities,” he said. “If I was a distribution company looking to headquarter a business, I would choose Lehigh Valley.”
Foreign Trade Zone Access
Another logistical advantage in the Lehigh Valley is the existence of a Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ), a federal designation that allows large companies to store imported merchandise without paying large tariffs and taxes. In addition, the FTZ designation allows companies to store products as long as they want at several warehouse sites in the Lehigh Valley.
“It is a complex process for companies to have access to a Foreign Trade Zone, but if they deal with many imports, it is well worth the effort,” said Jarrett Witt, Director of Business Development for LVEDC. “The Lehigh Valley FTZ #272 gives companies involved in international trade the ability to defer, eliminate or reduce tariffs or fees, but currently only three area companies use the FTZ designation. Other companies are contacting us to examine the cost-saving potential. It’s a nice asset to have here.”
Adding to the region’s transportation infrastructure is the LANTA bus system, a network of 23 fixed-bus routes and 10 special routes serving the Lehigh Valley. Operated by the Lehigh and Northampton Public Transportation Authority, LANTA provides daily, later evening, Saturday, and Sunday services, with currently more than 5.5 million rides taken annually in the Lehigh Valley.
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