LVEDC 2016 Annual Meeting Draws Crowd of About 600

By Colin McEvoy on March 24, 2016

When Norac was looking for a place to establish their first U.S. facility, it didn’t take them long to settle on the Lehigh Valley.

The French manufacturer of natural bakery snacks was attracted to the region due to its central location, proximity to the Port of New York and New Jersey, access to highways, and the “industrial and manufacturing culture in the region,” according to Julien Caron, president of Norac Group USA.

“We spent a lot of time thinking about the advantages and disadvantages,” Caron said. “We talked to supply chain experts, we talked to real estate experts, we talked to officials and government organizations, and little by little, we understood the right place for us was the Lehigh Valley.”

Caron delivered the keystone remarks before a standing room only crowd of 600 people at the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) 2016 Annual Meeting, held March 22 at the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks in Bethlehem.

Norac, which employs more than 3,700 people worldwide, plans to build a 79,160 square-foot facility at 4200 Braden Blvd. in Forks Township, establishing 62 new jobs there over the next three years.

It was an appropriate company to highlight at the LVEDC Annual Meeting, given the growing trend in international companies investing in the Lehigh Valley. Eight of the Lehigh Valley’s 19 major business attraction and/or expansion projects last year – 42 percent – were from overseas companies.

Last summer, LVEDC President and CEO Don Cunningham spent eight days in German, France, and England with state development personnel and American business executives talking to European business owners about the assets of the Lehigh Valley and Pennsylvania.

“If we didn’t go there, some of them never would have known we existed,” Cunningham said. “During our lunch in Paris with Julien Caron of Norac, he said, ‘I’m looking at Pennsylvania and New Jersey.’ He made clear to us, the others guys hadn’t come to see him.”

As discussed at the annual meeting, LVEDC has been ramping up its marketing efforts about the Lehigh Valley’s economic assets. The organization has translated marketing materials into eight different languages and sent them directly to companies in countries all over the world.

LVEDC has also commissioned two different sets of videos, which were shown at the meeting. One series, developed by Digital Feast, draws attention to six specific sub-regions of the Lehigh Valley: Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, Lehigh County, Northampton County, and the Slate Belt.

The other series of videos, created by FireRock Productions, focuses on the Lehigh Valley’s four target sectorshigh performance manufacturing, high value business services, life science research & manufacturing, and food & beverage processing – as well as the region’s entrepreneurial community and redevelopment projects Two of those videos can now be viewed on the LVEDC website.

“The old days of thinking about competition as Allentown against Bethlehem or Lehigh County against Northampton County are long over, if they ever existed,” Cunningham said. “Our competition is the other 49 states and the countries of the world. But, while we will win as a region, we have heard the appeals from our local governments and counties to market specific assets and the uniqueness of various places in the Lehigh Valley.”

Cunningham noted 2015 marked the largest amount of private sector investment and sponsorship LVEDC ever received, exceeding $500,000. The year also saw the regional GDP grow above $35 billion for the first time, and Site Selection magazine name the Lehigh Valley the top region of its size in the Northeast for economic development.

During his closing remarks for the evening, Stephen Kalamar, president of the LVEDC Board of Directors, said one of the organization’s most important initiatives moving forward is the newly-formed LVEDC Education and Talent Supply Council. This unprecedented partnership between the region’s higher education institutions and technical schools together to improve the workforce of the Lehigh Valley.

“This rare type of partnership between educational institutions and economic developers has the potential to serve as a model not just for the state of Pennsylvania, but for the entire nation,” Kalamar said. “The regions that best solve the talent supply equation will be those that win the economic development competition, and the Lehigh Valley has positioned itself to do just that.”

Capital BlueCross was the presenting sponsor for the LVEDC 2016 Annual Meeting, while Norris McLaughlin & Marcus and Wells Fargo were gold sponsors.  Cocktail sponsors include Boyle Construction and Klunk & Millan. Silver sponsors include EarthRes, Fitzpatrick Lentz & Bubba, High Construction Company, Lafayette Ambassador Bank, MKSD Architects, and NFI Industries.

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