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LVEDC Board Adopts New Three-Year Strategic Plan and 2022 Budget

By George Lewis on December 14, 2021

The Board of Directors of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation recently approved a new 3-year strategic economic development plan for LVEDC based on input from public and private sector leaders in the region, a national consultant’s study, and global economic transformations that have occurred since early 2020.

To begin implementation of the LVEDC Strategic Plan for 2021-2024, the Board also approved a $3.1 million budget for 2022 that represents a return to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels after two years of budget reductions.

“This new strategic plan has been more than a year in the making,” said LVEDC Board Chairman Edward Dougherty, Senior Vice President & Chief Business Development Officer at Lehigh Valley Health Network. “It reflects input from a broad coalition of stakeholders and takes into account the economic changes taking place across the globe and the opportunities it presents for the Lehigh Valley.”

The 35-member LVEDC Board includes the three city mayors, the executives and legislative branch leaders of both counties and senior executives of area businesses, colleges and universities, labor unions, and partner organizations. Board members serve three-year terms with a two-term limit.

The mission of LVEDC is to develop regional economic strategies for the Lehigh Valley and to market the region’s economic assets to support the targeted recruitment, growth, and retention of employers to create jobs for people of all skills and educations.

Don Cunningham

Don Cunningham

“An economic renaissance has been taking place in the Lehigh Valley and much of it continued during the pandemic,” said LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham. “But much has changed throughout the world creating new challenges and opportunities for the region. It’s critical to analyze our competitive position, to listen to the various stakeholders in government and the private sector and to adjust our strategies for the future.”

The plan is the product of a year-long assessment of the Lehigh Valley’s strengths and competitive position conducted by Garner Economics of Atlanta, Ga., a national site selection consultant that helps metropolitan regions assess their economic competitive positions. Garner’s 2021 assessment included input from dozens of LVEDC partners representing business, education, and local government.

Garner’s input helped LVEDC develop targeted recruitment sectors for economic growth that include the life sciences and pharmaceuticals, professional and creative services, advanced manufacturing and high-value production, and food, beverage, and pet food production.

“There is a lot of growth happening in the Lehigh Valley because of market forces,” Cunningham said. “The money and resources of LVEDC go toward recruiting new employers in strategic areas that support our downtowns, align with our educational resources and workforce skills, and advance the region’s quality of life.”

The plan calls for more economic development work in entrepreneurship and startups, urban asset growth and brownfield reuse, and planning and zoning efforts that balance the growth of e-commerce and distribution with much-needed facilities for production, manufacturing, and the life sciences.

“The timing is critical to support the planning commission’s work to use multi-municipal planning and creative zoning to explore tax abatement or set-aside requirements to ensure the availability of land for advanced manufacturing, production and the life sciences,” Cunningham said.

Talent supply development and workforce availability will remain another major area of LVEDC’s strategic work.

A growing population, particularly of workers 40 years old and under, is the most critical component of job retention, expansion, and recruitment. Marketing of the Lehigh Valley’s quality of life and attractiveness also will continue to be a major part of LVEDC’s strategic plan.

The Made Possible in Lehigh Valley campaign – done in concert with Discover Lehigh Valley and other major regional institutions and employers – receives additional funding in the 2022 budget and is a major focus of the new three-year plan.

“LVEDC is really just a large public-private coalition of employers, educators and regional leaders working together to create job opportunities for our residents in a balanced manner that embraces the region’s quality of life,” Cunningham said. “This new plan reflects that along with the opportunities in front of us because of our unique location in the U.S. and the changes of the last two years.”

Starting in January, LVEDC will publish a series of articles in its weekly e-newsletter detailing elements of the strategic plan: to tell the Lehigh Valley’s story, attract and retain talent, expand the region’s award-winning education and talent supply partnership, and recruit companies in specific target sectors that increase the region’s prosperity by creating high-value job opportunities.

The 2022 budget reflects a rebound in LVEDC’s two major revenue sources: hotel tax revenues and private investment by coalition partners. This allows for the organization’s largest budget for marketing and talent supply development in the last decade.

The LVEDC Education and Talent Supply Council was established in 2015 to uncover regional skills gaps, increase collaboration between the region’s employers and educational institutions, and address issues employers have encountered in attracting, training, and retaining workers. It’s most recent talent study, conducted in partnership with the Workforce Board Lehigh Valley, is funded in part by state grant dollars secured through the leadership of Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Browne.

“With the financial support of both parts of the region’s public and private coalition, LVEDC has effectively managed the financial effects of the pandemic and is in position to expand programs in support of the new strategic plan,” Cunningham said. “We are grateful for all the support we have received.”

Pandemic financial relief from the federal, state and county governments was critical in LVEDC emerging so quickly from pandemic revenue uncertainties while continuing to market the Lehigh Valley and recruit and retain employers in 2020 and 2021, he said. Emergency funding from the federal government’s CARES Act, awarded to LVEDC by Lehigh and Northampton counties, along with two Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgivable business loans, filled much of the gap in lost revenues during the last two years.

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