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LVEDC Hosts Meeting with Legislators at Federal, State Levels

By Colin McEvoy on March 12, 2015

Nearly two dozen Lehigh Valley legislators and staff members from federal and state offices attended a discussion today about economic development and strategies to continue a strong pattern of growth in the region.

The Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) hosted a discussion with the Lehigh Valley’s legislative delegations to exchange ideas, outline the corporation’s functions and initiatives, and to discuss the economic strengths and challenges of the Lehigh Valley.

Don Cunningham

Don Cunningham

“The only way economic development happens, and we happen to be very good at it here in the Lehigh Valley, is by having so many people working together, and that’s why meetings like this are so important,” Don Cunningham, LVEDC president and CEO, said during the lunch discussion.

U.S. Rep Charlie Dent and state Reps. Daniel McNeill, Ryan Mackenzie and Julie Harhart were among those to attend. Others included Ellen Kern, chief of staff for state Sen. Pat Browne; Carol Obando-Derstine, from the office of U.S. Sen. Robert Casey; and Marta Gabriel, from the office of U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey.

The goal of the meeting was to build on the strong working relationships LVEDC maintains with the legislative delegations, to inform them of key initiatives the organization is working on, and to continue to be a resource for them if any constituents have economic development issues.

“We were given a good overview of our relative strengths and weaknesses, and overall I’d have to say the Lehigh Valley is a very competitive region, particularly in the Northeast,” Dent said. “Clearly we have competitive challenges, we’re squaring off against some big regions, but we’re much in the game.”

Other attendees included April Niver (from the office of U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright), Joseph Kelly (state Sen. Lisa Boscola), Kristine Bush and Cindy Miller (from the office of state Sen. Mario Scavello), Jean Creedon (state Rep. Mike Schlossberg), Nancy Wilt (state Rep. Peter Schweyer), Ruth O’Connor (state Rep. Marcia Hahn),  and Joseph Uliana of J.M. Uliana and Associates.

Cunningham started with an overview of the Lehigh Valley economy, which has a $32 billion gross domestic project, larger than that of 104 nations. The region has seen 31,600 new jobs created between 2004 and 2013, an 18 percent increase.

In terms of industries, the largest GDP comes from trade transportation and utilities ($6.81 billion), followed by manufacturing ($4.57 billion), education and health services ($4.48 billion), finance, insurance and real estate ($4.47 billion) and professional and business services ($4.28 billion).

Cunningham said 69 percent of new jobs are coming from existing Lehigh Valley businesses. There are 14,700 employers in the Lehigh Valley, he said, and less than 1 percent have more than 500 employees.

He also outlined LVEDC’s increased efforts to market the region’s economic assets to external markets, rather than inside the Lehigh Valley market. The organization’s development and marketing team plans to visit more than a dozen national conferences this year, and is also targeting trade shows and industry publications.

McNeill said today’s meeting was extremely informative, and he praised Cunningham’s leadership in bringing the legislative delegations together and keeping them well-informed.

“The great turnout today is a sign of the good job he’s doing,” he said. “Most of the representatives in our area, we may vote differently in Harrisburg, but we stick together in the Lehigh Valley.”

Cunningham reviewed some of the Lehigh Valley’s strengths and weaknesses as defined by the report prepared last year by Garner Economics, an Atlanta-based economic development consultant.

Strengths include a central location, well-developed transportation infrastructure, availability of office space, available water and sewer capacity, and strong post-secondary education institutions. Weaknesses include a lack of suitable industrial space, local business permitting procedures, a large number of municipalities and the level of traffic-carrying capacity on local streets and highways.

Cunningham also discussed the Lehigh Valley’s four optimal industry targets, as defined by the Garner report: high-performance manufacturing, high value business services, life sciences research and manufacturing, and food and beverage processing.

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