LVEDC Reflects on an Unprecedented Year at Annual Meeting Program

By Colin McEvoy on March 16, 2021

Jane Long, Past Chair of the LVEDC Board of Directors, speaking during the organization’s 2021 Annual Meeting program, which was broadcast virtually on March 16.

The past 12 months have been anything but a normal year. So it’s only fitting that this year’s Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) 2021 Annual Meeting program was anything but a typical event.

Held virtually for the first time, LVEDC’s program reflected on an unprecedented year for the Lehigh Valley economy. One that was marred by COVID-19 mitigation efforts, temporary business closures, and remarkable economic challenges, but that also saw new development projects, important economic initiatives, and growth in key industry sectors.

“The economic renaissance of the Lehigh Valley continues,” LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham said during the program, which was broadcast live on March 16. “The first draft of a post-pandemic history with new challenges and opportunities is just being written.”

The archived video of the LVEDC 2021 Annual Meeting program can be viewed on the organization’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. The event was broadcast live on Service Electric Cable Television, and was also shared on its YouTube channel.

“A tale of two economies”

More than 20 Lehigh Valley corporate, government, and LVEDC leaders spoke during the program, highlighting some of the region’s new and exciting life sciences businesses and corporate leadership, and discussing the changes that took place in the regional economy in the past year.

“Last year in the Lehigh Valley was a tale of two economies,” Cunningham said. He noted that the region’s service economy of restaurants, hotels, and entertainment venues closed or operated at reduced capacity in 2020, and yet online retailers, manufacturers, food and beverage producers, health care, and other parts of the nation’s supply chain based here boomed, with some reaching sales growth of 30%.

Likewise, Cunningham said, unemployment grew in restaurants and hospitality while industrial employers struggled to find workers even with jobs advertised at $20-plus per hour for low-skilled, new hires.

“The whirlwind of economic headwinds and tailwinds has lifted some, deflated others, and held many in place,” he said. “The dust has yet to settle. If there’s any certainty, it’s that economic life will forever be changed.”

Major projects and expansions

There were 41 major expansion or new development projects in 2020, resulting in the creation or retention of more than 6,000 jobs last year, Cunningham said. Details about these projects were provided in the organization’s newly-released 2020 Annual Report.

Life science research and manufacturing was among the sectors to experience growth over the past 12 months. The year 2020 marked the highest employment in the sector over the last two decades with about 6,300 workers with an average wage of $94,000 per year.

Several of the region’s life science, biological, and biomedical companies took steps and created products to help fight the coronavirus. This sector was the subject of roundtable discussion at the Annual Meeting program. Click here to watch it and hear more about it.

Significant economic initiatives

George Lewis, LVEDC Vice President of Marketing, Communications & Research, discussed the Made Possible in Lehigh Valley marketing campaign. He highlighted the coalition that has made the initiative possible, as well as the many stories Made Possible has shared about the people, places, companies, and quality of life of the region.

“We are telling the world what we’ve known all along: this is a great place to visit, learn, live and work,” Lewis said. “That everything they are looking for is Made Possible in Lehigh Valley.”

Karianne Gelinas, LVEDC Vice President of Business Development and Talent Supply, highlighted the organization’s ongoing talent supply initiative, which seeks to ensure the Lehigh Valley continues to maintain a competitive workforce and talent supply.

The initiative saw several accomplishments in 2020, including the introduction of the Lehigh Valley Hot Careers Guide, hosting a virtual internship summit for regional employers, and the launch of an alumni survey with the region’s colleges and universities.

“The economic development model used to be: Attract employers and talent will follow,” Gelinas said. “That old model has been turned on its head. Today, the ability to attract companies and jobs is driven by access to talent.”

Crucial regional support

The program also featured clips from LVEDC’s executive video interview series, acknowledged incoming and outgoing board members, and acknowledged the crucial support LVEDC received from public and private sector investors in 2020.

“As a non-profit coalition, we weren’t sure a year ago what impact the pandemic would have upon us,” said Jaime Marie Whalen, LVEDC Executive Vice President and Chief of Staff. “… Fortunately, so many in the Lehigh Valley understand the importance of investing in regional economic growth and strategies.”

In particular, LVEDC acknowledged the support of the counties of Northampton and Lehigh. In addition to remaining the largest investors in the organization, they also allocated a portion of emergency Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds to LVEDC in 2020.

“When LVEDC was first formed, the vision was a regional approach so the Lehigh Valley could compete in the new global economy,” Lehigh County Executive Phillips Armstrong said. “… That was the right decision, and our allocation of CARES funding continues that collaborative approach.”

Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure added: “These funds helped LVEDC continue to operate throughout the pandemic, freeing up the organization to provide critical information and assistance to the business community, and work with companies looking to come or grow here.”

LVEDC 2020 Annual Report Released, Available Online

Despite the devastating effects of the COVID-19 crisis, the year 2020 saw several new and exciting development projects in the Lehigh Valley, as well as initiatives that w[...]

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