New Data: People Working and Living in the Lehigh Valley Is on the Rise
By Nicole Radzievich Mertz on December 20, 2021
A Lehigh University alumnus, Michael Schaefer jokes that he bleeds brown and white. He earned his chemical engineering degree and later his MBA there. He was on Lehigh’s Alumni Association Board of Directors, prizes his Asa Packer commemorative walking stick, and can talk trash with the best of them at Lehigh’s annual rivalry football game against Lafayette College. So, when a job opportunity emerged last year at his alma mater, Schaefer seized it – despite a 75-minute commute from his home in Jersey City.
The pandemic soon eliminated that commute under remote work conditions, but Schaefer’s thoughts kept drifting back to the Lehigh Valley. He and his husband explored more affordable and spacious real estate in the region. They settled on a home in Easton – ironically near Lafayette College. The new neighborhood, he said, is worth the razzing from friends.
“The Lehigh Valley has this great sense of community that we’ve always been looking for, Easton in particular,” said Schaefer, program director at Lehigh’s Iacocca Institute. “There is so much in the area to do and see. Every weekend, there seems to be a different festival. Garlic Fest, Porch Fest — you walk outside and see someone playing a lute or riding a unicycle. Where we live right now is just amazing.”
Schaefer is not alone. Between 2015 and 2019, the number of people living and working in the Lehigh Valley has grown by more than 6% to 197,559, according to a Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) analysis of commuting data recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s a faster pace than the overall population growth in the Lehigh Valley.
What’s more is 66% of the workers employed in the Lehigh Valley live in the Lehigh Valley. That’s a larger share who live and work in the same region than every other workforce investment area in southeastern Pennsylvania, which drives the state’s population growth.
The gap in number of people commuting into the Lehigh Valley for jobs and commuting out for jobs is tightening. In 2015, 7,913 more residents commuted out of the region for a job compared to the number of out-of-town residents commuting into the Lehigh Valley for work. In 2019, that gap narrowed to 1,959 more commuting out.
“What the data suggest is something we’ve known for years: the Lehigh Valley is a great place to live and work,” said George Lewis, LVEDC Vice President of Marketing, Communications and Research. “It speaks to the strong quality of life here and the job opportunities.”
Access to talent is among the main reasons employers have moved to and expanded in the Lehigh Valley. The region added 27,000 jobs in five years before the pandemic began and posted a record $44.2 billion GDP in 2019. While Lehigh Valley’s economy was not immune to the pandemic, employers have continued expand operations in certain sectors such as the life sciences and food and beverage manufacturing. In fact, the Lehigh Valley is now among the nation’s Top 50 manufacturing markets.
During the pandemic, the Lehigh Valley has gained national attention for its quality of life. It ranked among the top 15 most desirable places in the nation to work remotely. And Realtor.com found the Lehigh Valley in 2021 commanded one of America’s hottest zip codes – 18018 in Bethlehem.
The Lehigh Valley, among the fastest growing regions in Pennsylvania, owes much of its growth to migration.
Since 2010, Lehigh Valley’s population grew by 6% to 687,508, outpacing the statewide average growth of 2.4%, according to the 2020 Census. Lehigh County in particular grew by 7.2%, making it the third fastest-growing county in the state, and Northampton County ranked No. 9 with 5.1% population growth. Growth among 18 to 34 year olds is particularly noteworthy. The population of that age group increased by 10.7%, making it the fastest growing region for that demographic in Pennsylvania.
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