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Northampton County Becoming a Magnet for Development Projects

By Don Cunningham on November 5, 2013

EDITOR’S NOTE: LVEDC CEO Don Cunningham penned this piece for Lehigh Valley Business. It appeared in the business publication’s November 4 issue.

As any farmer knows, it takes a long time, a lot of hard work and some breaks along the way to raise a good crop.

It may seem like those corn stalks appeared over night but it was the work done earlier to cultivate and till the soil, plant the seed and to make sure the crop wasn’t felled by the forces of nature that lead to that golden harvest.

As Muhammad Ali once said about success in the ring, “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”

The same precepts apply to growing an economy and winning the fight for jobs and good companies.

The history of economic development in America is the story of rivers, creeks, canals, railroads, and highways. The intersection of rivers, the stops along the canal or the railroad and the exit off the highway became the place where people settled and business grew. If you could get there easily, you could build there easily.

It’s no different today.  Investments in infrastructure – roads, bridges, highway exits, and water and wastewater resources – lead to economic development.

Lehigh County’s decision to invest in and build a pre-treatment wastewater plant in the western part of the county during the early 1990s played a major role in the development of a large food and beverage production sector in recent years. That infrastructure was the seed from which grew the likes of Boston Beer, Ocean Spray, Bimbo Bakery, Nestle Waters, Coca-Cola and Kraft Foods.

The food and beverage sector has been the bedrock for Lehigh County becoming one of the highest-ranking counties in the United States for job and economic growth during the time period of a national recession.

But today, the pendulum is shifting to Northampton County. Infrastructure investment and economic development support are paying great dividends in Northampton County.

In Bethlehem, the widening of Route 412, the building of Commerce Center Boulevard to access former Bethlehem Steel lands, and the creation of a network of roads, water lines and streetscapes on the steel property has helped to launch the redevelopment of those 1,800 acres. Today, just 15 years after the closing of the company, nearly all of that land is redeveloped or spoken for. Just this month, Wal-Mart announced the location of a 1.2 million square foot direct to consumer distribution facility on one of the largest remaining parcels in Lehigh Valley Industrial Park VII.

There was a time elected leaders were ridiculed for building Commerce Center Boulevard. The shortsighted called it a “road to nowhere.” Today, it’s clearly a road to somewhere. Curtiss-Wright Corp. just announced the relocation and expansion of its aeronautic and defense industry heavy manufacturing facility off that road, bringing 95 good paying jobs and $25 million in investment.

In another portion of the county, economic development leaders worked with developers to creatively pay for and build a new interchange off Route 33 to access lands assembled by Chrin, Inc., in Palmer Township. That land will prove to be as productive of a job and economic development creator as the former Bethlehem Steel lands have been in Bethlehem.

All told, Northampton County now has 22.5 million square feet of large new industrial development under construction, proposed or recently completed. Lehigh County has 12.7 million square feet. While during recent years, Lehigh has had more development projects; the recent trend leans strongly toward Northampton County.

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