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Philadelphia Business Journal Story Highlights Lehigh Valley’s Economic Success

By Colin McEvoy on December 8, 2016

A Dec. 8 story featured in the Philadelphia Business Journal focuses on the Lehigh Valley economy and how, two decades after losing its largest employer in Bethlehem Steel, the region has not only survived, but thrived.

Written by Jeff Blumenthal, the story highlights the region’s record-high $37 billion GDP, ongoing revitalization efforts in each of the three cities, the region’s growing e-commerce and transportation sectors, increased international investment in the Lehigh Valley, and the region’s thriving manufacturing industry and technology scene.

The article includes information provided by the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) and quotes from an extensive interview with LVEDC President and CEO Don Cunningham.

The story, ran under the headline “How the Lehigh Valley is overcoming the Curse of Billy Joel,” can be found in its entirety on the Philadelphia Business Journal website. The first few paragraphs can be read below:

Don Cunningham loves Billy Joel’s music, save for the 1982 hit song Allentown, written to depict the depressed, blue-collar world of the Lehigh Valley in the wake of Bethlehem Steel’s decline. While the company was based in Bethlehem and not Allentown, Joel chose the title because it sounded better and it was easier to find other words with which to rhyme.

“It brought two decades of bad PR,” said Cunningham, president and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. “It’s amazing how a pop song can create such a huge image problem. It takes a while to shed that bad image. Even today, people come here and they think about that song and don’t realize what the Valley has become and what’s happening here today.”

More than three decades after Joel’s hit song aptly described the decline of American manufacturing and the cities of the Rust Belt in the latter part of the 20th century, the Lehigh Valley is singing a different tune.

The region’s gross domestic product for 2015 reached a record-high $36.97 billion and has increased by at least $750 million each year since 2010. The Lehigh Valley has ranked the highest among Pennsylvania regions in terms of post-recession job growth for the last three consecutive years and among the top 17 percent among all regions in the United States for patent development.

The Small Business Association lending data for the recently completed fiscal year shows that the SBA’s core 7(a) lending program (used for working capital) in eastern Pennsylvania increased by 17 percent from last year. But those numbers were highlighted by a 23 percent jump in the Lehigh Valley, as opposed to an 11 percent jump in southeastern Pennsylvania, which includes Philadelphia.

The broader business world is starting to take notice. Eight of the region’s 19 major business attractions/expansion projects are international companies, including Fuling Plastics (China), Safran (France), SunOpta (Canada) and Primark (Ireland). And while Bethlehem Steel closed its doors in 1998 and Mack Trucks moved its corporate headquarters to South Carolina more than two decades ago, the Valley is still a manufacturing stronghold as it has become a warehouse distribution mecca — attracting major companies such as Home Depot, Wal-Mart and Amazon.com.

In the Valley’s three major cities — Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton — revitalization efforts have led to significant real estate development that includes multimillion-dollar sports and entertainment facilities, major retailers and residential projects that have filled out once troubled town centers.

Visit here to read the full Philadelphia Business Journal story.

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Lehigh ValleyQuick Facts

By the Numbers
$40.1 Billion

Gross Domestic Product

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City Center Lehigh Valley
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11% of Labor Force
Employed in Manufacturing

By the Numbers
$3.65 Billion

Exports

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Air Products
By the Numbers
$62,489

Median Household Income

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PPL Electric Utilities
By the Numbers
26,000

New Jobs Created Over Past 5 Years

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669,899

Population

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Olympus
By the Numbers
345,260

Labor Force

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Lutron Electronics
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26.1% of Labor Force
Employed in "Eds & Meds" sectors

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5,073

Technology Patents

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Mack Trucks
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UGI
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NFI
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14% of the total community college degrees awarded in PA

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$7.4 Billion

Manufacturing Contribution to GDP

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BB&T
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69th largest metropolitan area in the U.S. by population

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Seedcopa
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10,328 degrees awarded by colleges and universities

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Fuling
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81,000 employed in "Eds & Meds" sectors

By the Numbers
26.97%

Population between ages 18 and 34

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