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Q&A: Don Cunningham Shares Insights from 2016 Site Selectors Guild Fall Forum

By Colin McEvoy on November 7, 2016

The 2016 Site Selectors Guild Fall Forum was held in Little Rock, Ark.

The 2016 Site Selectors Guild Fall Forum was held in Little Rock, Ark.

Don Cunningham, President and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), recently returned from the 2016 Site Selectors Guild Fall Forum, held in Little Rock, Ark., where he had the opportunity to network directly with many of the world’s top location consultants and economic development professionals.

Read below for Cunningham’s thoughts and insights from the prestigious event:

Q: Can you tell us about the Site Selectors Guild?

Don Cunningham

Don Cunningham

Cunningham: The Site Selectors Guild is a national professional association of consultants and real estate professionals who are hired by companies to make location recommendations. Site selectors, location consultants and national industrial commercial brokers are key advisors involved with virtually every major company relocation and corporate real estate decisions. This Site Selectors Guild is their national professional association, and including such major consulting firms as JLL, CBRE, Cushman & Wakefield, Biggins Lacy Shapiro, Deloitte, Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, and more.

Jay Garner is an officer with the Site Selectors Guild, and he did an analysis of our market, which helped inform our strategic plan three years ago. We are re-engaging him right now to update our strategic plan for next year.

Q: Why is it important for LVEDC to attend the Site Selectors Guild Fall Forum?

Cunningham: We spend a lot of time making sure they know us personally and are familiar with Lehigh Valley’s economic assets. It’s really an effort to get them to know us and our market. We want these people to be as aware of the Lehigh Valley as they are of any market in the Lehigh Valley, so when they are advising a company on a location, the Lehigh Valley is at the top of their mind. Additionally, the Site Selectors Guild provides information about what companies are looking for in various sectors, giving us top-level insight into why companies make location decisions, which is very helpful.

Q: What are some of the major trends or forecasts discussed at the Fall Forum?

Cunningham: The information coming out of the Fall Forum this year really demonstrates that the Lehigh Valley is a microcosm of what the trends are nationally, whether it’s interest in international investment, the potential to grow manufacturing, or the importance of linking trained workforce to employers. These are all areas that we’ve heavily focused on, and I think the Fall Forum shows that we’re focused on the right factors in order to continue to create jobs and grow the Lehigh Valley economy.

Q: Can you tell me more about the focus on international investment?

Cunningham: They spent a lot of time on that issue, because the Site Selectors Guild is really an international group. There’s an expectation that international investment in the United States will continue to grow, which we have obviously seen in the Lehigh Valley. Forty-two percent the region’s major business projects last year came from overseas companies, and we’ve translated our regional marketing materials into eight different languages.

As was discussed at the Fall Forum, the United States is the dominant location for foreign investment in terms of job creation. In 2015, there were 118,000 new jobs created in the U.S. from foreign investment. India is second place, followed by China in third place. That’s probably different than what most people would think. Because the United States remains the largest economy in the world, international companies are continuing to look to enter the U.S. market.

Q: You mentioned that manufacturing was another major focus at the Fall Forum?

Cunningham: Manufacturing is changing and its presence in the United States is actually growing because of automation and technology. We’ve certainly experienced that growth in the Lehigh Valley, given that manufacturing is now our top economic sector, making up 15 percent of our $37 billion regional GDP. Automation and technology are making American manufacturing more competitive globally, but there are fewer employees, so labor costs are lower. With automation and being able to create output with fewer workers, combined with rising costs to move goods across oceans, there is a lot of interest in establishing manufacturing in the United States.

Q: What was the discussion about workforce at the Site Selectors Guild Fall Forum?

There are national labor shortages in many areas across the United States, particularly in advanced manufacturing, where there is the need for the development of skilled labor development to operate machinery and technology. And workforce training and available workers with the right skills are the key to maintaining economic growth. This is another example of how we are a microcosm of the national trends, because here in the Lehigh Valley, we’ve been very focused through our LVEDC Education and Talent Supply Council on bringing together economic development professionals, private industry, K-12 education, vocational and technical schools and community colleges to better connect the Lehigh Valley’s labor supply and demand.

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