Q&A with Don Cunningham about LVEDC’s International Business Development Tour
By Colin McEvoy on June 9, 2015
Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) officials have recently returned from what has proven to be a highly productive and valuable international business development tour through Western Europe to attract foreign direct investment.
With stops in Germany, France and England, the tour included daily direct marketing to prospective companies, including visits with international prospects with which LVEDC had already been previously engaged. Several European companies have already expressed an interest in establishing U.S. locations in the Lehigh Valley as a result of the tour, which began with the announcement of a Safran, a major multi-national aerospace company, opening a facility in the Lehigh Valley.
LVEDC President and CEO Don Cunningham, and Director of Business Development Jarrett Witt, shared their thoughts about the tour, and the market for international companies in the Lehigh Valley:
Is the Lehigh Valley a strong market for international companies?
Cunningham: Absolutely. With our proximity to major northeastern markets like New York City, Philadelphia and Boston, the Lehigh Valley is within a day’s drive of about one-third of all consumers in the United States. That, along with our well-developed transportation infrastructure and other economic assets, makes us extremely attractive to international companies seeking a strong consumer base in the U.S.
About one-third of our current prospects are from outside the country, and many of our big success stories from the last year are international companies. For instance, there’s Safran, a French company and world leader in aircraft landing and braking systems, whose subsidiary just established a repair facility in Lower Nazareth Township. Or Fuling Plastics, which chose Upper Macungie Township for the site of its first U.S. manufacturing plant, becoming the first Chinese-owned manufacturer to locate in Pennsylvania. The Lehigh Valley is a strong market for foreign-owned companies, and that market is growing.
How important are these in-person visits to international prospects?
Witt: It’s critical to put in the effort to visit these companies at their home offices and discuss the economic assets and opportunities in the Lehigh Valley. We’ve already been engaged in talks with some of these prospects in the past, but that face-to-face interaction is really invaluable because it really confirms interest in the U.S. market and shows that our region is well-positioned in the East Coast to grab a certain portion of that activity. The reality is, not many markets of our size are doing this kind of personal outreach with companies overseas. By coming to them and meeting with them person, it sets us apart from our competition and shows that the Lehigh Valley is a strong player on the international business scene.
How strong has interest from international companies as a result of this tour?
Cunningham: It was a very encouraging trip with a strong prospect for some direct success. I fully expect we will see a few of these companies choose the Lehigh Valley as their entries into the U.S. market as a direct result of this tour. We met individually with three French companies, including a large multi-national pharmaceutical company and a food producer, both of which are considering establishing a presence in the Lehigh Valley. We also met one-on-one with a company in England that has shortlisted the Lehigh Valley as a possible home for its first U.S. operation. And I gave a presentation before 25 German business leaders in Dortmund, where I directly communicated to them the economic advantages of the Lehigh Valley. At least three German-based companies have expressed interested in visiting the region as a result of that discussion, including two manufacturers and a technology start-up.
This trip was organized by the Pennsylvania International Development Office, which is part of the state Department of Community and Economic Development. Can you talk about the role the state played in this trip, and in helping recruit international companies to the state and the region?
Witt: The tour was organized as part of a close partnership between the Office of International Business Development, the Team Pennsylvania Foundation, the city of Philadelphia, Regional Economic Development partners and the Philadelphia Orchestra. The Office of International Business Development has the largest network of overseas offices of any other U.S. state, and their contractors are available to identify prospects and opportunities for the Commonwealth, and support international companies that choose to invest in Pennsylvania. This international recruitment has long been a priority for the state, having grown and thrived through several past administrations. This tour included several “Invest in PA” seminars, in which we were able to meet with and make presentations before several international business executives, and those were all set up and marketed by the state.
What role does foreign direct investment play in how the Lehigh Valley must approach attracting job growth from new companies in the future?
Cunningham: Sixty-nine percent of job growth in the Lehigh Valley during the last five years has come from existing businesses, and we’ve been fortunate to have been able to generate 31 percent of our growth from new companies. But over the last 10 years, a lot of those companies have come from New Jersey, and New Jersey has started to react to that, offering tax incentives and implementing other measures to try to reverse that movement of business. That means if we want to continue to grow our economy with new investment, we can’t continue to rely on the same model that has been generating a good portion of our jobs over the last decade.
For international companies that want to be close to Northeastern U.S. markets, we’re in as strong a position as any region to take advantage of those new opportunities, rather than just relying on past models of success. That’s why here at LVEDC, we’ve ramped up the strategic marketing of the Lehigh Valley and the recruitment of companies, both international and domestic, in our targeted sectors. After all, that’s a large part of why LVEDC was created: to tell the economic story of the Lehigh Valley, and make sure we’re making optimal use of our resources to create a strong and diverse economic base.
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