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Study: Lehigh Valley a Top 10 Market for Startup Jobs Created

By Nicole Radzievich Mertz on March 26, 2020

OraSure Technologies employees

Employees at OraSure Technologies, one of many companies that contribute to the Lehigh Valley’s thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem. (courtesy photo)

OraSure Technologies introduced rapid HIV and Ebola tests. Optimo developed a computer program matching criminals with appropriate prisons. And Eight Oaks craft distillery remade itself to produce hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those are just a trio of examples that have helped Lehigh Valley cast itself as a hotspot where innovators turn their ideas into businesses. Now, the Brookings Institution has some research to back that up.

Brookings, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., ranked Lehigh Valley among the top 10 places its size in its entrepreneurship category.

The category measures the change in jobs at young companies based in the Lehigh Valley. That growth indicator for Lehigh Valley jumped by 10.6% in 2017-18 alone. That’s better than all but five of the 56 regions with a population between 500,000 and 1 million people.

The ranking does not reflect the effects of the coronavirus outbreak in Pennsylvania where many small businesses are feeling the impact of a statewide shutdown in March. It’s unclear of what the long-term impact that will have on young businesses.

But the pre-pandemic ranking underscores the entrepreneurial environment community leaders have worked to foster for decades in Lehigh Valley.

“I think it’s a combination of the Lehigh Valley ecosystem and the resources we have available,” said Dana Yurgosky, chair of the Entrepreneurship Council of the Lehigh Valley, a Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) council dedicated to listening to the region’s entrepreneurial community and identify its unmet needs.

Yurgosky said Lehigh Valley is a more affordable spot than more metropolitan areas to start and grow your business but still close enough to have a huge impact in and beyond the region. Meanwhile, there are quality colleges and universities, creative workspace, funding opportunities and other resources.

Ali Almasi said wouldn’t have launched his spice business, Almas Foods International, in Lehigh Valley had it not been for one institution, Lehigh University. Almasi, who grew up in Iran, specifically came to for the university’s Technical Entrepreneurship Master’s Program and decided that’s where he would stay to build his business.

“I loved thinking about moving to other places like Philly or the city, but it just made sense to start here,” he said.

Besides the cost, Almasi said there were resources and reasonable working space.

In addition to the one-year entrepreneurial rankings, Brookings determined that the number of jobs at young companies had been bouncing back from the Great Recession better than all but six other large communities across the country.

Every community in this category – except No. 1 ranked Witchita, Kansas, and No. 2 ranked Council Bluffs, Iowa  – lost the percentage of jobs generated by young businesses since the Great Recession took hold in 2008. But Lehigh Valley fared better than most. It shed 5.5% of jobs from these firms since 2008.

The entrepreneurship ranking was just one measure of a larger analysis of economic growth of 192 MSAs, ranked by size. This is the first year where a smaller MSA was partitioned out, making a ranking comparison to last year difficult.

The data, which is compiled annually, offers a more nuanced look at the recovery from Great Recession than traditional Gross Domestic Product and employment statistics.

Lehigh Valley ranked No. 23 in job growth, growing 8 percent since 2008. That’s above the average growth of large metro areas – 500,000 to 1 million people. The GDP grew by 12% over the last decade, ranking the percentage of growth as 34 of 56 metropolitan statistical areas its size.

UPDATE: Financing Options Available for Lehigh Valley Businesses Affected by COVID-19

State and federal agencies are providing financing assistance to small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigation efforts. On March 25, The Pennsylvania In[...]

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