Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley-Anchored by the cities of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton has transcended tough times to become a major player

Delta Sky Magazine
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Employers and employees in the United States often are asked to united make a choice; a small town or a valley likes to say that it offers the best of both worlds -and it’s right.

            Located 80 miles west of New York City and 60 miles north of Philadelphia, Lehigh Valley-anchored by the cities of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton -is the third -most populous metro area in Pennsylvania, behind Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

            “We benefit in a lot of ways because we’re close to major market, but we have more of a smaller-community quality of life,” says Don Cunningham, president and CEO of the lehigh valley Economic Development Corporation. “We have our own downtowns and cultural arts and sports teams. And then you quick access to the major cities if you want to go there-but you don’t have to’’.

             The region, which encompasses two counties and 62 distinct municipalities (including it’s there cities), has a long history of industrial growth and reinvention stretching back to the railroad era. Today, Lehigh valley has an estimated population of 673,000 and a gps of $401.1billion-higher than that of either Wyoming or Vermont.

Marking a Comeback

The picture wasn’t quite so rosy 25 years ago when Bethlehem steel, at one point the second largest producer and largest shipbuilder in the United States, ceased operations in 1995.When the company filed for bankruptcy in 2001, it marked the end of along decline for the industry and left the area’s residents searching for alternatives.

            Much of the region’s success today stems from a mix of efforts by government, political and business leaders and educational institutions that are looking forward, not dwelling on Lehigh valley’s past.

             “I think the biggest vision, if there was one, was about transition and revitalization, ’says Cunningham, “It sounds simple, but it was foresight that we needed to do it,’’

  Some of the decisions, in hindsight, turned out to be fortuitous. Instead of abandoning or taking down old industrial buildings, for example, many of them were converted into office, apartments and retail space. Cities and municipalities in Lehigh Valley made concerted efforts to revitalize downtowns areas by bringing in restaurants and nightlife.

             One prominent example was Las Vegas Sands Corporation’s 2007 acquisition of some of the lands left behind by Bethlehem Steel. Helped by tax breaks, Sands built the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem and helped create SteelStacks, a 10-acre arts campus offering free concerts and other cultural events set against the old steel mill blast furnaces. The casino recently was acquired by Wind Creek Bethlehem for$1.3 billion.

More than a decade later, these decisions have become selling points for a younger generation that favors urban living amenities such as nightlife activities and open offices in repurposed industrial buildings.

            The area’s large work is highly educated. The local labor force numbers around 345,000 with another 1.4 million within a one -hour drive. Lehigh Valley’s divers industries.

            “At the end of the day, a region has to be able to realize its own assets and put a strategy in place to capitalize on those assets,’’ says Cunningham. “It’s a lot of  little component parts  that Kind of come together to make a successful reach, which is also partly why  I think it’s remained very authentic and real,’’

Focusing on Strengths

 One of Lehigh Valley’s primary assets favorable location.it is not only close to Philadelphia and New York, but within 500 miles of about a third of the United States population.

           ‘’That gives us an advantage in terms of distribution. We can cover the Northeast pretty well and beyond”, says Thomas R. Stoudt, executive director of the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority, which owns and operates three airports in the area.

             Lehigh Valley is home to many large logistics operations that have recently expanded to accommodate the growth of ecommerce. Amazon has three facilities in the Valley, employing thousands of workers, while FedEx Ground has one of its largest distribution hubs in the country, located near Lehigh Valley International Airport. FedEx opened its 85,000-square-foot facility in 2018, employing 1,300 people and processing up to 45,000 packages an hour. The transportation and logistics sector is now the fastest-growing sector in Lehigh Valley and has added 10,000 jobs in the past five years.

          Of the area’s three airports, Lehigh Valley International Airport is the largest. Stoudt notes that passenger growth in the region has increased for the past 24 consecutive months and continues to rise. The number of passengers in 2018 was 729,974, up 14.65 percent from the previous years. Growth on the cargo side has been healthy as well. Between 2015 and 2016, cargo increased by more than 165 percent.

 “Things were bursting at the seams,” Stoudt says. The fast growth prompted an ambitious expansion project that added two additional cargo aircraft parking spaces for loading freight.

Diversity in Manufacturing

Lehigh Valley has a long history in manufacturing .the area played a key role in the railroad boom of the 1850s, supplying rails for the railroad building spree. That was when Bethlehem Iron, which later became Bethlehem Steel began when the railroad business started to slow, silk manufacturing took over and the area became a major silk producer, advertising its good railroad, access to nearby coal field and relatively inexpensive workforce.

 The manufacturing landscape today is completely different, but similar attributes make it attractive to manufacturers. Richard Hobbs, president and CEO of the manufacturers Resource Center, attributes the sector’s continued success in the Valley to a  “confluence of things’’, including infrastructure, road systems, airports, academic institutions and demographics.

 “We’ve got older companies that have been around for a While and set the foundation for the base, “Hobbs says Lehigh Valley factories make well-known products such as Crayons, peeps, candies and Martin guitars. Mack manufactures all its trucks for the North American market in a plant outside of Allentown..

                The local manufacturing industry isn’t restricted to any one sector. There’s food manufacturing makes up about 18 percent of the Valley’s GDP, more than Bethlehem Steel did. Manufacturing is the region’s third-largest sector in terms of jobs, with 700 manufacturers employing nearly 34,000 workers. To attract new workers, the center has started a program called What’s So Cool About Manufacturing at nearby schools, teaching students about career opportunities in the industry.

One of the oldest and best-known companies in Lehigh Valley is Crayola. The company moved to the area from upstate New York back in 1902. Today Crayola has three manufacturing facilities in the  Valley, producing 13 million crayons,3 million markers, 500,00 jars of paint and 170,00 pounds of modeling clay every day-two third of what the company sells world-wide is made in Lehigh Valley. At a time when many manufacturers are expanding into multiple distribution centers, Crayola consolidated all of its

 

                        LEHIGH VALLEY BY THENUMBERS                  

 

  • 69TH LARGEST METROPOLITAN REGION IN THE UNITED STATES
  • 26,000 NEW JOBS CREATED IN THE PAST FIVE YEARS
  • 10,328 DEGREES AWARDED BY LEHIGH VALLEY COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES FOR THE 2016-17 ACADEMIC YEAR.
  • $65,929 MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME.
  • 58,736 HEALTH CARE EMPLOYEES-THE TOP INDUSTRY IN LEHIGH VALLEY
  • 1741 YEAR THAT THE GEMEINHAUS, HOMEOF THE MORAVIAN MUSEUM OF BETHLEHEM, WAS BUILT. IT’S NOW A NATIONAL HISTORIC LANDMARK

 

Link to Original Article: https://view.imirus.com/209/document/13263/page/97