The buzz around Lehigh Valley has the tri-city eastern Pennsylvania area that includes Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton predicted to experience an economic renaissance attracting younger people and more businesses to the area over the next 10 years. Lehigh Valley is already one of the fastest growing and largest economies in Pennsylvania, with a total GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of $43.8 billion. the area seems to be on track for continued growth. With its diverse economic makeup and transportation improvement projects, innovative companies are mixing it up in historical buildings, moving into downtown areas, and demanding more living spaces in areas that are more affordable than New York, New Jersey, or Philadelphia.
Deja vu: Reinventing Lehigh Valley’s economy
Lehigh Valley has long been a bedroom community for commuters traveling 90 minutes east to New York City and an hour south to Philadelphia. Before the late 20th century and early 21st century, Lehigh Valley supported a massive workforce as a formidable industrial and manufacturing powerhouse for steel production, Portland Cement, and apparel. The region experienced a significant decline, due to offshoring some of these industries, but steered Lehigh Valley‘s economic focus more toward more sustainable economic sectors such as financial services, health care, life sciences, and technology. In the meantime, much of the local workforce sought gainful employment in New York City, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, with grueling commutes. Now, due to the pandemic, many businesses and individuals are looking at smaller, less densely populated midsize metropolitan areas to relocate to, in the same way that Austin, Texas and Nashville, Tennessee have become popular mid-size metro areas to live in.
Development and revitalization
The Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, (LVEDC) founded 25 years ago has worked diligently to revitalize Lehigh Valley’s economy with robust investments in business incentive programs and other business support programs, such as Pennsylvania’s Ben Franklin Technology Partners business incubator and investment fund. The Lehigh Valley area has been able to lure large established businesses such as FedEx, Olympus, ADP, and Amazon, as well as small startups to its favorable business environment from high-cost locations in New York and New Jersey. Relocating to Lehigh Valley, in turn, created thousands of new jobs and considerable new investments in the area. The region’s revitalization efforts also attracted some of the largest marketers in the US to set up major distribution centers in the area due to the relatively low cost of doing business here, as compared to the nearby largest metropolitan areas in the northeast. Lehigh Valley’s lower cost of living with affordable housing and lower taxes, along with better access to higher education and a larger, well-educated affordable labor pool are attracting younger workers to the area.
Positioned for expansion
In 2014, 2017, 2018, and again in 2019, real estate publication, Site Selection Magazine recognized Lehigh Valley as “the 2nd best-performing region of its size, for economic development in the US and the best performing region in the entire northeast.” Also ranked by Fortune among the top 10 best places for call centers and IT support for corporate finance and IT businesses, Lehigh Valley started 2020 with a New York Times article touting its success. The Lehigh Valley area checks all of the boxes as a place to live and grow your business, according to the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, (LVEDC) with an energetic mix of assets, “including its central location, superior workforce, well-developed transportation, infrastructure, quality of living and more.” A Brookings Institute study identified Lehigh Valley as a top 10 market for startup jobs, garnering LVEDC’s redevelopment program as a “Pennsylvania best practice.” This is good news for the LVEDC who has spent decades trying to build an entrepreneurial hub in Lehigh Valley.
The entrepreneurial spirit in action
LVDEC’s fostering of entrepreneurial ventures is evident in Lehigh Valley as demands for flexible workspaces have increased, along with people wanting to move into revitalized downtown spaces with dining, entertainment venues, and retail companies following suit. Allentown, for example, the area’s largest city, gained recognition as a “national success story,” by the Urban Land Institute, for “its downtown development and transformation that has resulted in US $1,000,000,000 (#1 billion) worth of new development projects there between 2015 and 2019, one of only six communities nationwide to achieve this distinction.” Lehigh Valley supports several coworking spaces in all three tri-city locations including Venture X Bethlehem.
Predictions for 2021
While the Lehigh Valley area was no exception to the unique challenges that the entire world faced in 2020, as businesses began to reopen, mature business support systems helped area businesses over the hump to continue job growth projects and the economic diversification that the area has seen in recent years. Don Cunningham, LVEDC’s President and CEO said, “Since March, it’s been challenging for many businesses, but the Lehigh Valley economy as a whole remains strong.” Cunningham went on to say, “We had a record-breaking year in 2019 and that success will continue. The diversity of our economy, our talent supply pipeline, and the presence of essential industry sectors puts us in a position to recover much more quickly than many other areas.”
Venture X in the heart of Lehigh Valley
Venture X Bethlehem, located in the Gateway office building, opened in October 2020 and is a proud member of the Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce. It opened after a lot of anticipation from everyone in the area, including Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez, who stated, “It is with great excitement that the Bethlehem site is the first in the Lehigh Valley.” Plans are underway to open two other locations, one in Allentown and one in Easton. Along with Lehigh Valley’s “unique and authentic nature,” diverse economy, and a wide variety of recreational activities, more people will want to visit this historic area, check out the new Winds Casino, tour the Crayola factory, and indulge in the many natural wonders Lehigh Valley has to offer. Connecting the dots – work is underway on a trolley loop that will connect Lehigh Valley’s tourist destinations to downtowns from Allentown to Easton. The trolley, aside from promoting a fun way to connect the three cities, will also help reduce traffic congestion on Pennsylvania Route 22. Other road construction projects are in the planning stage helping to make Lehigh Valley more traffic friendly. People will find the area so attractive they will want to grow their businesses and families in this rapidly developing area that has arrived as a mid-size metropolitan area with a whole lot to offer!