With a highly diverse $37 billion economy, larger than that of 97 nations, the two-county Lehigh Valley region offers an abundance of skilled workforce talent and a central location with easy access to major markets.
The region offers numerous advantages, including a highly educated workforce, shovel-ready sites and spec buildings, and affordability, financing and favorable tax incentives for relocating and expanding businesses. For the third straight year, the region, which includes Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton, ranked first among Pennsylvania’s metropolitan areas for job growth, proof of its inviting climate for business expansion and new investment.
The region sits within the core transportation corridor for the East Coast, 60 miles from both Philadelphia and major port facilities in New York and New Jersey. It also offers access to Tier I rail carriers Norfolk Southern and Canada Pacific Railway as well as a number of inter-modal facilities.
The Right Address
The region’s location and proximity to a host of business assets are among its key advantages, says Matthew Tuerk, vice president of economic development and marketing for the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp.
“It goes beyond having a great regional airport here in the Lehigh Valley. You’ve got access to both Philadelphia International and Newark International Airports. You really connect to the world in a short amount of time. The region’s connection to the entire globe is an important asset for companies that are considering locating here, specifically international companies that are looking for investment opportunities,” Tuerk says. “We have all of the benefits of our neighboring major markets, like New York or Philadelphia, without the significant cost of being in that environment.”
Underscoring that point is insurance giant Guardian Life Insurance Co., which opened a 280,000-square-foot regional service center in Northampton County that will eventually employ some 1,500 people. That decision signals to the Northeast that there are significant opportunities for professional office space here in the Lehigh Valley, Tuerk says. And FedEx announced plans to establish its largest ground hub in North America in the Lehigh Valley.
“It’s a game-changer for a place that already was strong with warehousing and distribution,” Tuerk says. “This makes us a real significant powerhouse.”
The region is a corporate address of choice for major companies such as Air Products, C.F. Martin, Crayola, Just Born, Olympus America, PPL and Boston Beer.
“Lehigh Valley offers easy access to major markets in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic,” says Ryan Hill, director of corporate communications for Allentown-based PPL Corp., one of the nation’s largest investor-owned utilities and one of the region’s largest employers. ”It boasts access to a skilled workforce; high-quality school systems; colleges and universities; major health care systems, reliable infrastructure; a mix of urban, suburban and rural environments and living options; and great people.”
Hill notes that incentive programs such as Allentown’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone are encouraging new development and enticing businesses to give the Lehigh Valley a closer look.
“All in all, the Lehigh Valley is a great place to live and work,” he says.
Tuerk says location also plays a major role in the region’s workforce development efforts and availability of labor resources. Within a 30-minute drive is a labor pool of 500,000 workers with a range of skills. The region also is home to six independent colleges and universities, a Penn State University campus, two highly regarded community colleges, and trade and technical schools that are providing a pipeline of talent to employers. Some 50,000 students enrolled in higher education in Lehigh and Northampton counties.
“Each May, we have about 7,500 fresh recruits available to companies coming out of in-demand programs,” Tuerk says.”
Lehigh Valley’s geography and its proximity to rivers, mountains and a host of outdoor recreation opportunities also plays a role in economic development efforts.
“Our high quality of life not only attracts businesses, but also relocating talent,” Tuerk says. “They’re attracted to jobs, but they’re also attracted to great recreation opportunities, great restaurants and amazing downtowns, and from an international point of view, we’re increasingly cosmopolitan. You’re seeing the entire world showing up in the Lehigh Valley in a way that it hadn’t in the past, but the region still retains its fundamental eastern Pennsylvania Lehigh Valley character.”