Education, Health Care Bolster Lehigh Valley Economy

Growth in Lehigh Valley's eds and meds sector is fueling jobs and innovation across the region.

Pamela Coyle
On Wednesday, December 18, 2013 - 14:46

Like much of the nation, the Lehigh Valley is rebounding from the recession – and some sectors are making up ground more quickly than others. Leading that recovery are the region's education and health care industries, also known as "eds and meds." With thousands of jobs added over the past few years at area colleges and universities, hospitals, and medical device and pharmaceutical firms, eds and meds are transforming the business landscape of Lehigh Valley.

Education and health care jobs in the local private sector peaked at 65,400 in July 2012 – 80 percent higher than the 36,400 jobs representing these industries just 20 years before. What’s more, jobs in private education and health care in Lehigh Valley grew during the nation’s downturn, rising from 52,300 to 65,400 between 2000-2012, with health care jobs among the highest in demand.

Healthy Returns

Lehigh Valley's top two employers are nationally recognized health care providers: Lehigh Valley Health Network (LHVH) and St. Luke’s University Health Network. Both consistently ranked among America's Best Hospitals by U.S. News & World Report for their excellence in patient care and safety.

LVHN operates the largest network, employing more than 12,000. Its focus on quality care and reduction of medical errors makes it one of the nation's top hospital systems, says LVHN President and CEO Ronald Swinfard.

“Being able to change with the times is another reason we continue to be successful,” Swinfard says. “We have good alignment from the top of our organization to the front lines.”

Not only does LVHN impact the local economy, but it also plays an influential role in the community through its employees, Swinfard notes.

“Most volunteer within the community to make it a better place,” he says. “We are also compulsive collaborators. We sponsor the Lehigh Valley IronPigs Triple-A baseball league, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms AHL hockey team, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and the Lehigh Valley Health Network Via Marathon. And we partner with local businesses to bring our services to more people in the area. We see it as an opportunity to help rejuvenate the region.”

With 9,300 employees, St. Luke’s, whose network includes six hospitals and more than 150 health centers and clinics across the region, is the Lehigh Valley's second-largest employer and its only health care provider named among the nation’s top 100 hospitals by Truven Health Analytics – not once but twice. Two other hospitals are also major employers in the area: Sacred Heart Hospital in Allentown and Easton Hospital in Easton.

Specialized health care providers also abound, including Coordinated Health, which offers sports medicine, orthopedic and pain management programs at 16 locations throughout the region. Its accolades include recognition as one of the safest hospitals in Pennsylvania by Consumer Reports and as a top performer by the Joint Commission for its excellence in meeting accountability measures.

“The award, together with our documented leadership in patient satisfaction and cost, speaks of our commitment to our patients,” says President and CEO Dr. Emil DiIorio.

Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network is a nationally recognized leader in rehabilitation for people with physical and cognitive disabilities. Treating more than 60,000 each year, it's one of the few North American health care organizations equipped with bionic suit technology to help patients with paralysis regain function.

Along with hospitals, Lehigh Valley is also home to global leaders in the medical supply chain. Based in Bethlehem, B. Braun Medical Inc. develops, manufacturers and markets medical products for infusion therapy and pain management. The Bethlehem-based company, which is building a new headquarters in Center Valley, is known for its innovation. The firm recently received FDA approval for large-volume irrigation containers made without DEHP, a potentially toxic material.

Education Impact

Lehigh Valley's strong medical community is bolstered by its emphasis on education. More than 50,000 students are enrolled throughout the region's nine colleges and universities. Lehigh University, a private institution, is the largest, with more than 7,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Founded in Bethlehem in 1865, it ranks among the nation's top-tier research universities, according to U.S News & World Report.  Current research includes testing cancer drugs using a chip that mimics the body to determine how to best target the drugs and reduce their costs.

Originally founded in Easton in 1826 to advance the region’s agricultural and industrial industries, Lafayette College went on to become first college to establish a chair for the study of the English language and literature. Its mix of programs still draws students who attend the college for its reputation in everything from liberal arts to engineering.

The liberal arts-focused Muhlenberg College ranks as one of the nation’s best institutions for undergraduate education, according to The Princeton Review, and its top-ranked theater and dance departments attract students from all over the country. Founded in 1848 in Allentown, one of the college’s most popular fields of study is its neuroscience program, which combines biology, psychology, chemistry and engineering in an effort to better understand the brain and behavior.

Another influential employer in the education sector is Bethlehem-based Northampton Community College, which educates 36,000 students annually and has an economic impact of $16 billion a year – a total expected to grow as its enrollment continues to rise.