Lehigh Manufacturing Has a Bright Future
Find out how investments by manufacturers are strengthening the economy and creating jobs in the Lehigh Valley.
Manufacturing has such a powerful history in the Lehigh Valley that several of its industry leaders have their inventions enshrined in the Smithsonian Institution. That legacy continues today with a diverse group of manufacturers that make everything from advanced machinery and electronics to medical devices and food and beverage products.
Manufacturing has been key to the Lehigh Valley’s economy since the days when Bethlehem Steel was America’s largest steel producer and ship builder. That importance has not diminished, says Jack Pfunder, president and CEO of the Manufacturers Resource Center, a nonprofit dedicated to helping the region’s manufacturers succeed in today’s rapidly changing market.
“Every manufacturing job creates more than two other jobs,” Pfunder said. “The multiplication factor is higher than in any other sector.”
Manufacturing contributes $4.7 billion of the region’s $34.3 billion GDP and fosters a wealth of expertise, engineering know-how and workforce skills that distinguish the region and attract a strong mix of industries. Examples include Victaulic, which makes pipe connection products used in natural gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale; Just Born Quality Confections, which produces Peeps and other popular candies; and infusion technologies leader B. Braun.
Lutron is one of several iconic Lehigh Valley manufacturers whose products have made history. Its early inventions, including the first solid-state light switch dimmer invented by founder Joel Spira, are displayed at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
Lutron, which operates its global headquarters in Coopersburg, sells its products in more than 100 countries and continues to create new technologies for what President Mike Pessina calls the “smart home,” including wireless control of thermostats, lights and shades from smartphones or tablets anywhere in the world.
“We’ve expanded our business from dimmer and lighting control to shade control and now to smart homes and connected solutions,” said Melissa Andresko, Lutron’s director of public relations.
The region’s rich manufacturing heritage and expertise attracts investors from companies across the globe. China’s largest maker of plastic tableware and kitchenware, Taizhou Fuling Plastics Co., Ltd., recently opened its first U.S. facility in Upper Macungie Township, investing $21.3 million and creating 75 new jobs. Fuling Plastics USA’s customers include fast-food giants like Wendy’s, Burger King and Subway as well as retailers such as Walmart and Target.
“The Lehigh Valley was perfect because of its great location and the help from state and local governments,” says Guilan Jaing, the company’s president.
Fuling is the first Chinese manufacturing company to establish a facility in the state of Pennsylvania.
International manufacturers such as Fuling Plastics are increasingly moving their production to the U.S. to be closer to their markets. As that trend continues, many more companies will make the Lehigh Valley their destination of choice, Pfunder said.
“Manufacturers are not offshoring as much,” he said. “Location is important for some companies, and the Lehigh Valley has a lot of advantages for them, including a good quality of life, universities, community colleges and technical schools.”
The region underwent wrenching changes with the loss of what Pfunder describes as “Bethlehem Steel kinds of jobs,” but it rebounded and has worked hard to position itself to attract high-tech manufacturers like Curtiss-Wright Corporation, which has opened a $25 million facility in Bethlehem that makes mission-critical pumps for U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and submarines.
Other manufacturers thriving in the region include Lehigh Heavy Forge Corporation, which operates North America’s sole heavy forging plant at the former Bethlehem Steel site and supplies precision parts to commercial nuclear, defense and offshore oil and gas industries; and Mack Trucks, which produced more than 24,000 trucks in 2014 at its Macungie plant.
It’s all a sign that manufacturing is still a vital part of the region’s economy.
“There’s no question manufacturing is a key industry in the Lehigh Valley – for the last 100 years and today,” Pfunder said.