It’s hard to think of an “economic renaissance” while mired in the middle of a global pandemic, but numbers just released by the U.S. Department of Commerce show a strong Lehigh Valley Economy.
Don Cunningham, president and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp., said the region had a record-breaking GDP of $43.3 billion in 2019. That’s 5.7% over 2018 and the Lehigh Valley outpaced Pennsylvania’s growth of 4%.
The Lehigh Valley’s GDP was also larger than that of three states, Alaska, Vermont and Wyoming.
Of course, since it takes the Department of Commerce almost a year to report GDP numbers, Cunningham said much has changed, especially since March when the COVID-19 pandemic led to the months-long shutdown of many businesses.
“We would expect that number to be less in 2020,” Cunningham said.
Still he said the region is faring far better than many.
“A lot of the sectors that are driving that GDP in the Lehigh Valley have not slowed down as much,” he said.
Industries like manufacturing, health care and real estate have been holding their own, while ecommerce has grown drastically creating local construction and job opportunities in the logistics field.
According to the Department of Commerce, the largest output from the Lehigh Valley was from the Manufacturing sector.
The Lehigh Valley manufacturing sector’s output of more than $7 billion in 2019 ranked 52nd among U.S. markets, more than 10 places higher than the region’s overall ranking.
He noted that Lehigh Valley’s economy ranks 65th among the 384 metropolitan areas in the United States, still an impressive ranking for a region of its size.
Other large contributors include finance, insurance and real estate sector at $7.8 billion, a 3.2% increase, health care and education at $6.4 billion and professional and business services at $5.4 billion.
The health care and education sector – which includes several of the Lehigh Valley’s largest employers – grew by 5.4%. The professional and business services sector grew by 7.7%.
The hospitality industry, including restaurants and hotels, have been struggling, however, and Cunningham said that is the real bad news in the local economy.
“The GDP is just one factor of the economy. Numbers are never the whole story. People need to be working,” he said.
He noted that many people in the hospitality industry that may have lost their jobs are able to find work in other industries, such as logistics, but that doesn’t mitigate the pain of losing a job and having to start over in a new industry.
“Hopefully we’ll see a return of the sectors that have been hardest hit,” he said.
He does have hope for the future of the Lehigh Valley economy.
“What’s happened in 2020 will slow us down a little bit in the economic growth we’ve seen, but it won’t stop it,” he said.
Regional GDP for 2020 won’t be released until next December, but national quarterly GDP data does provide some indications of how Lehigh Valley’s economy could be been impacted, he said. The national GDP in 2020 fell by 5% in the first quarter and 31% in the second quarter but climbed to 33% in the third quarter.