That’s the clear message Don Cunningham, Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. president and CEO, gave to a packed house Wednesday evening at its annual meeting at SteelStacks at ArtsQuest, Bethlehem.
The numbers prove it.
For the second year in a row, Lehigh Valley ranked fifth for regions in the Northeast for economic development.
The region trailed only New York-Newark-Jersey City (No. 1), Pittsburgh (2), Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington (3) and Boston-Cambridge-Newton (4).
The Valley was the only region with a population between 200,000 and 1 million people to rank in the top five.
Speaking to a record-breaking audience for its annual meeting, Cunningham mused over his years as mayor of Bethlehem when the blast furnaces were silenced and Bethlehem Steel’s bankruptcy loomed.
“It was 20 years ago this month – March 1998 – when the Bethlehem Steel plant here closed,” he said. “The blast furnaces out this window had gone silent three years earlier, and death came slowly to the whole plant.”
Cunningham said the changes to the property since then were “unimaginable at that time.”
The once mighty steel and heavy manufacturing era had yielded to a revitalized Lehigh Valley boom. Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton continue to rise.
“The Lehigh Valley is the 65th largest economy in the United states, jumping up eight spots from the year before,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham reported the Valley produced a whopping $39.1 billion in regional gross domestic product last year.
Employment is hot here.
Health care and social assistance represented about 17.4 percent of employment, followed by retail at 10.7 percent and manufacturing at 10.1 percent.
Other employment sectors include transportation and warehousing, accommodation and food service, education, administrative and support services, construction, professional scientific and technical services, and finance and insurance.
Cunningham said the Valley had become a worker magnet attracting commuters from Berks, Schuylkill, Montgomery, Monroe and Bucks counties.