As companies look to the Lehigh Valley to move or expand headquarters and manufacturing operations, a key part of their decision-making is the question of workforce.
If the workforce exists, that’s where they will go, and it’s a top reason many major companies recently announced plans to build in the region.
A panel discussion on Land Reuse & Redevelopment and Residential Market Trends delved into this topic as part of the Lehigh Valley Business Real Estate & Development Symposium on Thursday at DeSales University.
A recent example is Air Products & Chemicals, a major valley employer that announced last year that it will build a new headquarters in the region. The site is now under construction in Upper Macungie Township.
“A key factor for Air Products was the talent they had here that they were very interested in retaining,” said George Lewis, vice president of marketing and communications at Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp.
Lewis, a panelist, said ADP’s decision to open a regional headquarters in a new office building in downtown Allentown last year was also talent driven. Workforce was also cited by Tyber Medical, a medical device manufacturer, that expanded a manufacturing facility in Hanover Township, Northampton County; and Stuffed Puffs, a company born out of business incubator Factory LLC in Bethlehem, that plans to open a manufacturing operation in Hanover Township, Northampton County.
Along with that workforce-driven growth, the Lehigh Valley will see the redevelopment of several major land-reuse projects this year, including Martin Tower in Bethlehem, and the Allentown State Hospital.
These projects will create the next spaces that will attract workers and companies and keep the economy moving, Lewis added.
Population also drives business growth and Beck Bradley, executive director of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, said the valley’s population will grow 24% by 2045, and jobs are expected to grow 17% by the same year.
As technology advances, 20% of the workforce will need to retrain by 2030, she added.
Bradley, a panelist, introduced the annual Build LV report, a plan that includes data on residential and non-residential development and housing trends in Lehigh and Northampton counties.
Development expansion accelerated last year but also became more diverse. Aside from warehousing growth, the report showed 2019 saw the second-highest amount of housing starts since 2007, and a big increase in office development.
All that development expansion only intensifies the need to manage the region’s growth as its available developable land, excluding farmland, shrinks to about 10% of its total 464,411 acres, according to the report.
The report suggests that the pace of development will continue and potentially accelerate in this year.
FutureLV: The Regional Plan, was developed by LVPC as an outline for a balanced approach to managing the region’s assets and address the challenges ahead. One of those challenges will be finding new uses for older retail sites, such as the retail corridor on MacArthur Road in Whitehall Township. The growth of online shopping could continue shuttering more brick-and-mortar retailers.
One concept is a rapid bus transit route, essentially a rail system with buses, to serve the Whitehall retail corridor along MacArthur Road, Bradley said. She presented a concept that would reimagine the MacArthur Road retail corridor as one with more pedestrian access, and a dedicated bike and bus lane. Another concept showed two to six-story buildings replacing the big box retailers and strip malls currently occupying the corridor.
“It could be anything residential and commercial and not lose the investment that’s already there,” Bradley said.
As the population density increases, the need for the buses will rise, she said, but convenience will be the key.
“We have to make this a lot more convenient,” Bradley said. “So there needs to be more buses.” The plans are available at lvpc.org