As Network magazine celebrates its fourth anniversary, I couldn’t help but reflect on how much the Lehigh Valley economy has grown and changed, even in just four short years.
Those of us who live and work here in the Lehigh Valley are already well aware that the region has experienced a major growth spurt in recent years. In fact, this year we were ranked one of the top five fastest-growing regions of our population size in the entire United States, and the single fastest-growing region of our size in the Northeast for the third straight year.
That’s according to Site Selection magazine, which ranks states and metropolitan regions based solely on the number of development projects, amount of economic investment, and job creation during the previous year.
There were 25 major projects that met Site Selection’s criteria last year. Only the much larger Northeast metros of New York City, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Boston had a larger number, and Boston only narrowly edged us out with just six more projects.
Lehigh and Northampton are two of only 20 growing counties of 67 in Pennsylvania. In the last five years, the population of 18- to 34-year-olds has grown by more than 5%. That age group now comprises 42% of the workforce in our two counties.
We are outpacing Pennsylvania in that demographic. Bethlehem’s millennial generation population is 31.1%, Easton’s is 30.5%, and Allentown’s is 28.2%. That means all of our cities have much greater 18- to 34-year-old populations than Pennsylvania’s population of 22.4%.
If you want another indication of how much the Lehigh Valley has grown in recent years, just take a look at how different today’s regional economy looks compared to only four years ago, when Network magazine released its first issue.
The Lehigh Valley’s gross domestic output (GDP), a measurement of a region’s economic output, is currently at $40.1 billion, a record high number in our region’s history. That’s higher than the entire states of Vermont ($27.4 billion) and Wyoming ($34 billion).
It’s also a roughly 25% jump from four years ago when the regional economy was at $32.1 billion. It has grown each year since then.
Much of our economic growth has been driven by our thriving manufacturing sector, which currently makes up $7.4 billion – or 18.4% – of the Lehigh Valley’s overall $40.1 billion GDP. Four years ago, the manufacturing sector had a regional GDP of $5.6 billion, which made up 17.4% of the overall regional economy at the time.
The Lehigh Valley’s population today is 672,907, compared to 650,507 four years ago, and the population between ages 18 and 34 have risen from 139,501 to 144,522 in that time. We have 326,832 jobs in the regional economy today, compared to 304,699 four years ago, and the number of manufacturing jobs in the Lehigh Valley has risen from 30,599 to 33,725 in that time.
Our unemployment rate today is about 3.9%, compared to 5.5% four years ago. The median household income of the Lehigh Valley has increased from $57,288 to $62,507 over four years, and our industrial market has grown from a total inventory of 103 million square feet to 121.7 million square feet in that same time period.
By nearly every measure, the economic renaissance of the Lehigh Valley and its cities continues at a remarkable pace. What’s happening here is unique. Most importantly, ours is not a story of one sector, one industry one city or one county. It’s a story of balance and diversity.
I look forward to seeing what the next four years bring, and beyond.