In May, a group of 150 students from career and technical schools across the greater Lehigh Valley gathered for District 11 Signing Day, an annual event hosted by the SkillsUSA Council.
Wearing red suits and ties, they were each called to a table before a full crowd at DeSales University. They signed papers to signify the next steps in their careers or life paths. The event, stylized after similar signing days for student-athletes, celebrated these students as they prepare to enter the workforce, military, or post-secondary institutes related to their trades.
It was an appropriate moment because, in many ways, the Lehigh Valley as a region and its workforce is getting younger. The Lehigh Valley is more vibrant, more diverse, and growing in population and economic output. It’s home to new business, new arts, and culture, growing downtowns, and increasing family income.
Since 2010, Lehigh Valley’s population rose by more than six percent to about 690,000 people making it one of Pennsylvania’s fastest-growing regions and in the top 25 percent of growing regions in the U.S.
More importantly, the population between the ages of 18 to 34 grew by 10.7 percent during that time – making the Lehigh Valley the fastest-growing region in the state for young people, who now are the largest generation in our workforce.
This is evident in the development of new, modern apartment buildings, particularly in the downtowns of Easton, Allentown, and the south side of Bethlehem, which are being leased as quickly as they are being built.
The region is also becoming more diverse.
Every minority group grew by double-digit percentages in the last decade, accompanied by a decrease of about 10 percent in the white population. The Hispanic population fueled the overall growth, increasing by nearly 46 percent.
The growth is primarily because of people moving here. The region added about 25,000 people from international migration in the last decade, with Lehigh County being ranked by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s SelectUSA program as the top one percent of all U.S. counties for international migration.
The Lehigh Valley was among the top five regions in the Northeast for net population growth due to in-migration from other metro regions between 2015 and 2019. This heightened during the pandemic. A CBRE analysis of U.S. Postal Service data showed that migration from the New York metro to the Lehigh Valley increased by about 14 percent in 2020.
It is the population growth, particularly of young workers, that is driving the region’s economic growth, which continued during the pandemic.
Once again, the Lehigh Valley was in the top ten in the U.S. for regions of up to 1 million in economic development projects with more than 50 major projects. Notably, manufacturing output grew to $7.9 billion in GDP — 18.5 percent of our private sector output — launching the Lehigh Valley into one of the top 50 manufacturing markets in the country.
The region’s manufacturing output exceeds its population ranking. We punch well above our weight class, thanks in no small part to a strong workforce illustrated by the types of schools celebrated at District 11 Signing Day, including Bethlehem Area Vocational-Technical School, Career Institute of Technology, and Lehigh Career and Technical Institute.
The importance of the Lehigh Valley’s premier role as a manufacturer, producer, and distributor of goods became clearer as many of the region’s 700 manufacturers produced food, drinks, medical equipment, supplies, and other essential items that sustained the nation.
Economic growth has translated to higher wages and growing income for Lehigh Valley residents. The median household income was nearly $67,000 in the Lehigh Valley, compared to about $62,000 in Pennsylvania and $63,000 in the U.S.
There’s nothing more important to employers right now than the availability of talent and the alignment of workers with the right skills for the jobs that are being created. The Lehigh Valley has been ahead of the curve on this, and the students who proudly donned their red suits and participated in District 11 Signing Day are a shining example of this. We at the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation will continue to invest our efforts in supporting that future workforce.