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Monday, March 10, 2014

Cunningham Argues For Regional Approach to Economic Development

Don Cunningham's LVEDC to roll out economic development strategy
He's been a news reporter, City Council member, Mayor, County Executive and even a member of former Governor Ed Rendell's cabinet. These days, Don Cunningham is President and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LEDC). He dropped in on Northampton County Council's economic development committee on March 6 to update members on a recent report card delivered by Garner Economics, LLC, the same firm hired by major corporations to do site selection. It's a $135,000 report card, too, paid for through a HUD grant. Though the lengthy report can be read at LVEDC's website, Cunningham summed it up in one sentence. "Economic development is a game of competition," he explained, noting that the Lehigh Valley is at play against other areas in the state, 49 other states and the world.

Recruiting big business into the area will create headlines, but Cunningham cautioned that another very important aspect of economic development is keeping what you already have. He stated that 75-80% of job expansion comes from business that is already here.

"We undersell ourselves," Cunningham told Council. "We tend to be more critical of ourselves than the outside world is."

The Lehigh Valley is the 68th largest metropolitan region in the United States, generating $33 billion every year in GDP. It includes 15,000 companies. "That is a significant region," observed Cunningham. "We do not have to define ourselves merely by, 'Oh, we're close to Philadelphia, we're close to new York.' We are the Lehigh Valley."

According to Cunningham, the economic development strategy in any area has to play to its own strengths. Chief of these would be the area's infrastucture and access to markets. "We got good bones," Cunningham said of our road and rail systems.

Another "huge factor", said Cunningham is a low crime rate. "You never want to have any level of crime, but when you compare it per capita against other regions, we have a very low crime rate, even in our cities."

One of our negatives is the relative high cost of labor, compared to non-union parts of the country. "That's obviously not a negative if you're the person earning the money and trying to live a middle class lifestyle," Cunningham observed. In addition, the cost of electricity, taxes and air pollution are considered areas of weakness.

Target industries that would be good fits for this area include high performance manufacturing (e.g. Victaulic), high value business services (e.g. D&B), life sciences research (e.g. B. Braun), and food and beverage processing (e.g. Samuel Adams).

To achieve these goals, Garner has made a number of recommendations, and Cunningham told Council that LVEDC would roll out its own action plan in May. But he added that the area's economic development growth is already winning, referring to a recent "Site Selection"  story listing the Lehigh Valley as the second fastest business market in areas of under 1 million people. Finishing second to Omaha, the Lehigh Valley had forty-six $1-million projects involving 50 or more employees. Omaha had forty-eight.

Garner had recommendations of its own, including a 1% sales tax and municipal consolidations of 63 municipal governments fragmenting the Lehigh Valley. Cunningham cautioned these are not recommendations of LVEDC. Council member Bob Werner complained, not only about the 1% sales tax, but said it would go back to LVEDC.

But Cunningham told Werner, "The study does not recommend anywhere that the money go to LVEDC. Wherever that came from is a fallacy. It doesn't say that." In addition, Cunningham said it is unlikely that a sales tax would happen and that decision would be made on a state level.

In response to Council President Peg Ferraro, Cunningham stated there is no large vacancy rate in office buildings, despite the building going on inside Allentown's Neighborhood Improvement Zone. But he stated the New Jersey migration into "bargain basement farmland" is over.

Werner continued his criticism of Cunningham and LVEDC. He complained that a similar report was done in 2010, to which Cunningham responded that these studies only have a shelf life of about three years. "That's how fast markets are changing, that's how fast you need to react," answered the CEO.

Werner then asked, "The bottom line is, what does this do for Northampton County?" He complained about the move of Bimbo Bakery from Northampton to Lehigh County.

"While you are living in the world of  'Are we getting as much as Lehigh County?', I will tell you that the outside world doesn't play that game," answered Cunningham. "You're competing with the world."

Cunningham went on to say there are 11 large, real prospects in Northampton County. "Let's celebrate that this region is on the United States map, and not get back to this parochial whining about where did this go, where did that go?" he argued. "The way we're going to win, is to win as a region. Northampton County, if it does its job, will get its fair share."

Cunningham also pointed out that while Northampton County lost 200 jobs to Lehigh with Bimbo Bakery, it picked up over 200 manufacturing jobs with the location of "Fresh Pets" to Hanover Township in Northampton County.

Cunningham told Werner he is trying to get votes while Cunningham is developing a regional strategy to get jobs.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Donny should watch his mouth or maybe Northampton County will pull their funding. The guy is really full of himself.

First he supports Brown, then helps Donaher get a job and now disrespects the "real" representatives of Northampton County.

What a smartass!

Anonymous said...

I recall the Don was a critic of the LVEDC when he was Mayor and County Exec. He did not care too much for the organization and was only concerned that the City and County got what he felt they deserved. Now he is now a staffer in the very same organization he somewhat shunned but yet acts like he was elected to be the Mayor of the Lehigh Valley. Northampton County is right to question him and the organization. Would suggest that that the Don take on more of a humble staff role when approaching County Council and other elected bodies in the "Valley". Wondering when some of this great Lehigh Valley Economic Development will happen in the Slate Belt?

Anonymous said...

This organization can be defunded via elimination of the hotel tax. Northampton County will always be second banana. What little value they provide can be done in house by NCDCED.

Anonymous said...

"Defund" - Discover Lehigh Valley - as well!

Anonymous said...

The taxpayer is already funding Lehigh Valley Development via the NIZ in allentown and the CRIZ in Bethlehem.

We do not need another 1% taken out of our pockets to give to the 1% in the name of growth

Anonymous said...

We should be grateful for the crumbs that fall from the table..right Don? What a horses arse this guy is. I'm sick of Lehigh county leading the parade and using our money to pay for it all. And the jobs he brings are right to work state stuff at best. Build another warehouse Don.

Anonymous said...

Northampton County had a great organization that brought thousands of jobs into Northampton County. Glenn Reibman and his henchman Mike Soloman dissolved the Northampton County Development Corporation and sold the taxpayers down the drain for the Lehigh Valley Development Corporation. All of that for campaign donations. Now we pay the price for these dastardly deeds. Cunningham is right. We are in a global economy and we are competing with the world for jobs. Business'es are whores who sell themselves to the highest bidder. Give me more than the next guy in line and you get my favors. Only the federal government can change that market. Someone has to look out for Northampton County. Thank you Werner for doing your job. Werner is on the right track. Even the great Bernie O'hare agrees that LVEDC needs careful watching.

Bernie O'Hare said...

6:11, humble staff role? What, is he appearing before Xerxes? Werner knew nothing about Fresh Pets and the 200 plus jobs it brought to this county. All he cares about is Easton. But as Cunningham correctly pointed out, Werner is both whining and parochial. If Werner wants to spur economic development in Easton, he should go to their City Council and demand a repeal of the commuter tax.

Anonymous said...

What's with this 'migration from New Jersey is over' thing?

People continue to flee that state, and New York, to escape outrageous TAXES. I think the migration is just beginning and have seen NO decline of this in my part of Northampton County. Much like California and Connecticut, people will continue leaving in search of lower costs of living.

Right now, the Lehigh Valley is a RECEIVER of this migration. Soon, with the help of politicians, we will become someone else's SENDER.

Fred Windish

Bernie O'Hare said...

Fred, Cunningham did not state that the great flight is over. He said it is still a little chaper here, but the days of bargain basement farmland are over.

Anonymous said...

I feel real great that Cunningham wants a 1% sales tax to squander as He sees fit

Bernie O'Hare said...

You apparently did not read the story.

Anonymous said...

@11:05 is simply a disgruntled ignoramus or a failed cook attempting to stir the pot...

Anonymous said...

"6:11, humble staff role? What, is he appearing before Xerxes? "

Nice. You win the internet today, Bernie.

Anonymous said...

Northampton County Council has a long history of whinning and about economic development is on top of the list. The fact of the matter is that potential companies look at a lot of different things - including the progressive thinking on the regional level. They are making a decision for 20 -30 years not a decision of where to eat dinner that night.

When was Werner ever at a LVEDC mtg? or any of the others, other than Peg. Stoffa came in with the same attitude about LVEDC but quickly learned their value and attended meetings regularly.

Werner jut has to look in his own neighborhood to see the value that LVEDC has made to the Silk project and many other projects in his own city. Their assistance with te RT 33 interchange will bring thousands of jobs to North Co.

North Co needs to look to LEhigh County for examples of regionalism. They supported the regional crime data center. they supported the bi-county health department. they supported the central prison booking. And now they have all of them and NorCo has none of them. They support their Council of Governments - even with regional grants.

Maybe Cunningham was vening some of the organzation's frustration when it comes to dealing with that council. Tey try to promote the valley as a region and county council thwarts those efforts with their whinning and petty politics.

Anonymous said...

Don makes many good points but he needs to be careful not to bite the hand that feeds him. He had a big ego as an elected official himself and still has a very high opinion of himself. he has to remember at some level he works for them now. He needs to be a little less confrontational or it will come back to hurt him

Bernie O'Hare said...

Werner is not the hand that feeds him. He was arrogant, uninformed and hopelessly parochial on Thursday, and went on to insult the Exec, the Director of Public Works and a fellow Council member, based on disinformation. Also, I know very few elected officials who do not have a massive ego. how else could they take all the anonymous personal attacks? Speaking of those, I have deleted a few and will continue to delete the cowards who seem to know everything but their name.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"I recall the Don was a critic of the LVEDC when he was Mayor and County Exec."

You recall incorrectly. Cunningham was actually the first city leader to co-join its economic development with LVEDC. He did that when he merged the BEDCO staff in Bethlehem into the LVEDC operations. As County Executive, he funded every year, worked with LVEDC and never saber-rattled or whined about pulling funding.

Bernie O'Hare said...

1:50, What got NC irked at LVEDC is not a disdain for regionalism or parochial jealousy. It was a lack of transparency that existed for many years. That has changed, and so are NC attitudes. Aside from Werner, Cunningham was treated well.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Comments complaining about my deletion policy will also be deleted.

Lighthouse said...

"North Co needs to look to LEhigh County for examples of regionalism." 1:50

correct me if I am wrong, but didn't Lehigh County also offer to also to work with NorCo for a Treatment Center in Salisbury Twp, in which NorCo rejected (though blaming the courts) and then ended up with the West Easton facility??

Bernie O'Hare said...

That is true. Both the Exec and Council had no problem with the arrangement, but the court had concerns. When it comes to the disposition of an offender, I believe there should be great deference given to the courts. I might criticize them when they try to be engineers, but this is a matter in which their views should be dispositive. So though it made no sense to me, I would not fight it.

Anonymous said...

I get the regionalize the expense thing, but will the benefit be regionalized or will we be funding the same geographical areas in the same political sub divisions?

What are LVEDC top 5 underutilized sites the intend to target?

Anonymous said...

Norco had their Central Booking Center up and running two full years before Lehigh.

Anonymous said...

Economic development has been defined as a competitive war among metropolitan regions in the United States. Cunningham continues to refer to our need to attract businesses over other similarly situated business parks throughout the country. That has been the traditional definition. The frustration of that definition is that economic development is suppose to raise the well being of the total community. It's hard to see successes when there is still widespread poverty in our three major cities and significant differences in income levels when compared to state wide and regional averages. Perhaps, economic development needs to be more about getting people out of poverty. Cunningham knows that coming from Bethlehem. It's not so much about what Lehigh County got over Northampton but a perception that Easton and Bethlehem still house much of the region's poor. That results in the thinking that not much is going towards Northampton. Actually Allentown still leads in maintaining high poverty levels. Despite new businesses, new job creation is not trickling down to the neighborhoods that need them. We need to readjust our thinking.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:11 is right on. Cunningham needs a GPS to find the Slate Belt. LVEDC has done absolutely nothing for the Slate Belt. The economic engine in the Slate Belt is the Green Knights. But watch the Slate Belt in 5 to 10 years they will have their own economic development corporation and work with Northampton County. Remember where Brown comes from.

Anonymous said...

Who gives a shit about the slate belt? You all come down here for recreation, for shopping, for business. Why would they invest in your dead landscape? It's like West Virginia up there.

Anonymous said...

For the past eight years Northampton County gutted economic development. It gave away over half of the casino revenue it was to receive. yet people are angry at council for trying to protect the county? All the Dem county councilmen are aware of these facts.