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Lehigh Valley's economy surpasses $40 billion for first time

A worker visually and physically inspects the packaging during a tour of Freshpet's campus in Hanover Township, Northampton County. The Lehigh Valley’s economic output surpassed $40 billion for the first time in 2017, with a major driver of the record attributed to manufacturing. (APRIL GAMIZ / THE MORNING CALL FILE PHOTO)

The Lehigh Valley’s economic output surpassed $40 billion for the first time in 2017, with a major driver of the record output attributed to manufacturing.

The $40.1 regional billion regional gross domestic product, or the official measure of the total output of all goods and services in the four-county metropolitan area, is up about 5 percent over the previous year, the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. said Tuesday.

“The Lehigh Valley is unique among major metropolitan areas in the United States in that manufacturing is driving such a large percentage of its growth,” said Don Cunningham, LVEDC president and CEO, in a news release.

Cunningham said the growth of manufacturing, up more than 10 percent from 2016, helps dispel the perception that the Valley is becoming a mecca of big box warehousing and fulfillment centers as a prime growth-driver. The Valley’s transportation and warehousing sector, however, is the second fastest growing sector, representing $2.1 billion in GDP, up nearly 9 percent from the previous year.

Manufacturing makes up $7.4 billion – or 18.4 percent – of the Lehigh Valley’s overall $40.1 billion GDP. It ranks second to the finance, insurance and real estate segment, with $7.6 billion in output, or more than 4 percent higher than 2016. And annual average wages across all manufacturing occupations is nearly $39,000, according to a recently released talent supply by LVEDC.

“Manufacturing is clearly alive and well in the Lehigh Valley, and our regional GDP is the largest it’s ever been, far surpassing even the days of Bethlehem Steel,” he said.

Every sector in the GDP data saw year-over-year growth except Information, which fell slightly. Here is a breakdown of the major sectors, with the overall dollar amount and year-over-year change:

  • Finance, Insurance and Real Estate ($7.6 billion, up 4.26 percent)

  • Manufacturing ($7.4 billion, up 10.4 percent)

  • Education, Health Care and Social Assistance ($5.5 billion, up 4.63 percent)

  • Professional Services ($5.2 billion, up 2.52 percent)

  • Retail ($2.4 billion, up 1.4 percent)

  • Transportation and Warehousing ($2.1 billion, 8.8 percent)

  • Information ($1.9 billion, down 3.73 percent)

  • Arts, Entertainment, Accommodation ($1.7 billion, up 1.7 percent)

The region ranks 64 among 382 metropolitan regions in the U.S., LVEDC said, up one spot from the previous year. The previous year’s GDP came in at $38.2 billion, according to the data from the U.S. Commerce Department. The local region includes Lehigh, Northampton and Carbon counties, and Warren County, N.J.

The $40.1 billion accounts for private sector industry and does not include government spending. If that were included, the figure would rise to $43.8 billion, LVEDC said, also up about 5 percent from the previous year’s government GDP.

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