The Lehigh Valley is poised for rapid and robust health care sector growth – part of a projected 37 percent jobs boom fueled by the creation of 131,000 new positions across a smorgasbord of sectors.
That’s the conclusion of the long-range employment report developed by the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission. The results give regional economic development groups – and the Lehigh Valley workforce – reason to smile.
The report predicts the strongest growth will occur in health care jobs. The lone negative: there will be a dip in jobs connected to the manufacturing sector.
This boom won’t happen overnight. The report is looking ahead to the year 2040.
The commission released its Lehigh Valley Employment Forecast…2040 on Nov. 13; it’s a report that reflects employment and occupational forecasts of employment in 23 industries, 70 subsectors and over 90 occupations in the Valley economy.
“Right now, we know there’s robust growth,” said Michael Kaiser, executive director of the commission. “This model gives a projection but we don’t have the capability to predict recessions, weather events.”
Numerous factors that affect job and business growth were taken into account when compiling the comprehensive report, including the average workplace trip, the demand for open-space preservation, and the influx of out-of-staters moving into the Lehigh Valley, said Kaiser.
“New Jersey has been a major source of our growth,” said Kaiser.
One of the challenges the commission faced involved compiling the data into a report that would give readers an understanding of what these economic trends affecting job growth are and to put them in a format the reader could understand fairly easily and quickly.
David Berryman, the commission’s chief planner and the author of the report, said it took him about a year to compile the findings.
Berryman concluded that the Lehigh Valley will see an increase in jobs for ambulatory health care services and a decline in the number of manufacturing jobs.
“You’ll see more private health care facilities,” said Berryman. “It’s not just centered in hospitals anymore.”
While hospitals will continue to show strong growth, particularly with an aging population and workforce, technologies in the medical field will continue to evolve, creating new opportunities in health care.
Kaiser noted that a lot of smaller health care facilities are setting up shop in strip malls and former Blockbuster locations. He believes the trend will continue.
However, jobs in manufacturing are going to be lost in a variety of sectors, possibly due to foreign competition and the ongoing lack of skilled labor, said Berryman. An increased focus on facilities that educate and train these workers could possibly reverse that trend, he added.
The looming factor of retiring Baby Boomers will come into play by about 2020, according to the report. When those workers retire, there will be a smaller pool of workers to pull from, particularly in the manufacturing sector.
“That’s when you start seeing a drop in the labor force growth and labor force participation rate,” said Berryman.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said the manufacturing, utilities, wholesale trade, transportation/warehousing, insurance, real estate, educational services, health care and public administration sectors employed a significant number of Baby Boomer employees in 2010.
The Lehigh Valley, however, remains rich with the resources that make it an attractive place for companies to locate. Those perks include warehouse space and access to rail and nearby highways that link the Valley to a number of major metropolitan areas.
The report also suggests a push toward economic growth in the urban areas of the Valley – and that, in turn, will have an impact on housing development in the more rural and suburban regions.
“A lot of people moving in are used to living in urban environments,” said Kaiser.
Other key findings:
• Overall employment in the Lehigh Valley should grow 37.7 percent, adding 131,410 jobs to the local economy.
• The health care and social assistance sector should gain the most jobs (38,817), followed by professional and business services (14,834), construction (13,866), state and local government (12,853) and administrative services (10,336).
• The rate of employment growth from 2010-’40 (37.7 percent) in the Lehigh Valley is expected to outpace the rate of employment growth nationally (34.7 percent).
• Major demographics changes will lead to rapid growth in the health care industry and health-related occupations. Health diagnosing and treating occupations will gain the most jobs (9,189).