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Driven by leading companies, Valley exports double

In the pursuit of wisdom, it is critical to know and understand thyself.

Sometimes an insight from others can help the undertaking.

A recent report by the Brookings Institute tells us something about the economy of the Lehigh Valley that most of us wouldn’t know. The Lehigh Valley’s economy is growing rapidly in the output of goods and products to the rest of America and the world.

Products produced here and consumed elsewhere were 13 percent of our $32 billion Lehigh Valley economy in 2012, according to the Brookings Institute data. That means that a staggering $4.3 billion of product was exported.

The total value of Lehigh Valley exports is large enough to rank the region as 72nd out of 381 regions in the United States. That’s in the top fifth in the nation.

During the period from 2009 to 2012, the last year that data was available for the report, the region’s export output more than doubled. It’s important to note that Brookings defines export as any product that leaves the Lehigh Valley by plane, train and truck. It matters not whether that product goes somewhere else in America or to another nation.

Three areas lead the way in Lehigh Valley exports: medical equipment, electrical equipment and nonferrous metal products.

The success of our companies drives the region’s ranking. Companies such as B. Braun, Lutron, Air Products and Victaulic here in the Lehigh Valley give diversity and strength to the regional economy by producing products consumed across the world.

This is good news for the Lehigh Valley.

We make things here that are needed elsewhere. In fact, we still have a larger manufacturing base than many other metropolitan regions.

A recent study of the Lehigh Valley’s economy by Garner Economics of Atlanta, Ga., showed the Lehigh Valley to have twice as much manufacturing as the Allegheny County region of Pennsylvania, anchored by Pittsburgh.

That same Garner report showed the Lehigh Valley as outranking most areas in the nation in electrical component manufacturing. We have Lutron, the inventors of the dimmer switch, in Coopersburg, to thank for that.

The top producing industry for exports in the region is the basic chemicals category with an output of $464.4 million, constituting 12 percent of our exports and 1 percent of our overall economy. Air Products is one of two Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the Lehigh Valley. The other is PPL electric utility.

While the companies are the key to the Lehigh Valley’s exporting success, our location and access to high quality transportation are critical.

The recent Garner report ranks the Lehigh Valley’s location in the Northeast corridor of the United States and rich availability of transportation as tops in a long list of the region’s assets. The availability of rail service, air, highway and access to water through proximity to the ports of Newark, N.J., and Philadelphia are key components in the continued development of a manufacturing and producer economy.

It’s important to note that the growth in exports and regional gross domestic product came during the recession years following 2008. The annualized export growth was 4.7 percent, more than double the 1.9 percent rate established from 2003 to 2008. This makes the prospects for the future even more exciting.

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