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Hip, youthful vibe spurring growth in region’s cities

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Thursday’s panel discussion on growth of the region’s urban centers at Tower 6 in downtown Allentown. (Photo / Melinda Rizzo)
Thursday’s panel discussion on growth of the region’s urban centers at Tower 6 in downtown Allentown. (Photo / Melinda Rizzo)

Convenience, a central place to live, work and play and a hip, youthful vibe are factors that woo and retain qualified talent to the Lehigh Valley’s urban centers.

A panel discussion hosted by Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp.’s Brokers and Developers Council on Thursday afternoon explored that growth.

The panelists said millennial workers were a growing workforce with which to be reckoned and that creating work enticing environments was essential to any growth plan.

“Employers recognizing their ability to attract young, educated workers includes the environment they are providing,” said J.B. Reilly, president and CEO of City Center Investment Corp., the primary developer behind downtown Allentown’s revitalization the past several years. “The way people work is different today.”

Other panelists were John Callahan, director of development for Peron Development, and Lynn Turner, senior vice president and chief human resource officer of Lehigh Valley Health Network, the Greater Lehigh Valley’s largest employer. Don Cunningham, LVEDC’s president and CEO, moderated the discussion, held at City Center’s Tower 6 on Sixth and Hamilton streets in Allentown.

Things such as fun restaurants and bars, collaborative open space work environments, and nearby housing and apartments all are important elements set to fuel the Valley’s continued vitality, according to the panel.

“We have two huge strengths: strong urban cores and seven colleges and universities graduating 12,000 students a year,” Reilly said. “That is of major interest to employers.”

He said demand for apartments was “insatiable” and conceded City Center’s original master development plan was top heavy with office space, so his firm now is playing catchup.

“We did not plan for enough residential early enough,” Reilly said.

Turner said the largest employment segment at LVHN, about 46 percent, consists of people with two-year or four-year college degrees. And a large percentage of that group consists of millennials.

Open work space, wellness rooms, focus booths and a collaborative environment with leadership in open spaces have increased staff retention rates as well as new job applicants for technical and professional positions, Turner said.

“Millennials are real, and you’d better pay attention to them,” Callahan said.

He added that empty nesters or baby boomers shouldn’t be discounted from returning to urban settings, either.

Callahan said the biggest challenge on Bethlehem’s South Side was “building fast enough.”

He said available land and property to develop, along with navigating the municipal permit process, were other hurdles faced by developers.

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