Manufacturing needs room to grow in the Greater Lehigh Valley.
That’s the message Don Cunningham delivered to a group assembled Thursday night for the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. Brokers and Developers Council at the National Museum of Industrial History in Bethlehem.
President and CEO of LVEDC, Cunningham moderated the panel discussion made up of Mike Adams, senior vice president of NAI Summit, Catherine Bailey, president and chief operating officer of Rea.deeming Beauty Inc., Joe Correia, executive vice president of J.G. Petrucci Co., and Kimberly Jacobsen, managing director of industrial services at JLL (Jones Lang LaSalle).
According to Cunningham, roughly $7 billion of the $39 billion gross domestic product generated by the Lehigh Valley was attributed to manufacturing in 2016.
“It outpaces distribution and fulfillment, which is still what most people think we are. We need more awareness and [changed] perception,” Cunningham said.
“We are the 65th largest economic market in the United States, bigger than Vermont or Wyoming,” Cunningham said. While the Valley has become a major market, “we are still growing and we have growing pains.”
But growing manufacturing isn’t easy, as public perception remains decades behind the focus of 21st century manufacturing facilities, jobs and clean environments.
While the demand for new facilities will continue to rise, developers face “not in my backyard” hurdles at the municipal level because of restrictive zoning ordinances that often hamstring light industrial construction projects.
Bailey said construction of a building she needs to support and grow her business had been held up by local zoning, and the proposed site may no longer meet her company’s needs.
“We need a multi-use building [to accommodate] corporate offices, production and docks” for deliveries and shipments, not a big rectangular box, Bailey said.
Jacobsen said the light industrial and manufacturing image had to change.
“We would like to see more marketing and a change of public perception. The idea is that it’s a lot of traffic, noise, trucks going in and out, and 24/7 operations,” Jacobsen said.
According to Jacobsen, projects often face opposition from residents, and zoning laws themselves don’t allow building construction projects on spec.
“They want to know who is going in before it’s built,” Jacobsen said of many land development plans.
Creating new space for business may mean building the project before a lease is inked, something for which many local ordinances won’t allow.