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Market drivers put Lehigh Valley in the fast lane for development

Jay Haines

The Lehigh Valley’s regional economic success is not haphazard or simply luck; but more a “perfect storm” of real estate market drivers that even the most conservative Wharton School analyst would agree are noteworthy.

Where commercial real estate development flourishes, there is a convergence of multiple factors that present themselves in a hierarchy of importance. The Lehigh Valley region has by planning, diligence and a bit of good fortune aligned these market drivers nearly to perfection.

At the top of these market drivers is the quality of infrastructure, focusing on transportation, telecommunication and energy. The area’s strategic location at the confluence of multiple interstate highways draws the focus of multiple industrial/business disciplines who see this as integral to their success.

Consumer demand and a skilled workforce are next on the list of developer concerns. The Lehigh Valley has proven over time to attract businesses and supply them with the labor necessary.

Newcomers Ocean Spray, Olympus and Curtiss-Wright add to the local standard-bearers Air Products, PPL, Mack Trucks and B. Braun.

Companies have a high comfort-level regarding the work ethic and dependability of our regional workforce, making developers more inclined to make a long-term investment. Continued regional consumer demand has led to higher absorption rates and a limited supply of inventory to meet the ever-growing requests that set the stage for ongoing new development.

TAXES AND REGULATION

Tax structure, municipal regulation and local government rank next for developers in a market. Our region seemingly is at the head of the class touting the Neighborhood Improvement Zone in Allentown and the City Revitalization and Improvement Zone in Bethlehem.

Each has and is generating urban renewal, adaptive reuse and new development previously unthinkable in both scope and pace. Examples are the PPL Center, The Waterfront and City Center projects in Allentown and the planned redevelopment of the Martin Towers campus and Greenway Commons in Bethlehem.

Outside these zones, FedEx is moving toward final approvals for its mega-hub near Lehigh Valley International Airport and its major arteries.

QUALITY OF LIFE, EDUCATION

Finally, the quality of education, recreation and cultural attractions rounds out the market driver concerns for real estate developers. Public school systems, colleges and universities, hospitals and related medical support facilities play a role in whether a company chooses our region.

The Lehigh Valley is fortunate to have excellence in its educational institutions and boast big-city health care in a suburban setting, led by Lehigh Valley Health Network and St. Luke’s University Health Network.

Residents now can select from myriad cultural event centers, including PPL Center, Sands Casino & Events Center, SteelStacks, ArtsQuest and Coca-Cola Park – which only a few short years ago did not exist.

The Lehigh Valley’s continued growth will rise or fall on the consistent good stewardship of its business leaders and residents nurturing and reinvesting in the market drivers of the future – as they did in the recent past to create our current success.

Jay Haines is vice president of NAI Summit Commercial Real Estate Services in South Whitehall Township. Upon retiring from a career in education, he spent 19 years in residential real estate sales before moving into the commercial arena in 2008, joining NAI Summit. He also has experience and expertise in brown and gray-field sites, working with state and municipal government agencies related to land reclamations. He can be reached at jhaines@naisummit.com or 610-871-1721.

NOTE: Do you want to submit a column about commercial real estate and/or development for publication on this page? Contact Bill Kline at billk@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 115.

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