By Tony Iannelli, President and CEO, Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce
March 11, 2013
For the past 15 years, it has been my honor to preside over the fastest growing Chamber of Commerce in the United States. Serving 800 members in 1998 when I began this journey through today, we now close in on 6,000 members strong, and there is no doubt as to how that growth came to fruition. It can easily be summed up by our mantra: "The Power of Partnerships," business leaders coming together for the common good of the Lehigh Valley — that's how this Chamber, the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, became the ninth largest in the United States.
The growth from a small-town organization to what we've become today didn't happen by chance. It happens when community leaders, stakeholders — from both the public and private sectors — agree to stand together and unite with one voice to focus on the needs of the entire community. In one word, "regionalization" positions this Valley on par with the larger municipalities in the state and nation. Move over Philadelphia and Pittsburgh — the Lehigh Valley has arrived!
I can't say enough about how impressed I am with the leadership in the Lehigh Valley municipalities, large and small. Their contribution to the Valley becoming the fastest growing and third most populous region in Pennsylvania has been immeasurable, and it is why it has become such an allure to people and businesses from neighboring states.
Boasting a $30 billion gross regional product, our metropolitan region is home to more than 820,000 people in Lehigh and Northampton counties in Pennsylvania and Warren County, N.J. If you look at our proximity to New York City (75 miles), Philadelphia (60 miles) and even Washington, D.C., (200 miles) — along with our affordable housing market and comparably low taxes — throw in an ever advancing quality of life — you will see how we've become the 64th most populated metropolitan area in the country.
I can't overstate our rapidly improving quality of life and its impact on our appeal as a destination. When it comes to sports, we've reached a higher level than we ever dreamed! We are proud to be the home to a Philadelphia Phillies affiliate in the Lehigh Valley IronPigs at Coca-Cola Park and soon a Philadelphia Flyers affiliate in the Lehigh Valley Phantoms at its new Allentown PPL Center arena.
Our arts community continues to thrive with gems like Easton's State Theatre and Crayola Experience, Bethlehem's SteelStacks complex, and the Allentown Art Museum. Any company looking for an educated talent pool should look no further than here, with its abundance of top-notch colleges (Lehigh, Muhlenberg, Lafayette, Cedar Crest, Penn State, Moravian, and Lehigh and Northampton community colleges) and exceptional technical institutions, as well.
Our current 15,300 employers in the Valley provide close to 300,000 jobs. We are proud to be the home-base to world renowned corporations such as Air Products and Rodale, and have welcomed nationwide manufacturers such as Sam Adams and Ocean Spray while always remembering that our small businesses are the backbone of our community.
More than two-thirds of Valley businesses employ nine or fewer people, and exist on every main street from Northampton to Coopersburg and Fogelsville to Phillipsburg, and everywhere in between. Providing those employers with the networking opportunities, innovative programming and pro-business public policy advocacy is the daily work of the 26-member Chamber staff located and working on every main street across this Valley.
Let me close by saying this economy won't escalate at the rapid pace of the '90s, but it will improve at a deliberate and steady pace. Businesses are running leaner and poised for expansion like never before. They are eager to expand in the coming years. I'm hopeful our political leaders will join us and make the necessary difficult decisions that will increase confidence in our nation's economic future. I look forward to a bright 2013-14 in a region that, no doubt has arrived.
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