Becky Bradley: E-commerce key factor driving Lehigh Valley’s growth – Allentown Morning Call
The Lehigh Valley is in a period of great evolution, largely due to the effects of globalization and our unique position in the world economy. Planning for the road, bridge and transit systems, and infrastructure, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission helps connect the region to the New York and New Jersey and Philadelphia metros, the west and, ultimately, the world.
Creating a critical transportation gateway through the seamless web of Interstate 78, Route 22, Northeast Extension of the Turnpike, Route 33 and Interstate 80 is a primary role of the LVPC. This highway system opens opportunities for residents and businesses to move within the Lehigh Valley and between other regions quickly.
A new freight and logistics network is emerging and taking advantage of the highway network and the region’s relative lack of congestion in comparison to the gridlocked roadways around New York City. Significant multimodal connections via the Norfolk Southern rail line and an easily accessible and less congested airspace also drive the growth of cargo into the Lehigh Valley International Airport, cementing the region as the keystone in the New Inland Empire.
In the post-Great Recession era, commercial development is recovering more quickly and more fully than residential development. The total approved non-residential floor area for 2015 increased by 27 percent over the previous year. In 2016, commercial, public and transportation development increased by 141 percent over 2015. In fact, 2016 is the post-recession peak where nearly 9.7 million square feet of non-residential floor area was approved for construction.
Industrial development has dominated non-residential development in the Lehigh Valley for most of the last decade. Much of this industrial development is related to logistics (in other words, the movement of goods). This shift reflects the rise of e-commerce, which demands supply chains that can provide same-day or two-day delivery to the East Coast’s largest population centers.
With easy access to New York and New Jersey, large labor force and cheap land prices, the region is also an attractive location for large-scale warehouse and distribution properties. Indeed, according to the Wall Street Journal, “no U.S. industrial market has grown as fast as the Interstate-78/Interstate-81 corridor” between 2010 and 2016.
Since the second quarter of 2010, developers have added over 64 million square feet of space in this corridor, increasing the size of the market by over 25 percent and exceeding the pace of growth in Houston; Columbus, Ohio; and California’s Inland Empire. Within the non-residential sector, industrial development has emerged as the dominant player in the development of the land base. Industrial development, however, is occurring on brownfields as well as previously undeveloped sites.
The rapid growth in industrial development creates several very unique challenges, from the availability of sewer treatment to the impacts of off-highway traffic. In late 2015, LVPC formed a Freight Advisory Committee to collaborate with the public, private sector, federal, state, county and local governments on the impacts of goods movement on the infrastructure system.
This committee is building shared responsibility for the highway, rail and air systems in the Lehigh Valley and shaping public policy and investment in freight projects. Key safety and mobility projects include: the $1 billion rebuilding of Route 22, $14 million reconstruction of Route 100 in Upper Macungie, and $23 million reconstruction of the Coplay-Northampton Street Bridge, to name a few key freight investments. All in all, the LVPC is allocating $458.3 million in road, bridge and transit funding between 2017-2020 to manage the region’s key infrastructure assets.
Simultaneously, the LVPC is gathering information from the community on the region’s strengths and opportunities, as well as weaknesses and threats as part of the overhaul of the comprehensive plan. This new plan is anticipated to recognize that growth and resources are not infinite, and will address the balance of the key components of Lehigh Valley society: people, jobs, roads and transit, parks and trails, water and sewer infrastructure, housing, public health, the environment, arts and culture, emergency services, education, and farming. In fact, the Lehigh Valley Comprehensive Plan is the definitive strategy for the management of the region’s lands and resources and sets the course for the future.
As the economy and landscape of the Lehigh Valley continue to evolve, it is critical that the region work together to achieve the balance of development, redevelopment and conservation that best meets the needs of residents and businesses.
• The total non-residential commercial floor area in the Lehigh Valley grew by $27 percent in 2015
• It crew by 141$ the following year
• Developers have added more than 64 million square feet of space in the I-78/I-81 corrdor since 2010