(excerpt) … After the war, though, Lehigh Valley leaders “started wondering what would happen if Bethlehem Steel somehow went away,” reported the Morning Call, a local newspaper. Following a series of steelworker strikes—including one lasting 116 days in 1959—local business leaders embarked on an economic-development initiative to establish the region’s first modern industrial park. The establishment of Lehigh Valley Industrial Park (LVIP), a private, nonprofit economic- development organization, helped pave the way for the region’s economic future. Today, LVIP counts seven industrial parks, which have attracted more than 500 companies—with 24,000 jobs—and $1.2 billion in private investment since 1959. “Imagine if LVIP hadn’t gotten things started,” one land developer told the Morning Call. “We would have been a two- or three-horse town, and if those horses died or left town, imagine where would we be.”
Instead, the Valley embraced regional coordination, foresight—and entrepreneurship. As sociologist Sean Safford writes in Why the Garden Club Couldn’t Save Youngstown, the Valley’s “economic resilience owes much to the fact that the social structure of its civic interactions connected key constituencies who needed to cooperate in the face of the region’s crisis” of deindustrialization. In the 1970s, for example, the Lehigh County Authority built a wastewater pretreatment plant near Route 100 in Upper Macungie. The plant turned that area into an economic hub for beverage companies, from Schaefer Brewery to Kraft Foods, which could treat its industrial wastewater at the facility.
Then, in 1983, Pennsylvania governor Dick Thornburgh created Ben Franklin Technology Partners, a state-funded economic-development program that invests in startups and emerging manufacturers. The program’s incubator opened in Bethlehem Steel’s former research facilities, which stand on the mountain above Lehigh University’s main campus. Over the years, Ben Franklin has vetted its prospective clients to connect them with private investors. As a 2018 Pennsylvania Economy League report notes, between 2012 and 2016, Ben Franklin “helped to create 11,407 high-paying jobs, generated $386 million in tax receipts for the state, and boosted the commonwealth’s overall economy by $4.1 billion.” Among Ben Franklin’s success stories are OraSure Technologies, a manufacturer of medical diagnostic kits, which last year announced a multimillion-dollar expansion.
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