Op-ed By Lisa Boscola
In the Lehigh Valley, we had much to celebrate during “Manufacturing Week” in Pennsylvania from Oct. 7-14. Too many people still think that our manufacturing economy ceased when the Bethlehem Steel smokestacks stopped billowing. As the daughter of a steelworker, I am happy to report that manufacturing is alive and well here. We are home to well-known manufacturers: Mack Trucks, Lutron Electronics, Bosch Rexroth, Victaulic, and Lehigh Valley Heavy Forge.
Three recent ribbon cuttings demonstrate the diversity and vibrancy of our manufacturing economy. OraSure Technologies expanded its manufacturing facility in Bethlehem Township to produce its rapid COVID-19 tests — an expansion expected to retain 233 existing jobs and create an additional 177 jobs. In late September, B.Braun opened its expanded manufacturing facility, creating 200 new jobs. In August, iDeal Semiconductor Devices announced it is expanding its technology and research development operation in Bethlehem. iDeal’s expansion will create at least 63 high-paying jobs developing its semiconductors that are recognized as among the world’s most energy efficient semiconductors.
What do these companies’ expansions have in common? First, they create jobs with good salaries and good benefits — the kind of jobs that can help sustain our middle class, the backbone of any strong economy. Second, they all benefited from state programs. Our Commonwealth made strategic investments in these companies focused on job creation. OraSure and iDeal received PA First Grants. OraSure also received a Job Creation Tax Credit that is linked to the creation of new jobs at the facility. B.Braun received funding to grow its apprenticeship program, which it operates with other Lehigh Valley manufacturers to help build a workforce to support our flourishing manufacturing economy.
The state must continue investing in proven programs like the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP), PA First Grants, Job Creation Tax Credits, Ben Franklin Partnership, the Manufacture Extension Partnership, and other business incubator initiatives that leverage private investment to grow jobs here. Investing state dollars is one of the best ways the Commonwealth can partner with the private sector to encourage entrepreneurship and lay the groundwork for growing our economy.
Equally important to future success is the need make certain the Lehigh Valley continues to develop the talent to fill these jobs. This starts with our primary and secondary schools focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) education. As a state, we need to invest in STEM curriculum that works. It is why this budget cycle I advocated for “First in Math” grant funding for all K-8 students in every school district in the 18th senatorial district. “First in Math” is a supplemental resource that school districts utilize to improve a student’s fluency in critical math skills. By providing educational tools early for our students, we are better preparing them to succeed in our 21st century economy.
Today, the Lehigh Valley is a Top 50 manufacturing market in the United States. Our job growth outpaces that of our nation. Our success was not an accident. It resulted in part from the commitment of local and state governments collaborating with the non-profit and for-profit sectors working together to develop a strong workforce development program. This outlook remains crucial to our future success. We must stay aggressive providing the needed resources to grow our manufacturing job base with thoughtful state investments something I am committed to doing.