What did the community think of the State of the Lehigh Valley?
Last week, we co-hosted, along with the Lehigh Valley Research Consortium, the annual State of the Lehigh Valley report presentation and luncheon. After the report was delivered, we had a lively discussion with many people in the audience about what they thought the issues facing the Lehigh Valley were and we put cards on each table for attendees to leave their thoughts on a few questions. We’ve compiled that data and the findings were very interesting!
First we asked what everyone thought the most pressing issue in the Lehigh Valley was, whether it was included in the report or not. Not surprisingly, the most common responses we got were related to employment, specifically in the types of jobs that are available in our region. Some community members have seen a disparity in the types of jobs that are vacant and the skills of our local workforce. Others want to see the Valley move toward more tech jobs and see employment in social science fields. Another major issue was education; residents of the Valley want to see graduation rates in public schools increase and make sure the students are reading at a grade appropriate level. With the concentration of colleges in the Lehigh Valley, community members want to see local students going on to higher education with the ability to pay for those institutions. Attendees also expressed concern with the “brain drain” they’re seeing from our local colleges; this drain is a result of graduates from local colleges leaving to take jobs with higher wages in New York City and Philadelphia.
We also asked what last week’s attendees wanted to see in next year’s report, and again, they pointed to education but also to quality of life data. They want to look at the correlations between early education and graduation, income level and graduation and the disparity of outcomes between suburban and urban school districts. As far as quality of life, some suggested looking at a happiness scale for residents and workers of the Lehigh Valley, comparative data of poverty rates and information on crime.
Finally we asked about the opportunities and obstacles that the Lehigh Valley faces as it moves toward becoming a more sustainable region. The opportunities are plentiful and spanned topics from economics to the environment to historical landmarks to the quality of our farmland. The Lehigh Valley has many resources at its disposal, in human capital, natural resources and a motivated and active citizenry. We will need these resources as we move forward to combat our obstacles. Standing in our way right now are barriers to regionalization. There are so many municipalities and local governments in the Lehigh Valley that could work together to provide better, faster services to their constituents while making more comprehensive plans for the area’s future. Cooperation is integral to planning for sustainability, and not just at the municipal level – corporations and non profit organizations can work together with citizens to make concrete steps toward smart and sustainable growth.
We hope you were able to attend the State of the Lehigh Valley, but if not, you can read a PDF of the report here. If you weren’t able to share your thoughts at the meeting or not able to attend the meeting, reach out on Twitter @RenewLV or on our Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/RenewLV. Renew Lehigh Valley is also part of a several-year grant project from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development called Envision Lehigh Valley to plan for long-term, sustainable communities. If you have thoughts about community planning, share those in the ‘Feedback’ section on the lefthand panel of Envison’s website: http://www.envisionlehighvalley.com/envision-lehigh-valley