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Lehigh University

Lehigh Community Research and Policy Service
Project Summaries and Client Organizations

2000 Projects

1. Attracting and Retaining a Technology Workforce.
Client: Ben Franklin Technology Partners. Description: An increasingly important local economic development factor is the existence of a well educated, high-tech workforce in the community. While Eastern Pennsylvania might be expected to have an advantage in this regard, given the large number of higher education institutions in the region, there is concern about the region's ability to retain students in the workforce after graduation.  This study surveyed area students to determine the factors that affect their career and location decisions and to assess their perception of Eastern Pennsylvania as a residential location.  The results of the survey will be used by the client to develop educational programs and other policies to induce a greater fraction of local college grads to stay in the region. 

2. Assessing the E-Readiness of Local Manufacturers.
Client: Manufacturers Resource Center. Description: The use of the internet for electronic commerce is a rapidly expanding phenomenon, particularly in business-to-business transactions.  This project interviewed managers at small and medium manufacturing establishments in the Lehigh Valley to answer the following questions: How important is e-commerce to this industry group?  Do these firms possess adequate computing infrastructure to support anticipated e-commerce growth? Do they have the computing skills to take full advantage of this new technology?  The Manufacturers Resource Center provides training and consulting services to manufacturing firms, and is using the results of the survey to help plan for activities related to e-commerce. 

3. What Factors Influence Student and Faculty Attendance at Arts Center Events?
Client: Lehigh University's Zoellner Arts Center.  Description: The new director of the Arts Center feels that student and faculty attendance is below that experienced at other colleges.  She would like to base new marketing programs on empirical data on attendance patterns.  This project surveyed students about their attendance at Zoellner events and their perceptions of prices, programming and other facets of these events.  This survey information was then used to do a market segmentation analysis as a guide for marketing programs. 

4. Community Quality of Life Indicators. 
Client: United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley. Description: The Institute for the Development of a Healthy Community, a division of the United Way, has as an objective the development of an annual report focusing on statistical indicators of trends in community health in the Lehigh Valley.  In addition to aggregate indicators for the whole community, they are particularly interested in data on the quality of life, broadly defined, for children in high poverty areas of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton.  This project had two facets: First, the student team identified sources of data on appropriate statistical measures of the quality of life indicators the Institute has in mind.  The key here was finding data sources that could be tapped annually so trends can be identified.  The second aspect was to analyze the feasibility of establishing a process for gathering and using the data in a geographic information systems database that would permit the storage, retrieval, display and analysis of data for neighborhoods. The idea proved feasible, and continues to be pursued by the United Way.

5. How Important is Broadband Communications Access in Business Location Decisions?
Client:  Lehigh Valley Partnership Technology Committee. Description: Attracting and fostering growing high technology businesses is a key feature of Lehigh Valley economic development planning.  Access to high quality infrastructure has always been an important variable in where businesses choose to locate.  In particular, demand is growing remarkably rapidly for access to very high capacity (broad bandwidth) telecommunications and data communications capabilities.  This study aimed to address the following questions, through a survey of business managers in target industries.  What are the broadband access needs of businesses in a select set of industries targeted by Lehigh Valley economic development plans?  Relatively how important is broadband access in their locational decision making?  The study assessed whether broadband access in the Lehigh Valley is well-suited to attracting these businesses and recommend steps the region might take to expand its attractiveness.  As background, the study also benchmarked broadband-access-related programs or policies that other similar cities and regions may have implemented.  What has and has not worked elsewhere?

1999 Projects

1. Fresh Food Market Impact Project.
Client: Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem. Description: This agency was interested in research to support an initiative to establish a fresh food market in South Side Bethlehem, an economically depressed, urban area.  One key element was a survey of consumer eating and shopping habits to help determine the need for new fresh food outlets in this racially diverse community.  This survey addressed the degree of shopping inconvenience, prices and fresh food types and availability currently facing South Side residents.  A second element benchmarked similar initiatives in other communities across the country, and assessed the economic impact of a fresh food market on the community.  The team recommended that a better alternative would be a buying cooperative among the many small, and often ethnically specialized, corner groceries throughout the area. 

2. Profile of Tourists and Potential Tourists to the Lehigh Valley.
Client: Lehigh Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau. Description: This project developed, conducted and statistically analyzed a (randomized) mail survey of people who have received tourist information from the bureau.  The survey and analysis addressed questions related to: 1) the perceptions of the Lehigh Valley as a tourist destination; 2) the effectiveness of the bureau's promotional literature; 3) demographic profiles of those who actually visit the area and those who requested information but didn't visit the area, and 4) the spending levels and patterns of visitors.  Nearly 250 people responded to the survey, an enviable 25 percent response rate to a single mailing.  The team found the bureau's literature to be effective and appreciated by recipients: About 98 percent had favorable views of the Lehigh Valley after receiving the survey, compared to 60 percent beforehand.  Roughly 60 percent of recipients of the guide visit within one year, and length of stay and average spending per visit is well above national tourism norms.  The client was very pleased with the quality and professionalism of the team's analysis, enough to formally release the report to the public and hold a news conference in which the students presented their findings.  Stories ran in all the regional news media, including TV, radio, newspapers and business press. 

3. The Impact of Tax-Exempt Properties on Lehigh Valley Cities.
Client: Lehigh Valley Partnership Strategic Planning Committee. Description: The Partnership is a collective of business and political leaders that has for several years advocated increased cooperation and joint operations across the region's 62 municipalities and 17 school districts.  They were interested in the extent to which the three major urban centers (Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton) bare a disproportional share of the burden of tax-exempt properties while simultaneously providing considerable services to the surrounding municipalities.  The student team collected and analyzed tax assessment data from both counties in our area in order to compile estimates and comparisons, by municipality, of the total assessed value and foregone tax revenue of properties exempt from property taxes in the region. The study also broadly compared non-urban, suburban and urban centers in the region.  The findings were striking, yet consistent with similar studies elsewhere in the country.  The urban centers accounted for only 23 percent of the region's taxable land value, but almost 50 percent of the tax-exempt assessed value, and because of higher tax rates 55 percent of the forgone taxes, more than twice that of the non-urban or suburban municipalities. The client was very pleased with the quality and professionalism of the team's analysis, enough to formally release the report to the public and hold a news conference to present the student's findings.  Stories ran in several newspapers in the region. 

4. Transportation Barriers to Successful Welfare to Work Transitions.
Client: Council of Hispanic Organizations.  Description: The Council was preparing a transportation grant proposal to improve the public transportation options open to inner-city residents.  They needed research to document the extent to which welfare recipients living in three urban inner cities of the region are limited in their search for employment by the current configuration of bus routes.  The student team designed and implemented two surveys, one of welfare recipients about their transportation needs and jobs, the other of local businesses about their hiring, shift hours and access to public transit. The team also met with the regional bus company planners to identify current routes and times and discuss ways routes could be changed or new services developed to enhance the possibility of successful transitions from welfare to work.  The team found significant spatial and temporal mismatch between the increasing locus of entry-level jobs (and shift work) in the suburban areas and industrial parks surrounding the urban core compared to the bus routes and times designed to bring people into, rather than out of that core, during normal business hours.  Compared to other areas of the country, the problem is compounded for transit planners in the Lehigh Valley because there are three urban cores rather than one. 

5. The Vitality of the Local Entrepreneurial Environment.
Client: Bridgeworks Enterprise Center.  Description: This project assessed the vitality of the local environment for assisting people in starting businesses.  The Center's Director, hypothesized that the long dominance of large corporations (e.g. Bethlehem Steel) in the local economy and the "non-risk-taking" attitude in Pennsylvania German Society limited the local support for business development. An important element of the study was the collection of statistical data on business formation, establishment size and other information to compare the Lehigh Valley with other similarly sized urban areas.  In fact, the student team found otherwise.  The Lehigh Valley was surprisingly close to national averages across a number of objective statistical measures of the entrepreneurial environment, neither spectacularly entrepreneurial (as Raleigh-Durham or Silicon Valley) nor notably lagging. 

6. Lehigh County Reuse and Regeneration Center.
Client: Good Shepherd Work Services.  Description: Significant volumes of re-usable building materials and large furnishings and appliances are disposed of each year in municipal waste collection programs.  A growing number of cities nationwide are opening refurbishment operations that entail retrieving these materials from the waste stream, refurbishing them and selling them through thrift-like retail establishments.  Good Shepherd Work Services (affiliated with Good Shepherd Hospital in Allentown) was considering opening a Reuse and Regeneration in Allentown.  Its multiple goals include reducing the waste disposal volumes and costs for the County and providing work training for people with disabilities and (in conjunction with Lehigh County vo-tech) for young people from area juvenile detention programs.  The study projected the economic costs and benefits (revenues and disposal savings) of the Center for Good Shepherd and for Lehigh County, based on detailed comparisons to results at similar centers throughout the country.  The team also interviewed possible sources of used materials, such as remodelers, home supply stores, and trash haulers in order to gauge interest and possible volumes. The team found that the center could be very marginally profitable within 3 to 5 years, without even including the broader savings to the Country and benefits of the work training.  They recommended moving forward with planning, which the client has since done.  Good Shepherd now hopes to open the ReUse Center by spring 2000. 

1998 Projects

1. Comparing Economic Growth Patterns and Industry Mix.
Client: Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.  Description:  This team benchmarked and did statistical and econometric analysis on patterns and sources of economic growth and changes in industry mix over the past 25 years in the Lehigh Valley with ten comparable cities nationally.  This study used data from the Commerce Department, Bureau of Economic Analysisí Regional Economic Information System.  The team found that while the limited diversity of this area's industries in previous decades was similar to patterns in other low growth cities, with the decline of manufacturing and expansion of several other sectors, the Lehigh Valley's industry diversity was currently much more similar to high growth areas.  While growth in the early 1990s remained lower than national trends, the current diverse mix is perhaps a good sign for the area's future.  The team did such outstanding work, that their research report was released in the University's Kalmbach Institute research working paper series, later published in a peer reviewed journal of undergraduate research [53], and was national runner-up for the Bernard J. McCarney Award for undergraduate research in economics.  See the published study on-line. 

2. Redevelopment Strategies for the Gateway Tract.
Client: Bethlehem Economic Development Corp. (BEDCO).  Description:  This was a re-use study of the ďGatewayĒ tract of lands at West Third Street and Brodhead Avenue in south Bethlehem.  BEDCO owns this property and the student team (which included a student architect) studied alternative redevelopment strategies for the site, which included designing and implementing an original survey of potential developers and a traffic study.  Their recommendations included redesigning the entry road and developing a restaurant and an office building with ground-floor retail space.  BEDCO pursued some of the suggestions with potential developers, and as of early 2000 a new Perkins Restaurant has opened on the site. 

3. Benchmarking Wages by Industry and Skill Level.
Client: Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. (LVEDC). Description: The team conducted a benchmarking study of wages by occupation and skill-level in the Lehigh Valley compared with ten comparable cities nationally.  The LVEDC was unaware (and excited by the analysis) of the new data series the students ended up using, the National Compensation Survey from the Department of Laborís Bureau of Labor Statistics.  The team focused, in particular, on comparing Lehigh Valley wages to other areas across key occupations in high growth industries that the LVEDC aims to attract here. They found that overall wages in the area are comparable to national norms, but most importantly that in some occupations lower than average wages in the area might be particularly attractive in skill areas sought by companies in six of the target industries: pharmaceuticals, plastics, foods, high-end back-office operations, computers, and biotechnology.  Thanks to the publicity efforts of the satisfied client, the teamís research was featured several times in area newspapers.  One story was a full front page Sunday business section article in the regionís largest paper, with the wage data and a photo of the students working with their client. 

4. Slum Landlords in South Bethlehem.
Client: Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV). Description: CACLV engaged its team in identifying, through various sources, slum landlords in Bethlehemís South Side.  The team also recommended strategies for dealing with the problem.  To support their conclusions, the team investigated what other cities had done and organized and analyzed data from neighborhood leaders, police, county code enforcement offices and deed records.  The study was discussed in the regionís business newspaper. 

1997 Projects (first pilot, minor projects as part of Urban Economics course) 

1. - 3. Municipal Finances and Government Consolidation.
Client: Lehigh Valley Partnership.  Description: Three student teams analyzed trends in municipal finances and the economics of government consolidation for a committee working with the Lehigh Valley Partnership in its strategic planning process. 

4. Attracting Businesses to Downtown Macungie.
Client: Mayor of the Borough of Macungie.  Description: Another teamís analysis involved surveying business owners and managers in the Borough of Macungie, to assist the Mayor in developing a plan to attract new businesses to the Borough.

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