Executive touts Valley economy
“Please know that I am so very humbled that the voters trusted me to manage our county over the next four years,” Lehigh County Executive Phillips Armstrong said, addressing a crowd of county officials, politicians or their representatives and other guests Feb. 22 during his State of Lehigh County address.
Armstrong, speaking at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, introduced his remarks by assuring the attendees he and his administration are interested in putting progress over politics.
He took the time to recognize some of the people he will be working with in this new role. He started with the board of commissioners, offering hope that their work will improve the lives of those living in the county. He then moved to the judiciary, namely the magisterial district judges and the members of the Court of Common Pleas, headed by President Judge Edward D. Reibman. Armstrong next mentioned his fellow executive branch elected officials including District Attorney Jim Martin, Sheriff Joe Hanna, Coroner Scott Grim, County Controller Glenn Eckhart and Clerk of Judicial Records Andrea Naugle.
Armstrong lauded the county employees for their “high standards, conscientiousness and strong work ethic.”
“Lehigh County couldn’t ask for a better team,” he said. “Lehigh County’s taxpayers could not ask for a better team of department heads, supervisors and employees.”
He asked each member of his executive leadership team to stand and be recognized as he mentioned their names. His team includes Edward D. Hozza Jr., director of administration; Sara Murray, solicitor; Frank Kane, director of community and economic development; Rick Molchany, director of general services; Kay Achenbach, director of human services and Joe Shadid, director of Cedarbrook.
“I want them to know that their service never goes unnoticed or unappreciated by me,” he said. “We all benefit from the wisdom of previous county executives, boards of commissioners and row officers who planned wisely, spent frugally and fulfilled their duties as good stewards of our taxpayers’ money.”
Armstrong alluded to Dr. Martin Luther King by saying “We should judge a person by the quality of their character and not by their choice of gender or who they choose to love.”
He referred to his recent administrative notice prohibiting discrimination on the basis of someone’s gender identity.
“I believe that everyone deserves a fair chance to be themselves,” he said.
Armstrong claimed that “over the past several years, our local economy has undergone a renaissance.”
According to the Lehigh County executive, Lehigh and Northampton counties — the Lehigh Valley — has the 65th largest gross domestic product in the U.S.
“Our economy is bigger than the economies of 108 countries,” he said. “We produce plastic products, craft beers, medical devices, pharmaceuticals and almost anything you can imagine.”
Armstrong continued to praise the businesses and work done in the area by mentioning how well they have adapted economically to keep up with the constantly shifting world. For example, most of our manufacturing is happening in smaller, more technical facilities as opposed to the giant mills of days past, and our workers are embracing the shift to the online retail world with Amazon employing so many residents.
Armstrong stressed the importance of education and creating motivated workers with the skills needed to succeed. He commended the carpenter training center in Allentown as a “great example of how we can modernize the way we approach education and provide people with a way to the middle class.”
He called upon the community to assist to build a stronger county.
“Our future depends on bringing everyone together to come up with new strategies to grow our economy,” he said.
Armstrong touted the state of the economy by asserting that “everyone who wants a job should be able to find one.”
He said, “It’s our job to help people who need help to develop the skills that employers want.”
One of Armstrong’s biggest concerns is making sure all of the boroughs and townships in the county are receiving all the resources and grants available to them. He wants to create a position that will focus on helping our townships procure grants and state assistance. While recognizing how positive and beneficial Allentown’s growth has been, Armstrong said he wants to extend that growth to the rest of the county.
“We must grow as a county as a whole for it to be sustainable,” he said.
He said he believes “people who come to the county seeking help for drug addiction should have it.
“People want to work and live in a place where there are diverse cultures, good restaurants, performing arts, walking trails, sports teams — we have it all here in Lehigh County,” he said.
Armstrong went on to mention some of the notable features in the county, including Lehigh Valley Zoo at the Trexler Nature Preserve and the bicycling facility at the Valley Preferred Cycling Center. He continued by praising Coca-Cola Park as a symbol of what happens when the community rallies around a shared passion. He went on to mention the ballpark was built before the baseball team was even named and that, in 2016, Forbes Magazine recognized the IronPigs as the fourth most valuable minor league team in America.
“None of the happened by accident. It’s an example of what can happen in a great public-private partnership,” he said.
Armstrong shifted gears away from economic development to discuss a public health concern.
“Our high schools and even our middle schools are rocked with almost daily news of young people in the prime of their lives lost to opioids,” he said.
A former teacher, he described how difficult it is for him to see so many lives lost. To help combat the opioid epidemic, Armstrong said he wants to expand the Communities That Care program.
According to Armstrong, “CTC is a nationwide network that combines the efforts of school districts, government and community leaders and focuses it all in the same direction.”
The Whitehall area already has a CTC group, headed by Denise Continenza, that has been active in the community.
“CTC communities were 25 percent less likely to have initiated delinquent behavior, 32 percent less likely to have tried alcohol and 33 percent less likely to have tried cigarettes,” Armstrong said.