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Thanks to E-commerce, Some Rust Belt Towns Are Booming Again—But How Long Will It Last?

August 11, 2017

Pennsylvania's Lehigh County is experiencing something of a renaissance in jobs. Amazon, which has several fulfillment centers in the area, a former steel-producing powerhouse, is now its third-largest employer. Wal-Mart's e-commerce side has a large presence as well, and FedEx is planning to open its largest U.S. facility there. In a great short documentary called "We're Living Here in Amazontown," a reporter from The Outline went to Lehigh to see how things were going. He found a region bursting with new employment opportunities, but still deeply worried about how automation might change that in the not-too-distant future.

"Quite frankly, our economy is even stronger than it was 20 years ago," Don Cunningham, CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, and former mayor of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, says in the video. But he knows that these firms' focus on using ever more robots in their operations means that the jobs boom won't last forever. People are already working alongside multitudes of machines, especially in Amazon's fulfillment centers. "Certainly, the day will come when these facilities aren't so labor-intensive," Cunningham says. "The question is: when is that day?"

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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