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Prime job market could boost wages in Franklin County area

Written by Jim Hook/Chambersburg Public Opinion | Dec 1, 2017 8:49 AM
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Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin, left, listens as Les Middleton, senior vice president Americas-mobile cranes, talks during a visit to Manitowoc Cranes, Shady Grove, as part of Governor Tom Wolf's "Jobs that Pay" tour. (Photo: Markell DeLoatch, Public Opinion)

CHAMBERSBURG - Franklin County has more jobs than ever and fewer people to work them.

Businesses in the county employed a record 60,900 people in October, according to data the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry released Wednesday.

County unemployment in October fell to 4 percent, its lowest rate in nearly a decade.

"We are at full employment," said L. Michael Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corp. "Right now we are a microcosm of what's taking place in other parts of the country."

People who are not working have obstacles to being employed -- such as transportation, child care, mental illness or drug and alcohol addiction, he said.

"A tightening labor market elevates wages," Ross said. "It's a good place to be right now. We'd rather have growth management problems than contraction."

Tax reform would free up trillions of dollars to invest in U.S. production and building expansion, according to Ross.

"If that bill passes, an infrastructure bill has to be the next major piece of legislation," Ross said. "We don't have the infrastructure to support the growth that will occur."

The region's manufacturing economy is founded on making construction equipment -- machines that build roads and lift girders.

"We have to reform the immigration system so we can attract and retain people legally," Ross said. "We simply are not going to have the workforce to accommodate the growth."

The number of county residents working and available for work declined by about 2 percent from a year ago, according to the Labor Department. About 76,100 people were in the county labor force, down from 77,400 a year ago.

It's a statewide trend, according to Jeff Newman, labor analyst with the Pennsylvania Center for Workforce Information and Analysis. More people are reaching or nearing retirement. Pennsylvania's population is aging.

During the Recession a decade ago, people dropped out of the work force when they failed to find work after months of trying. That's not currently the case, according to Newman.

"I don't think people are dropping out the way they were last year," he said.

The local 4 percent unemployment rate for October is far below the 5.3 percent of October 2016 and the lowest since 3.9 percent from May 2008.

Employers in the county added 800 jobs from a year ago. The private sector grew by 1,100 jobs. Local, state and federal governments together cut 300 jobs.

The greatest number of hires in the past year were in leisure and hospitality (700 jobs), manufacturing (600) and warehousing and transportation (300). Only the retail sector employed fewer (100) than a year ago.

Ross said he tells employers who complain about being unable to hire qualified workers, "You can't find them because they're already working."

The eight counties in southcentral Pennsylvania face the same issue.

"We're doing everything we can," Ross said. "A lot of it is a numbers problem. We don't have people for the jobs available. We can train them, but we have to have the people train."

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henomenal Welding President Stefan Takac shows clothing, tools and welding equipment the company's new welding training center provides to all students at the school during an open house tour of the facility Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017. (Photo: Vicky Taylor/Public Opinion)

Recruiting is a difficult, long-range strategy, Ross said. South-central Pennsylvania has job opportunities and is a great place to live and to raise a family.

"You hope the word spreads," Ross said. "We hope over time more people will move here. It all takes time."

Franklin County's unemployment rate in October was less than the rates for the U.S. (4.1 percent) and Pennsylvania (4.7 percent).

Franklin tied Perry and Union counties for the 10th lowest unemployment rate among Pennsylvania's 67 counties in October. Jobless rates and rankings of neighboring counties were: Fulton (4.7 percent, tied-25th); Huntingdon (5.4 percent, t-49th); Juniata (4.5 percent, 22nd); Perry (4.0 percent, t-10th ); Cumberland (3.5 percent, t-third); and Adams (3.4 percent, second). Rates across the state ranged from 3.3 percent in Chester County to 6.6 percent in Cameron County.

This story is part of a partnership between WITF and Chambersburg Public Opinion.

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