Wages rise in Franklin County; tight labor market squeezes employers

Written by Jim Hook, Public Opinion Online | Mar 11, 2018 2:05 PM
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L. Michael Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corp., speaks at the annual State of the Economy Breakfast on March 8, 2018. (Photo: Jim Hook / Public Opinion)

(Chambersburg)  -- Wages have been going up in Franklin County thanks to a tight labor market.

The average manufacturing wage is up 8 percent from a year ago, and the average overall wage is up 4 percent. Both are greater than the increases seen nationally and in Pennsylvania.

Low unemployment, continued growth and more job postings than unemployed workers comprise Franklin County's economic outlook, according to Jesse McCree, CEO of SCPa Works Inc.

He said: "This is the question that keeps me up at night: Will we have the skilled workforce to keep up with future growth, changing industry needs and shifting demographics?"

McCree was the keynote speaker Thursday at the Franklin County State of the Economy Breakfast hosted by the Franklin County Area Development Corp. About 175 attended the event held at the Chambersburg Country Club.

The county has 2,600 people unemployed and 3,400 job postings, McCree said.

Most county employers plan to hire in 2018, and a handful plan to bring on more than 50 employees.

"We have everybody recruiting the same folks," said L. Michael Ross, FCADC president. "It's not just a training issue. It's a numbers issue."

Manitowoc Grove is looking for 450 workers, JLG Industries a similar number, Ross said. Volvo Construction Equipment too will be hiring. They are competing in the same labor pool as Procter & Gamble Co. The company needs 900 workers to make toiletries in its new Martinsburg, W.Va., plant.

The county's unemployment rate is around 4 percent, and near 3 percent in nearby counties on the Interstate 81 corridor.

The county's major manufacturers are counting on a long-term federal infrastructure bill. Manitowoc, JLG and Volvo make the machines that build the infrastructure.

Companies also have been returning to the U.S. following a federal tax reform bill.

"We don't have the infrastructure (to support growth,) and we don't have the people to support it," Ross said. "That's why immigration is not a black-and-white issue. There are a lot more nuances to the issue."

Pennsylvania has more than enough workers with low skills and workers with high skills, but the state has a shortfall of middle-skill workers compared to the jobs available, McCree said. Within two years 65 percent of all jobs will require some post-high school training or education.

Bridging skill gaps will be a key to developing the workforce, according to McCree.

Factory workers increasingly are required to program, repair or work beside "a collaborative robot," McCree said. In five to 10 years technology too may dramatically change the transportation system with self-driving cars.

The manufacturing sector anchors a diverse local economy, he said. Health services/social assistance is right behind and growing.

Over the next 10 years 80,000 jobs in county health services must be filled, McCree said. Baby boomers are retiring, and the sector is growing.

SCPa Works, the regional workforce development board for southcentral Pennsylvania, operates six PA CareerLinks.

FCADC recently surveyed 61 local businesses:

  • 84 percent planned to hire up to five people in 2018.
  • Seven companies planned to hire more than 50.
  • Nearly half plan to spend more than $100,000 on equipment or building improvements. Twenty percent will spend more than $1 million.
  • The three top challenges were related to hiring skilled workers.

One respondent said that if the workforce issue is not resolved, businesses will start leaving the area.

"I don't know where they'll go," Ross said. "This is a national issue."

Jim Hook,  717-262-4759

This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between Chambersburg Public Opinion and WITF. 

Published in Adams County, News

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