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County holding its own

February 16, 1997

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The loss of nearly 5,000 jobs in Franklin County since 1994 does not necessarily spell economic gloom, the man responsible for bringing in new jobs said last week.

For one thing, Franklin County is part of a larger, strong economy, said L. Michael Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development.

The county is tied into the fast-growing Interstate 81 corridor - the area from Shippensburg, Pa., through Hagerstown, Berkeley County, W.Va., and Winchester, Va.

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"We're in a regional economy tied together by a unique alliance of four economic development offices in four states working in collaboration," Ross said.

There is an implicit understanding that each will try to locate industry in its own area first, but if a project can't be accommodated by one county then the next best thing is to have it locate somewhere in the region, Ross said.

"There will be a lot of Franklin County residents working for Quad/Graphics in Berkeley County,'' he said. "We believe the new Staples distribution center in Washington County will be good for us. Citicorp (in Washington County) is one-eighth of a mile over the (Pennsylvania) state line," he said.

On a darker side, Franklin County has taken a serious economic jolt with the down sizing of the Letterkenny Army Depot, a move that cuts 3,000 jobs, according to Ross's office.

J. Schoeneman, a Chambersburg clothing manufacturer, will take more than 1,000 jobs with it when it closes in August.

Franklin County has taken some economic hits since 1994:

  • Kraft Foods facility closed (50 jobs)
  • Reynolds and Reynolds closed (150 jobs)
  • SKF-USA closed (75 jobs)
  • Grief Industries closed (215 jobs)
  • Loewengart Tannery closed (300 jobs)
  • TAB Books/McGraw-Hill publishing company in Blue Ridge Summit closed (400 jobs)
  • West Penn Power in Waynesboro, Pa., downsized (30 jobs)


Mitigating those losses were announcements last week that University Press of America had bought the McGraw-Hill property and will expand its operations there bringing in 300 jobs.

Also last week, Encore Marketing International officials said they will lease space from University Press to expand operations and add 100 jobs.

Ross said most McGraw-Hill workers who lost jobs will be hired by the new companies.

About 125,000 people lived in Franklin County in 1995 - a jump of 13,000 people since 1980.

The county has a work force of 60,000 with an unemployment rate of 4.3 percent, Ross said. "It's been under 5 percent for the last seven months," he said.

The Franklin County Reuse Committee, a group appointed to find a new use for 1,500 acres of Letterkenny land that the federal government will give to Franklin County, expects to have the first industry located there this year.

Reuse committee officials said it will take a generation before the entire 1,500-acre project is complete.

Ross, who is secretary of the reuse committee, said it will be the most significant opportunity for new development ever in Franklin County. "In 20 years it will impact the whole four-state region," he said. "Our challenge in Franklin County is less creating economic growth than it is managing the growth that's coming."

Since 1986 nearly $453 million has been spent on economic development including new businesses and industries and distribution centers and expansion of existing companies, Ross said.

He said the county needs to continue to diversify its employment and develop a work force to serve the growth that will be coming. "We're feeling it now moving south from Harrisburg and west from the Washington, D.C., area, he said. "We've already been discovered. I-81 is the most heavily traveled truck route east of the Mississippi."

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