Tristate jobless rate is lowest in decades

June 30, 1997


Staff Writer

 The jobless rates in counties along the

Interstate 81 corridor are among the lowest in two decades.

 Washington Co. 4.1% Frederick Co. 3.3% Franklin Co. 5.2% Fulton Co. 5.1% Berkeley Co.* 3.9% Jefferson Co.* 2.7% Morgan Co.* 4.1% Frederick Co., Va. 3.5%*May statistics. The remaining figures are from April.

Source: State employment offices

Jobless rates along the Interstate 81 corridor are among the lowest the area has experienced in about two decades, according to employment officials.

Officials are pleased that so many people have jobs, but some worry that the shrinking number of potential workers might make it difficult to recruit new companies to the area.


"I think we're fortunate. We're blessed with a strong national economy," said L. Michael Ross, president of the Franklin County Development Corp. in Chambersburg, Pa.

National job growth rates are as high as they've been in for the last three decades, Ross said.

"We in the Cumberland Valley have been experiencing steady growth over the last 10 years or so," Ross said.

"Interstate 81 has become a very heavily traveled interstate for the transporting and manufacturing of industrial goods," said Ross.

While still heavily dependent on manufacturing in the I-81 corridor, the economic base has become more diverse so the area isn't reliant on any one industry, Ross said.

Washington County's 4.1 percent jobless rate in April tied the lowest rate in the past 10 years.

Unemployment rates in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle haven't been this low since before 1980, said Stephen Shackelford, supervisor with the West Virginia Bureau of Employment Programs.

Jefferson County's unemployment rate for May was 2.7 percent, while Berkeley County's was 3.9 percent and Morgan County's was 4.1 percent, according to Shackelford's office.

Franklin and Fulton counties' jobless rates were among the highest in the Tri-State area, but they were still the lowest for those counties in almost two years, said Larry Baugher, of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Research and Statistics.

Franklin County's unemployment rate in April was 5.2 percent and Fulton County's rate was 5.1 percent, Baugher said.

Margaret Taylor, Fulton Industrial Development Association director, said the county's economy has matured in the last two decades by expanding to include specialty and spinoff businesses.

West Virginia's Shackelford said much of the good economic news in recent years has been driven by information services jobs related to computers and the Internet.

"It's an information system boom" for the Washington, D.C., bedroom communities of Berkeley and Jefferson counties, Shackelford said.

Although the diminished labor pool is good for employees, it's not good for employers, Shackelford said.

Ross said the dwindling labor pool is a concern, especially if a county has companies that are considering expanding.

Companies are seeking employees from every available source, including welfare-to-work programs and senior citizens, he said. But, the low jobless rate is not limited to the I-81 corridor, Ross said.

Shackelford said several companies in Richmond, Va., have tried recruiting residents from West Virginia because Richmond's labor pool has shrunk.

Some local economic development officials aren't as concerned about the low labor pool.

Taylor said some people looking for jobs, such as recent graduates and homemakers wishing to rejoin the labor force, don't go to the state jobless service.

Economic Development Coordinator Beverly Baccala said Washington County hasn't reached the point where there is a problem finding people for jobs.

But officials are keeping an eye on the situation, she said.

Should another company the size of Staples decide to move in, a problem could arise, but Baccala said her office usually markets the labor force available on a regional level and not just in Washington County. Staples officials plan to employ 700 people by the end of 1998.

As of April, there were 9,800 unemployed people in the region, and 2,774 in the county, she said.

"I think we all benefit each other," Baccala said.

Gene Schultz, with the Virginia Employment Commission, said the area could be in trouble if the jobless rates continue to decline, but a jobless rate of around 4 percent is ideal.

With the economy in such good shape, Baccala said more focus can be placed on underemployment and job satisfaction.

Many people feel they are underutilized in their jobs, would prefer a different job or want to trade two part-time jobs for a full-time job, Baccala said.

The mix of jobs available helps accommodate those desires, she said.

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