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Qualified work force lacking, official says

August 14, 1998|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The region's low unemployment rate has a downside - a shortage of qualified workers for some industries - according to a Franklin County, Pa., economic development official.

"We can't find good people," is the complaint Franklin County Area Development Corporation Executive Director L. Michael Ross said he hears from some employers. He represented Quadco, a group of economic development organizations from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, at Thursday's 13th Annual Quad-State Conference.

"The valley's unemployment rate has been about 5 percent for the past two years and if you talk to most economists, that's full employment," Ross said to the group of more than 20 state legislators from 23 counties.

Ross said about 25 percent of the work force is in manufacturing, about twice the national rate, but workers earn about 16 percent less than the national average.

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"We're looking to correct that," he said.

Looking at one specific industry, Ross said there are 89 printing firms in the Quad-State region. Two of them -  Quad Graphics in Martinsburg, W.Va., and Phoenix Color in Hagerstown - will employ 3,000 people within a few years, he predicted.

He said Quadco recently met with printing industry officials to discuss work force development. He said the area needs a program to produce entry-level employees and upgrade the skills of those already in the printing industry.

"It really needs a strong commitment from the industries themselves," Ross told the legislators.

Ross updated the conference on the realignment of Letterkenny Army Depot, where 1,500 acres will eventually be turned over to the civilian Letterkenny Industrial Development Authority. He said the first parcels, totaling about 250 acres, should be turned over to the authority in the next three months.

That includes six industrial buildings and "We have commitments at this point for virtually every building that will be conveyed," Ross said.

The depot has lost 3,000 jobs in recent years and could lose another 800 by next summer, according to Ross. "Can we replace those jobs at commensurate wages and benefits? That's the challenge," he said.

He said economic development officials are aiming to attract businesses to the Cumberland Valley Business Park "that pay three times the minimum wage on average."

John C. Howard, the economic development director for the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission, updated the legislators on the Lakeside Corporate Center at PenMar, the new name for Fort Ritchie, Md., which will close next month.

Howard said there are 157 developable acres on the 638-acre site divided into 41 parcels ranging from 21/2 to 5 acres. Targeted industries for the center include research and development, information technology, federal government contractors and corporate training.

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