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Paychecks, not jobs, are focus of conference

August 03, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

Paychecks, not jobs, are focus of conference



Area economic development officials are asking themselves how many jobs are too many.

A decade ago, when unemployment was approaching double digits, the Quad-State area was begging for companies to create jobs here.

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Today, area economic development officials said they are more concerned about boosting workers' paychecks.

"We want to raise the standard. We're in a unique position to do that," said L. Michael Ross, president of the Franklin County (Pa.) Area Development Corp.

Ross and economic development officials from Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia addressed the 15th-annual meeting of the Quad-State Legislative Conference on Thursday at the Sheraton Inn in Hagerstown.

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About 100 people attended the conference, which is designed to address problems common to the four states.

Officials said they are becoming more selective about the type of businesses that are offered incentives to settle in the Interstate 81 corridor, which has plenty of warehouse and distribution centers.

Tax incentives to redevelop Letterkenny Army Depot in Chambersburg, Pa., are only being offered to companies that pay wages in the neighborhood of $15 an hour, Ross said.

The Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission is only offering incentives to companies willing to pay at least 125 percent of the per capita income, said John C. Howard, executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission. In 1997, the most recent year available, Washington County's per capita income was $20,800.

June Wilmot, executive director of the Winchester-Frederick County Economic Development Commission, said her office is concentrating on helping companies and employees who are already here.

"We need retraining for the existing base rather than new jobs," she said.

One of the region's largest industries, printing, will face a crisis in the next few years unless it can attract new people, said Matthew Cook, human resources manager for Quebecor World Winchester in Virginia.

The industry already employees 8,000 people and is growing.

In the next year, the largest companies plan to hire people. Quad Graphics in Martinsburg, W.Va., plans to hire more than 700 people, Berryville Graphics in Berryville, Va., plans to increase its work force by 100 people and Quebecor World Winchester, by 50.

The industry is counting on the Regional Printing Institute, a public-private partnership created in 1999, to help address that problem.

About 60 people have taken an Introduction to Print course through the Hedgesville, W.Va.,-based institute, which eventually plans to offer a comprehensive training program, said Director Charles McClain.

"The labor market is the biggest deterrent to growth," said Cook, who chairs the institute's advisory board.

Workers with no experience can make between $8 and $12 an hour in entry-level printing jobs. The average salary is $30,000, with managers making between $50,000 and $100,000.

"We're promoting the concept of 'earn while you learn.' We will pay our people and educate them along the way," Cook said.

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