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Unemployment rate in Franklin County is largely unchanged

September 02, 2002|by RICHARD BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The number of Franklin County residents without jobs has seen little fluctuation in the last 12 months, according to Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry figures released last week.

In July, 2,700 residents signed up for jobless benefits, representing 4.2 percent of a countywide labor force of 63,800.

The report for July 2001 showed 3,200 people - or 5 percent of a then-labor force of 63,700 - were on the unemployment rolls.

"The numbers have remained relatively stable over the last several years," said L. Michael Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Authority. "It has been hovering around 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent."

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The low numbers also mean new employers coming into the county have been able to find sufficient numbers of workers to fill their job openings, Ross said.

"The county generally gets high marks for having an available, productive work force with a good work ethic," he said.

Many communities make the same boast, Ross said, but he supports his statement about Franklin County by comparing reports from companies that have facilities in multiple locations.

The face of the county's job market is changing from one that for decades has been based on manufacturing to one based on the warehouse and distribution industries.

Last year, Ingram Books and Kmart opened giant warehouses in Franklin County that provided 500 and 350 new jobs, respectively.

In March 2003, the huge Target warehouse opens near Chambersburg with the promise of hiring 1,000 workers.

The question on the minds of employers and economic development officials is whether the county's dwindling pool of good workers is still large enough to fill those jobs. Things still look good, they said.

While employers' primary labor pool is still Franklin County, they also look to neighboring states along the Interstate 81 corridor that runs through Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia.

Companies in the other three states look to Franklin County for workers as well, Ross said.

Wes Cool, supervisor of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry's employment program in Franklin County, said there are plenty of workers available for the warehouse jobs that are already here and those that are coming.

The salary range for warehouse jobs runs from $8 to $11 an hour, considerably less than that of manufacturing jobs at big companies like Grove Worldwide in Shady Grove, Pa., at one time the county's largest employer, said Cathy Bowen, a coordinator in Cool's office.

Grove's work force has dropped from 2,500 in 1997 to around 1,000 today.

Bowen said many displaced Grove workers have had to take the lower-paying warehouse jobs. They are constantly on the lookout for better-paying jobs, she said.

Warehouses and distribution centers compete for workers, Bowen said.

Cool said workers jump from warehouse to warehouse depending on which one pays better.

"If they're making $11 an hour they look for one that pays $12," he said.

Ingram Books looks for the cream of the crop in the labor pool and only keeps the best workers on the job," Bowen said.

The Food Lion stores distribution center on Commerce Avenue in Greencastle, Pa., has had no trouble finding and keep a good work force, the general manager said.

"We've been fortunate. We haven't had any staffing issues," said Mike Sellito, general manager.

The center has about 600 workers, he said.

Turnover among workers there has been low, Sellito said.

"Our associates (workers) must feel that they are happy in their work here," he said.

Sellito said most of his employees live in Franklin or Washington counties.

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