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Jobless rate drops in Franklin County

June 03, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Gains in manufacturing and construction led the way as the unemployment rate for Franklin County dropped sharply in April, according to preliminary figures released today by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

The rate fell from the revised March figure of 5.4 percent to 4.5 percent in April, making it the 11th lowest rate among Pennsylvania's 67 counties, according to the report. In Fulton County, the rate dropped from 7.9 to 6.6 percent, which tied for 40th statewide.

Centre County had the lowest jobless rate at 3 percent and Forest County the highest at more than 18 percent.

Franklin County's rate was close to 4.4 percent in April 2002. The rate in Fulton County was 5.9 percent in April 2002.

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"Seasonal factors contributed to the large decrease in the rate, however, this is a sign of a stabling economy," the report stated. Although new housing starts were down 6.8 percent nationally, the report stated that employment in construction, natural resources and mining were up by 300 to 2,900 in the labor market area that includes Franklin and Fulton counties.

Spring is traditionally the time when construction and agricultural employment pick up, but the jump in goods-producing jobs was still consistent with patterns for the labor market over the past eight years, the report stated.

Manufacturing jobs in the two counties increased by 400 during the reporting period to 10,500, although that sector employed 900 fewer people than in April 2002.

Manufacturing, particularly heavy machinery companies, have been hit hard by the struggling economy in recent years. Smaller manufacturers, however, have been expanding or locating at places such as the Cumberland Valley Business Park located on land that was formerly part of Letterkenny Army Depot.

"Our employment has remained relatively flat," said Sam Swope, the vice president for human resources at JLG Industries in McConnellsburg. While there has been some attrition through retirements and small layoffs in recent months, jobs have been added in the equipment services operation and for the assembly lines at the Shippensburg, Pa., plant in Cumberland County.

Swope said Monday that JLG hopes the company has reached "the bottom of this economic cycle."

JLG manufactures aerial work platforms and is the largest employer in Fulton County.

At the Cumberland Valley Business Park, 27 companies, primarily small manufacturers, have facilities and employ 527 people, according to John Van Horn, the executive director of the Letterkenny Industrial Development Authority, which runs the business park. Ingersoll-Rand and Warrior Roofing were major additions in the past year, he said.

The number of people working in the park has approximately doubled in the past three years, Van Horn estimated.

"We've had our ups and downs and people have come and gone," Van Horn said.

Much of the existing warehouse space that the Army turned over in the late 1990s has been leased or sold, but development of raw land in the park has been a slower process.

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