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Franklin Co. sets pace again with lowest jobless rate again

September 26, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - For the 16th month in a row, Franklin County held the top spot for the lowest unemployment rate in Pennsylvania, and the county has not ranked lower than second for 35 months, according to a preliminary report for August released today by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

The seasonally adjusted jobless rate increased from 3.2 percent in July to 3.5 percent in August, ahead of second-place Adams County at 3.6 percent, according to the report. The nonseasonally adjusted rate was unchanged at 3.3 percent.

The county's unemployment rate "has consistently been about a point and a half below Pennsylvania's rate" since January 2003, the report stated. Pennsylvania's seasonally adjusted rate was 4.9 percent in August.

"This region is experiencing phenomenal growth," Franklin County Area Development Corp. President L. Michael Ross told state legislators from Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia at last week's Quad State Legislative Conference. "We have a more diversified economy than we give ourselves credit for ... We're seeing all parts of the economy growing."

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The housing market in the region has slowed, but Ross said it is still outperforming the national market and could pick up again as gas prices and mortgage rates fall, drawing more long-distance commuters to the area.

The number of people working in construction in the county held steady in August at 3,200, according to department figures.

Housing starts in Franklin County peaked in 2004 at 1,199 before falling to 1,092 in 2005, according to the Franklin County Planning Department. Through August 2006, however, there were just 407 housing starts this year.

The number of residential subdivision units approved through August was 4,641, which is on pace to approach the record 6,487 in 2005, county data stated.

Ross predicted the redevelopment of the former Fort Ritchie, in Cascade, Md., will produce 4,500 jobs in the next 15 years.

"Those are all Beltway jobs moving this way" and many of those workers will settle in Washington Township, Pennsylvania, he said.

One big challenge for employers is going to be "mass retirements" of aging Baby Boomers over the next 15 years, Ross said. To meet the future needs of employers, Ross said government, schools and businesses must do a better job of both work force development, particularly in vocational training, and integrating immigrant workers into the community.

York Refrigeration Systems North America in Waynesboro, Pa.; Manitowoc Crane in Shady Grove, Pa.; Jerr-Dan Corp. in Greencastle, Pa., and JLG Industries in McConnellsburg, Pa., are among the manufacturers that have announced expansion plans in the past year, Ross said.

County manufacturing jobs were unchanged in August at 10,600, according to state figures.

Professional and business services were up by 100 jobs to 4,300 and the educational and health services category also showed an increase of 100 jobs to 9,400 in Franklin County, according to the Labor and Industry report. The only category to show a drop in August was wholesale trade, down 100 jobs to 2,600.

The number of people listed as jobless in Franklin County was 2,700 in August, the same as July, the nonseasonally adjusted state data showed. The number of people with jobs was down 400 to 77,400, which reflected a similar decrease in the overall labor force.

JLG, Fulton County's biggest employer, released year-end sales figures Monday, showing sales of $2.3 billion, compared to $1.7 billion in 2005. The company reported net income of $149 million this year, up from $57 million last year.

Out of a work force of 8,300 in Fulton County, 2,700 are employed in manufacturing, with another 600 in goods-producing jobs, according to state figures. The jobless rate in Fulton County was unchanged at 4.1 percent in August.

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