Region’s Jobless Rate 4.8%
The unemployment rate in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton area has dropped from a high of 9.7 percent in January 2013 to 4.8 percent in March, according to the state Department of Labor & Industry.
For the last 27 months, the region’s unemployment rate has been down year over year, said Steven Zellers, industry and business analyst for the state Department of Labor & Industry.
Despite the dropping numbers, the region’s rate is tied with that of the East Stroudsburg area for the highest of the state’s 18 metropolitan statistical areas in March. The regional rate is higher than the state’s 3.9 percent unemployment rate and the 3.8 percent national rate.
As large warehouses and distribution centers have opened throughout the region, employment in warehousing, transportation and utilities is up by 400 jobs from March last year, according to the state Department of Labor & Industry.
John Augustine, president and CEO of Penn’s Northeast, said about 5,000 jobs are projected to come to Northeast Pennsylvania and more than 9 million square feet is under construction.
“There’s a job for anybody who wants one,” he said. “We’re seeing an increase in not just warehouses and distribution centers but manufacturing as well.”
He said the region’s continually dropping unemployment rate may be tied for the highest in the state because although there are new jobs, people in the blue collar workforce are retiring. Historically, the region’s rate has been higher than the state and national rate, he said.
Companies have been flocking to Northeast Pennsylvania from New York and New Jersey because it’s almost impossible to do business there as costs skyrocket, Augustine said.
Ubiquity Global Services headquartered in New York City, for example, recently announced it will open a new contact center in Hanover Twp. and create about 400 jobs over the next several years.
“Frankly, having a little higher unemployment rate in the region makes us more attractive to companies when they are deciding where they locate,” Augustine said. “In other locations, it’s hard to get employees and expensive to build a building.”
Companies moving into the area also are paying higher wages, Augustine said. E-commerce company Spreetail, for example, announced it would pay workers $16.50 an hour with benefits when it opens in a warehouse in Nanticoke. The fulfillment center is tentatively expected to open on June 1.
Companies also are hiring at what Mericle Commercial Real Estate Services calls Northeast Pennsylvania’s “fastest growing business park” CenterPoint Commerce & Trade Park in Jenkins Twp. and Pittston Twp.
Jim Cummings, vice president of marketing for Mericle Commercial Real Estate Services, said although the overall cost of logistics is still the primary factor that determines where companies locate their distribution centers, labor availability has become a more important factor as unemployment rates have dropped.
Northeast Pennsylvania typically competes against the Lehigh Valley and Greater Harrisburg areas for manufacturing and distribution projects, and because those areas have seen such dramatic industrial growth, labor has become quite scarce there, Cummings said.
“Although our unemployment rate has dropped considerably as well, the competition for labor is not as intense here as it is in other parts of Pennsylvania,” he said. “We are now getting calls from companies saying they have eliminated other parts of Pennsylvania because they have determined they will be unable to staff their operations there.”
With the economy showing no signs of slowing down and eastern Pennsylvania continuing to grow as a logistics hub, Cummings said it’s reasonable to assume that “we will continue to see major national and international companies selecting our area for their distribution centers.”
“I would expect that these companies will address the tightening labor market by increasing their wage rates and relying more on automation,” he said.
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