Region's job market is roaring, and boom is boon for workers.
By Gregory Karp
Of The Morning Call
The Lehigh Valley is the hottest region in Pennsylvania for jobs.
''It's scorching,'' said Nancy Dischinat, director of the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board, the state-sponsored jobs agency for the region.
Over the past five years, the Lehigh Valley:Added jobs at six times the rate of Pennsylvania.
Was responsible for one of every 2.8 new jobs in the state.
Added far more jobs than any other metropolitan region in Pennsylvania.
At a time when most regions of Pennsylvania have barely recovered the jobs obliterated in the wake of the technology bust and the 2001 national economic recession, the Valley's jobs engine is roaring.
April marked an all-time high in the number of jobs in the Valley, according to data to be released today by the state Department of Labor and Industry. T he region, which includes the counties of Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon and Warren, N.J., was home to 343,200 jobs, 6,000 more than in April 2005.
The surge augments a five-year trend in which jobs in the Valley grew by 5.3 percent, compared with just 0.9 percent statewide.
The regional job growth is encouraging during a time of tremendous migration of people from the New Jersey and the Philadelphia regions. Many moved to the Valley in search of a lower cost of living, especially lower-cost housing, and kept their high-paying jobs in the big-city metropolitan areas.
But clearly, more and more jobs are available in the Lehigh Valley, too.
In less than a decade, the labor market has undergone a type of whiplash Â from plentiful, high-paying jobs in the late 1990s to mass layoffs through 2002 and then a resurrection of jobs in recent years, especially since 2004.
''What goes around comes around,'' Dischinat said. ''A new dilemma is arising: the shortage of workers. The battle cry [among employers] is out already. It's becoming an employee market now. ''
A plus from an employer's point of view is that the region's economic development leaders are grooming high school students for the jobs available locally, creating a pipeline of workers with the right skills to fill available jobs, Dischinat said. ''It's starting to work,'' she said.
For workers, a tight labor market is desirable even if you have a job. Employers know they'll have to pay more to keep you. And if they don't pay enough, you're more likely to have other job opportunities that will.
The foremost driver of new jobs is the health care industry. The region added 7,500 jobs in the health care and social assistance category, which is mostly from health care. Of those additions, 2,600 jobs were in hospitals.
Warehousing and logistics are still booming, adding 1,200 jobs since 2001. And the population explosion is fueling employment in retail, which employs 4,100 more than five years ago, and restaurants, which added 3,500.
And all of the growth in jobs doesn't yet include some of the hiring at the crown jewel of new-job creators, Olympus America. Olympus is moving its North American headquarters to Upper Saucon Township and is expected to hire hundreds of people.
''They haven't hired all the people they will ,'' Dischinat said. '' Everyone wants to work at Olympus because those jobs are paying a lot of money.''
Though most sectors of the economy added jobs over the past five years, a notable exception is manufacturing. Once the centerpiece industry in the Lehigh Valley, supported by the likes of Bethlehem Steel, Mack Trucks and a slew of smaller factories, manufacturing has hemorrhaged 14,900 jobs since April 2001. Today it accounts for just 13 percent of all jobs, down from 18 percent five years ago.
Despite the overall good jobs news in April, unemployment inched up to 4.6 percent, compared with 4.5 percent in March. That's because the labor force grew by 1,600 people in April to a record high 416,000. Meanwhile, the job market only absorbed 1,100 more workers during the month. All told, 19,100 people were counted as unemployed.
Still, 4.6 percent unemployment is considered quite healthy by most economists, and it's better than the 4.7 percent registered by both Pennsylvania and the United States.
Article courtesy of the Morning Call