News Column

Job creation not so simple

January 26, 2014

By Denise Allabaugh, The Citizens' Voice, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Jan. 26 --Local officials say recent major job creation projects bode well for the region and show an improving economic outlook. Yet, some are not happy with the types of jobs some companies are creating and the pay. A recent proposal by a Texas real estate developer for a Hanover Township development has led some to charge the area is becoming a warehouse capital with low-paying wages. Trammell Crow Co. is seeking to extend a tax-exempt Keystone Opportunity Zone for a proposed 2.3 million-square-foot warehouse complex in the Hanover Industrial Estates that would create more than 1,100 jobs and $44 million in wages. The tenant has not been lined up yet. The proposal has already gotten approval from Hanover Township and the Hanover Area School District , but Luzerne County Council is not expected to vote on the proposal until its Jan. 28 meeting. Some county council members, such as Stephen A. Urban , have expressed reluctance. "We need to start looking for better quality jobs for people in the area," Urban said. "We're selling our people short. If we don't start thinking big, then we're never going to do better. We should be saying we want better jobs for our people if we want to improve the standard of living in the area." Andrew Mele , principal with the Trammel Crow Co. , said he doesn't understand the reluctance. The jobs' wages would start at $11 an hour and could pay up to $100,000 a year, which he said is positive in a region where the unemployment rate exceeds 9 percent, the highest in the state. " Luzerne County has an unemployment rate well above the state and national average and this just strikes me as not being in touch with what's going on with the economy to suggest you want to pick and choose jobs," Mele said. While this proposal is not yet a done deal, it adds to several job creation announcements over the last year in Luzerne County . Hudson's Bay Co. , the owner of the upscale retailer Lord & Taylor in Wilkes-Barre Township , recently announced Lord & Taylor is expanding and creating 140 more jobs. The location on Highland Park Boulevard is now the hub for all goods for Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor stores as well as e-commerce fulfillment for Lord & Taylor . The addition of the new jobs boosts the company's workforce to about 800, said Tiffany Bourre , spokeswoman for Hudson's Bay Co. She would not say what the jobs pay. Mericle Commercial Real Estate Services announced seven new projects in 2014. Among the big job-generating projects, Maximus, a leading operator of government health and human services programs, is opening a location in CenterPoint Commerce and Trade Park East in Jenkins Township and hiring 500 to 700 people. The majority of the positions are expected to range in pay between $30,000 and $36,000 annually, said Lisa Miles , senior vice president for corporate communications for Maximus. Webgistix, a leading supplier of packaging and shipping services and software to e-commerce retailers, has leased a 108,000-square-foot building in the Hanover Industrial Estates from Mericle and is creating dozens of jobs. Company spokesman Jeffrey Scott could not provide a specific number, but he said positions include receiving clerks, order processors, order packers, quality and assurance professionals, returns clerks and customer support. He would not comment on what the jobs pay. When bundling projects together, Mericle spokesman Jim Cummings said companies will retain and create between 1,100 and 2,000 full-time and part-time jobs. Most new jobs will be created in 2014, he said. According to Lindsay Bracale , spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry , Luzerne County added a net gain of 215 jobs from the second quarter of 2012 to the second quarter of 2013, the most recent data available. More than 11,500 were employed in warehousing and transportation in Luzerne County in the second quarter of 2013. The number of distribution centers, especially e-commerce fulfillment centers, has been growing at a rapid pace in Luzerne County . In recent years, Mericle has attracted a number of warehouses and distribution centers to CenterPoint Commerce and Trade Park, such as Home Depot , Lowe's, Benco Dental Supply , J.P. Boden , Men's Wearhouse and luxury retailer Neiman Marcus . The area is a popular spot for distribution centers because of its quick access to interstate highways, Cummings said. "This is happening in large part because many of the best distribution sites in northern and central New Jersey have already been developed and the cost and time involved in acquiring and preparing new sites in those areas in prohibitive," he said. "They are opting for communities that are cost-competitive and have sites and buildings that are readily available such as Scranton / Pittston / Wilkes-Barre / Hazleton and Harrisburg / Carlisle ." Just about all major industrial parks in the area, including CenterPoint , Humbolt, Crestwood , Grimes, Covington and Stauffer industrial parks as well as Hanover Industrial Estates and Valley View Business Park , have tenants that operate distribution centers. These include dozens of Fortune 500 companies, Cummings said. While the wage rates at the facilities vary, he said the average annual salary in the transportation and warehousing sector here is $38,480 , which is about equal to the average annual salary for all jobs in Northeastern Pennsylvania . "When people think of distribution centers, they tend to focus only on the jobs that are created inside the facility. But when they do that, they are missing a very important piece, which is the impact those facilities have on small businesses in our area," Cummings said. "People who work for companies that install warehouse racking, repair forklifts, deliver food and related supplies, install signs, maintain landscaping, install utility systems and fix diesel engines have their jobs in large part because of the distribution centers and other industries that are located in those parks." Penn's Northeast new president Ron Maloney applauded jobs being created in Luzerne County . He said the economic development marketing group continues to try to recruit diversified jobs. "We're about attracting companies who can help us diversity that job base," Maloney said. "We never want to see our region put too many eggs in one basket." When it comes to distribution centers, Maloney said they require much more technical skills than years ago and the region has competitive advantages such as its proximity to interstate highways and rail opportunities. "We have advantages that other parts of the country would kill for as far as transportation," Maloney said. "We would we be absolutely foolish not to capitalize on it." dallabaugh@citizensvoice.com , 570-821-2115 ___ (c)2014 The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) Visit The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) at citizensvoice.com Distributed by MCT Information Services


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Source: Citizens' Voice, The (Wilkes-Barre, PA)


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