York's new low unemployment rate worries some

David Weissman

York County's unemployment rate hit a seven-year low in November, and that actually has some local economic leaders worried about attracting new businesses to the area.

In this file photo, recruiters meet with potential employees at the York Career Fair at PeoplesBank Park in September 2015. (Dawn J. Sagert -

The York-Hanover seasonably adjusted unemployment rate dropped to 4.2 percent in November, its lowest rate since April 2008, according to the state Department of Labor and Statistics.

Darrell Auterson, president and CEO of the York County Economic Alliance, said the county is dealing with the "tightest" labor market it has seen in a while, meaning businesses are now competing with a smaller pool of potential employees.

"While it's certainly better than (high unemployment), it presses on us the issue of attracting more population growth in order to keep the market strong," he said.

Auterson said the county is seeing more companies seeking employees and fewer companies eliminating positions. One of the most important causes the alliance is working toward is better aligning the available work force's skills with the demands from employers, he said.

"This is an 'all hands on deck' problem and will likely continue for (the foreseeable future," Auterson said.

One of the industries that presents a big challenge in such alignment is manufacturing, he said.

Tom Palisin, executive director of the Manufacturers' Association of South Central Pennsylvania, said the biggest issue continues to be employers finding skilled workers to fill higher level positions.

"(Manufacturing) has an older work force, and with the economy starting to rebound, older workers who may have put off retiring are now leaving big holes for companies to fill," he said.

With the lowered unemployment rate, Palisin said, manufacturers' employment issues may start to creep into entry level positions as well.

Palisin warned that manufacturing is a backbone of economic growth in the county and an inability to continue supporting the industry would present problems for other, currently growing industries such as health care and retail.

The rate represents a drop from 4.4 percent in October and is the fourth straight month that the area has seen a 0.2 percent decrease, according to department analyst Jeff Newman.

Newman said he's hesitant to call the drop a "trend," but it's certainly significant to be reaching numbers that haven't been seen in seven-plus years.

The rate may go up slightly in December, he said, but there's no reason to expect a significant rise, and another drop may even be possible.

The latest figure represents a .5 percent drop compared to York's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 4.7 percent in November 2014. The industries that have seen the biggest year-to-year rise in jobs in the area are retail trade, with 800 additional jobs, and health care and social assistance, with 500 additional jobs.

Katie Lentz, executive vice president of the York County Economic Alliance, said more retail jobs are important for added quality of life in the area, but the alliance doesn't focus on those companies because they don't tend to provide family-sustaining wages.

Auterson said the increase in retail jobs may signal a market with underemployed workers, but that problem goes back to matching up skills with opportunities.

"(Our efforts) are a lot about building awareness," he said.

York-Hanover had the fifth-lowest November unemployment rate of 18 metropolitan areas in the state, according to a department press release, with Gettysburg and State College tied for the lowest at 3.7 percent and Johnstown and Williamsport tied for the highest at 6 percent.

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