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Layoffs hit York County firm as officials brace for economic strain

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

A wave of layoffs at the Clark Shoes Distribution Center in Hanover may be the first concrete example of the damage done to York County's economy by efforts to stem COVID-19's spread. 

The company reported March 19 it would lay off 121 employees, shortly after Gov. Tom Wolf began to crack down on nonessential businesses when the coronavirus showed no signs of easing up.

"Due to these unforeseeable circumstances resulting from conditions outside of our control, we unfortunately had to make the difficult decision to temporarily reduce our staff numbers across all shifts," a company spokesperson said.

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But the layoffs, first discovered in state WARN reports — which are only required of businesses laying off 50 or more people — may just be the beginning. 

The Department of Labor and Industry has reported that more than 840,000 Pennsylvanians have applied for unemployment benefits, the most in the country.

But county-level unemployment data is still unavailable because the department is waiting on the U.S. Social Security Administration to verify applicants' Social Security numbers, said department spokesman Jahmai Sharp.

And it's unclear when the SSA would have that information verified.

Kevin Schreiber, president of the York County Economic Alliance, said "we all wish" that county-level data was available to have a firmer grasp on what's happening in the local economy.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has asked all nonessential businesses in Pennsylvania to close.

But it's still clear that York County won't be spared, he said.

"I think it's safe to continue to say that, obviously, this will have a profound economic impact on York County and the commonwealth," Schreiber said. "Just to what extent we don't yet know."

There are, however, some other indications the county's economy is being hit hard.

"Closed" signs decorate the windows of a plethora of businesses in the area. York City officials and Pennsylvania State Police have reported very few entities not complying with Wolf's shutdown order.

And, on Tuesday, the York County Food Bank opened a second location in Springettsbury Township after being overwhelmed by demand.

Local municipalities, as a result, are bracing for potentially severe impacts on their businesses and budgets, faced with the prospect of losing tax revenue.

"Obviously, we can expect this is going to have a severe and detrimental impact on the businesses, their bottoms lines," said Ben Marchant, Springettsbury Township manager. "Tax revenues will have a cascading impact on the municipal budgets."

Wolf's order to shut down non-life-sustaining businesses, a measure that excludes businesses such as hospitals, banks and grocery stores, has shown no signs of letting up as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

As of noon Tuesday, confirmed cases in Pennsylvania approached 5,000, with 66 cases in York County.

Initially, Republican lawmakers blasted the decision, saying there was not enough preparation and the move would throttle business profits.

Wolf has since lifted the closure order on some businesses, but some GOP lawmakers still aren't content.

Most recently, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Adams, on Saturday announced he would introduce legislation that would reopen all businesses "if they agree to abide by Center for Disease Control mitigation measures to contain the spread of the virus."

Some local officials, though, while concerned about the county's businesses, have emphasized that the safety of the public is their top priority.

York County Commissioner Julie Wheeler said it is undeniable that the stinging economic effects will be profound. But economic effects and public safety are connected, she said.

"The more we can do to flatten the curve, the future implications won't be as big," Wheeler said of the virus's spread.

As of Tuesday, there had been 803,000 known cases of coronavirus worldwide, killing more than 39,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University.

More than 164,000 cases had been confirmed in the U.S. — the most confirmed cases of any country in the world — with the death toll exceeding 3,100.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.