State Sen. David G. Argall (PA R-29) on Friday hosted a public roundtable discussion at the Schuylkill Haven Penn State University Campus on improving local job climate.
Representatives from local labor unions and the Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce, Schuylkill Chamber, Pennsylvania General Assembly, Schuylkill Economic Development Corporation, Schuylkill/Luzerne Workforce Investment Board and local business leaders were on-hand to discuss job growth, business recruiting efforts, employment and underemployment statistics, as well as forecasted economic projections.
Argall started his discussion by pointing out that many refer to it as the 'Great Recession,' the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930's. Pennsylvania's efforts, as well as the $787 billion federal "stimulus bill" passed by Congress in February, have not had the desired impact. He added, "It has been a long time since we have seen these statistics."
"This economy is the worst that many of us have seen in our lifetimes," said Argall.
Speaker Jerry Heffner of Schuylkill Economic Development Corporation in Pottsville, pointed out ways his corporation manages and maintains 11 business parks throughout Schuylkill County, stating their primary focus is on business retention, business expansion, and new business recruitment from outside the county to inside the county, all in the name of job creation and job retention.
Speaker Gail Landis with the Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce and Industry talked about how their workforce is in good position to move forward, sustain, and move forward to grow jobs in the local economy. She also pointed out the strong advocacy role their chamber plays by looking at different pieces of legislation that promote job growth.
Speaker Bob Carl, executive director for the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber represents 875 businesses and non-profits. He also stressed their pursuit of job growth via advocacy and legislative means.
Drew Marin of Marin Financial Services and executive committee member with the Greater Lehigh Chamber of Commerce, stressed one of his chamber's missions is promoting local businesses and keeping profitable while providing better paying jobs.
Sharon Angelo, vice president for workforce development services for REDCO Groups Investments and Networks Division, and representative for PA CareerLink, said they provide training and employment services to job seekers and employers. Angelo said it will be a long time to recover. She said her office has seen a 35 percent increase in traffic from 2008 to 2009. Many people are losing jobs they've had for 15 or 20 years. She also pointed out that she doesn't have enough jobs available to help these displaced workers who are in desperate need of jobs. Job seekers get so frustrated that they just give up on searching for new employment. This also can result in "fun-employment."
"Fun-employment" came into being with the recession, when people began losing jobs. It means unemployed individuals make use of the break to enjoy their free time – travel, take up physical activity and have a good time but at little cost. They may not have been able to do this earlier. The fun employed are young people who have few responsibilities and commitments and can afford a break. They also use the time to find another job, but don't spend time worrying about it.
Gary Martin, representing Ironworkers Local 420, showed his desire to help members get work and go forward. He also pointed out their nationwide self-funded partnership program. Martin stressed the prospect of providing free training to motivated individuals in trade professions, as well as the "Helmets to Hardhats" which was created to help veterans find jobs. He encouraged veterans to visit http://www.helmetstohardhats.org.
Speaker Jerry Knowles, PA R-124 Berks/Schuylkill, stressed the improved handling of fun-employment, job availability to youth, and bringing in more technical fields to the area.
"Trade schools can be just as good to get local jobs," said Knowles. He also mentioned problems with transportation, job recruitment initiatives in the Tamaqua area, and ways on protecting the environment.
Speaker Gary Bender, Schuylkill County grant administrator and CDBG coordinator, stressed the county government's concerns over the economy and jobs. He pointed out the commissioners' office has alway worked with partners to develop businesses in the county. He mentioned they are very aggressive in getting stimulus funds to create short or long term jobs. He added, "Good things are happening and we are laying the groundwork."
"It's my goal to find out what state and local governments can do to better improve our recovery efforts. Whether it's better workforce development and job training, or work on our business recruiting efforts, we need to improve our strategies," said Argall, who also stressed the validity of job and unemployment numbers.
Speaker Dawn Ferrante, director of the Carbon County Economic Development Office, stated companies are hanging in while also struggling with job retention. She stressed the resolution of turning problems over and over until they are resolved. Other attractive features for businesses are the decreasing taxes and programs such as Keystone Opportunity Zones.
Carbon County Workforce Training provides services funded through the U.S. Department of Labor & Industry under the Workforce Investment Act.
These services are designed to provide local job seekers with information regarding training programs and options available to assist them in obtaining employment opportunities throughout the state of Pennsylvania.
These services include general labor market information such as vocational training schools and programs, and projections of jobs in demand in Pennsylvania. Carbon County Workforce Training may assist job seekers through individual training accounts, on-the-job training services, work experience opportunities, or other specialized training services.
These services are directed to adult and dislocated workers, in-school and out-of-school youth, and public assistance clients. These services are also designed to assist area employers in finding skilled workers to meet their needs.
Eligibility and suitability guidelines apply to most services. Carbon County Workforce Training is a partner in the Pennsylvania CareerLink system. General information on CareerLink and its other partner agencies is available at any CareerLink facility.
"We all need to utilize the assets that we have and not to spend so much effort on infrastructure development, but instead spend time in other ways." Ferrante added, "Our people are our best resources."
The roundtable was a follow-up to Sen. Argall's Community Revitalization Summits, held last summer aimed at providing information for local communities to fight blight and create local jobs.