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Lehigh Valley Unemployment Down, Hiring Pace Strong

By Colin McEvoy on January 6, 2015

Unemployment has dropped once again in the Lehigh Valley, and the region is expected to hire at a stronger pace this year than most other metropolitan areas in the country, according to a market research firm.

Lehigh Valley’s unemployment rate dropped to 5.3 percent in November, marking the fourth straight month it has decreased, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry. The new rate, down from 5.6 percent last month, is a full two percentage points lower than the 7.3 percent unemployment rate one year ago, and is the lowest the region has seen since May 2008.

Meanwhile, according to a study released last month by the consulting firm ManpowerGroup, 25 percent of the Lehigh Valley companies they interviewed indicated they plan to hire more employees in the first quarter of 2015, while 66 percent say they will maintain current workforce levels and only eight percent say they will reduce staff.

The firm calculates a “Net Employment Outlook” by subtracting the amount of companies that will reduce staff from those who will add staff, meaning the Lehigh Valley has a Net Employment Outlook of 17 percent. That’s a vast improvement over the last quarter of 2014, when the number was 7 percent, and even bigger when compared year-to-year with the first quarter of 2013, when it was 5 percent.

“Staffing plans are much stronger than Quarter 4, when the Net Employment Outlook was 7 percent,” said Manpower spokesperson Michael Pinkasavage. “A year-over-year comparison suggests that job seekers will also find considerably improved job prospects.”

The Lehigh Valley tied for the 11th-highest Net Employment Outlook out of 100 major metropolitan statistical areas surveyed by the firm. The 17 percent rate puts the region on par with areas like Dallas, San Antonio, Jacksonville, Knoxville and Wichita, and puts us ahead of places like Cincinnati (16 percent), Salt Lake City (15 percent), Buffalo (13 percent), Pittsburgh (12 percent), Chicago (10 percent), Boston (8 percent) and Indianapolis (6 percent).

The Lehigh Valley’s unemployment rate of 5.3 percent in November compares favorably to the overall United States unemployment rate of 5.8 percent, and is about on par with the state average of 5.1 percent, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry. It is also lower than unemployment rates in other nearby Pennsylvania metropolitan areas, like Philadelphia (5.6 percent) and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton (6 percent), according to the state.

The Lehigh Valley’s seasonally adjusted total nonfarm jobs reached a new record high of 350,500 in November, up 900 from the previous month, according to the department. In October, the region also set a new records for number of jobs transportation and warehousing, reaching 20,100. Over the year, the Lehigh Valley is up a total of 2,800 jobs (0.8 percent), while the state gained 33,200 jobs in total (0.6 percent).

Don Cunningham, executive director and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. (LVEDC), is confident the Lehigh Valley will see continued job growth this year, estimating the addition of at least 5,000 jobs. The largest single new employer is expected to be zulily, the online realtor who will open its first East Coast distribution center in Bethlehem this year, adding 1,200 jobs to the region. They will become one of only 16 companies in the Lehigh Valley that employ more than 1,000 workers.

Other regional job growth is expected in the areas of e-commerce and manufacturing. E-commerce is the Lehigh Valley’s second-largest local economy, behind medical and health care, employing about 19,500 people, with about 6,000 of those jobs being added in the last four years, Cunningham said. Walmart, which previously opened an e-commerce distribution center in the Lehigh Valley Industrial Park VII in Bethlehem, plans to open a second such center in the nearby Majestic Bethlehem center this year.

“As companies continue to take notice of the advantages the Lehigh Valley has to offer, I think it’s safe to say that we’ll continue to see the growth in jobs that we’ve seen in previous years continue into 2015 and well beyond,” Cunningham said.

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