While reports from the U.S. Department of Laboron Friday show the nation hitting a snag in efforts to lower unemployment rates, Pennsylvania is boasting a somewhat rosier picture than the rest of the country.
Figures from the report showed the nation's economy adding only 54,000 non-farm jobs in May. The unemployment rate also inched back up to 9.1 percent from 9 percent the month before, reflecting about 14 million people unemployed. The report was generally considered to be a huge disappointment after an impressive April in which 232,000 jobs were added.
Western Pennsylvania counties by and large have been faring better than the national average of 9.2 percent unemployment, according to recent Department of Labor figures.
The seven counties that make up the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical area all saw lower unemployment rates than a year ago based on March comparisons.
Allegheny County had the lowest rate of unemployment at 7.0 percent. Butler and Beaver counties were second lowest with a 7.2 percent unemployment rate and Washington and Westmoreland counties followed at 7.8 percent unemployment.
However, Fayette and Armstrong counties had the highest unemployment rates at 9.6 and 9.5 percent, respectively.
While Pennsylvania’s latest unemployment figures won’t be released until mid-June, Christopher Manlove, spokesman for the state Department of Labor & Industry, also noted its numbers of jobless residents have been trending downward in recent months.
“It’s a significant decrease for a pretty extended period of time,” he said. “I would say we are faring better than the rest of the nation as a whole.”
He said the state's unemployment rate in April was 7.5 percent, or 1.3 percentage points lower than the rate at the same time in 2010. This is the largest single-year decrease in the state since 1987, and it could presage more good news for last month’s numbers, he said.
“When you look at the unemployment rate, you’re looking at a picture of the past, and for some time now the state’s rate has been trending down,” he said. “We hope that continues.”
Cranberry Sitting Pretty
In Western Pennsylvania, employment rates are on an upward arc.
“Fortunately, we are blooming greatly,” Township Manager Jerry Andree said. “We are doing really well.”
More than 11,000 jobs have been created in Cranberry since 1992, including 3,500 jobs that were added in 2009 when Westinghouse Electric Company opened its new headquarters in the Cranberry Woods business park, Andree said.
Andree said the township was able to woo Westinghouse, formerly headquartered in Monroeville, from a potential move to Charlotte, NC, by providing an attractive work environment with walking trails, fountains, trees and other aesthetically pleasing niceties.
“It’s an attractive community where people want to live,” Andree said. “Where people want to live, companies want to locate."
That wasn’t by accident either. Andree said township leaders purposefully created a comprehensive plan for future growth in 1995 that aimed to build a community full of the amenities that would attract businesses and residents.
Westinghouse's decision to move to Cranberry validated that plan, he said.
“It’s not about luck, it’s about hard work and people working together and sticking to the plan,” he said. “When we competed with Charlotte, we knocked their socks off.”
Still, Tammy Schmidt, branch manager of the Manpower Group job staffing agency in Cranberry, said she sees the area struggling a bit in job growth, although she noted it is much better off than it was last year.
“Some new companies are moving in,” she said. “I can definitely see more growth here.”
Some of that job growth is tied to the Marcellus Shale gas drilling industry, which is rapidly growing in Western Pennsylvania.
Schmidt said Talisman Energy, a Canadian oil- and gas-exploration and production company, recently opened an office in the Thorn Hill business park. Shell Appalachia also opened headquarters in the area after its 2010 acquisition of the Warrendale-based East Resources. According to its website, the company has 185 employees in Pennsylvania.
In 2009, Exco-North Coast Energy also signed a seven-year lease on space in an RIDC Thorn Hill Industrial Park building that formerly housed Fore Systems Inc. and Marconi Corp.
According to Schmidt, a byproduct of the gas exploration companies moving into Cranberry is the creation of more work for other local businesses.
“A few other companies had increases in doing project work for these companies,” she said.
Susan Balla, executive director of The Chamber of Commerce Inc., which represents businesses in the northern Pittsburgh area and Cranberry, also was positive about job growth in the area.
She said The Chamber is seeing its businesses add opportunities. Alcoa Inc., the aluminum manufacturer with operations in Cranberry, has 280 job openings listed on the Chamber's job board. It’s not alone in needing help.
"There are a lot of opportunities for employment out here," she said. "But Cranberry is where it is really hopping."
Elsewhere across the region, U.S. Rep.Tim Murphy (R-Upper St. Clair) said Pennsylvania’s economic path may continue to grow but only if Congress puts the right policies in place. He advocates using the state's natural resources to end reliance on foreign oil.
“We can realize unprecedented job and economic growth in southwestern Pennsylvania so long as the policies coming out of Washington help unleash our creative and entrepreneurial potential,” he said.
“Through a framework of spending reductions, low taxes, and enforcement of international trade agreements, Congress can set the stage for local families and job creators to prosper," the congressman said. "And by using our own vast natural resources, rather than sending billions of U.S. dollars overseas, we not only can end our dependence on foreign oil but invest in the growth of our own economy.”
Education Jobs Shrink Across the Region
An area in which jobs are not increasing in the region and around the state, however, is education.
Proposed state funding cuts are forcing districts to adopt their most stringent budgets in years. Many are proposing staff cuts, making the job market for educators a tight one this fall.
At , the district passed ain May that included a 5.6-mill real estate tax hike and cuts to a half-dozen district programs. Seneca Valley, which faced a $10 million budget deficit for the 2011-2012 school year, also accepted the -- a move expected to save the district $2.88 million.
The Upper St. Clair School District is beginning to take drastic measures to balance their budget. The school district staff recommends the board eliminate one administration position, three teacher aide positions and three teaching jobs through attrition.
In the Peters Township schools, the number of staff positions is expected to shrink through attrition when three teachers retire at the end of this year. The positions will not be filled, despite an outcry from local parents who are worried about class size.
The Canon-McMillan School District is proposing pay freezes and furloughs. Wages for administrative staff, confidential secretaries and support staff all would be frozen, under that proposal. Eight teacher furloughs are also proposed, involving a Latin teacher, three library science teachers, three K-6 instrumental music teachers and a family and consumer science teacher.
and will not be replacing its director of human resources and other retiring workers.
Keystone Oaks School District Superintendent William Urbanek said only two full-time teachers and one part-time teacher will be hired. To continue the same educational offerings, staff will be restructured, he said. Additionally, class sizes will increase.
The Baldwin-Whitehall School District's budget proposal includes recommendations to reduce the number of super-substitute teachers, eliminate university interns and modify tutoring support, Those measures would save $106,698 by not filling all supplemental positions and controlling additional contractual services.
The Plum School District found budget savings through salary reductions due to staff attrition, with 23 teachers retiring and not being replaced.
-- Associate Regional Editor Zandy Dudiak and Local Editors Dan Nephin, Mike Jones, Becky Emmers, Andrea Bosco and AmyJo Brown contributed to this report.