WILKES-BARRE — Teri Ooms, Executive Director of the Institute of Public Policy and Economic Development, on Monday said regional economic growth is tied to several intertwined indicators.
Ooms made her presentation, “Mini Indicators,” to about 40 local business leaders at the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber’s Think Center on South Main Street.
Ooms’ presentation featured data and analysis of economic trends and how they impact the region and their effect on the area’s business community.
“This critical data is essential for business leaders to make informed decisions,” Ooms said.
Highlights of the presentation included:
• Jobs, economy and economicdevelopment.
• Education and workforce development.
• Infrastructure and transportation.
Ooms said the region is lagging behind in post-secondary education degrees — she said fewer and fewer students are going on to college, even to seek two-year degrees or specialized certifications.
However, Ooms said more concerning is that those students graduating high school are not being directed to take specialized career paths in trades, such as plumbing and electrical contracting.
Added to that, Ooms said many lower paying jobs will be phased out over the next 10 to 20 years by automation.
“So it becomes even more critical to direct students to the trades or on to two-year degree programs and certifications,” Ooms said. “And they will make far more money than if they were to stay in the low-paying jobs that will eventually be non-existent.”
Ooms said the region’s population sits at about 528,105 — some 0.8% less than in 2000.
Of that population, 19.6% of residents are age 65 and over, compared to 18.6% in 2013.
Single parent households are at 9.1%, up from 8.8% in 2013.
The region’s top economic impactor is manufacturing, Ooms said, followed by health care, social services, real estate, transportation/warehousing, retail, and education.
Ooms noted that unemployment has declined, with total people employed at 264,000.
She said the average wage is $44,000, far below the national average of $57,000 and $5,000 below the neighboring Lehigh Valley.
“That said, we expect the gap to close significantly over the next 20 years,” Ooms said. “With 264,000 currently employed, we expect the demand for workers to grow to 280,000.”
The areas of highest employment are health care, retail, manufacturing, transportation/warehousing, food service, education, construction, and finance/insurance.
Ooms said there are currently 6,524 job postings in the region, covering some 461 occupations. Most of those are from Geisinger, the University of Scranton, Shipt, Aramark and Allied Careers.
Ooms said the most vulnerable occupations that will lose through automation include food service, transportation, sales, production and construction.
Less vulnerable will be in social services, computers/mathematics, education, arts, health care support, and management.
Ooms offered this statistic:
Approximately 242,478 workers across Northeastern Pennsylvania, or 49 percent of the region’s total workforce, are employed in one of the 32 occupations with at least a 70 percent probability of automation in the coming decades.
Ooms said the growth sectors with upward mobility and transferable skills are:
• Health care and social assistance.
• Logistics, transportation and warehousing.
• Infrastructure and construction.
• Utilities and energy production.
• Advanced professional services, from real estate appraisal to investment to advice, and software publishing to market research.
Ooms also said a key factor in the region being competitive in attracting new jobs and residents is quality of life, She said public safety, recreation, entertainment, urban environment, flexible hours, available day care, and filling transportation gaps are among the most critical needs.
“We have to create an environment where people want to live,” Ooms said. “There are incredible opportunities out there, but we have to eliminate the barriers. We need regional solutions, then we will be able to compete.”