In somewhat of a dramatic reversal, the area that traditionally had “no jobs” is now finding itself unable to fill thousands of employment openings, while also hosting increased national involvement and investment into its business community.
Mike Jensen, business instructor and management consultant with Lackawanna College, declared that despite overall population decreases, specific segments of the Greater Scranton Area’s business climate are almost booming. These include warehousing and transportation, the restaurant business, and medical providers in the specialties of PT, OT and mental health.
Changes throughout the area’s vast medical community are also occurring with varied repercussions as physicians consolidate their practices. Meanwhile, the huge retail arena is absolutely churning with stores opening and closing, partially from the impact of online commerce, but also from market changes unleashed by the nation’s millennials as they proceed into adulthood and placement as consumers.
“A national trend that certainly is occurring here involves how the mom and pop stores are struggling with technology, inventory and pricing of goods,” said Jensen, who also will serve as director of his school’s new business incubator. “The retail competition is intense.”
This total package of events occurring within the Scranton area’s business community has therefore led Jensen to conclude that the Scranton market is now firmly imbedded within the national business arena. As opposed to Scranton’s traditional position as somewhat of an outlier, events and trends that occur nationally are being felt directly within local commerce.
“This region is no longer the isolated outpost it has historically been, and this connection has created a situation where, if a slump occurs on the national scene, it will be directly felt here,” said Jensen.
Scranton’s business climate, according to Bob Durkin, president of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce, is positioned for quality job growth and business development. He detailed how Chamber membership has risen by 75 while attrition with memberships has declined.
The Chamber, according to Durkin, is enjoying greater participation in support of events. Collaboration with various partners has risen, land sales are at record levels and small business loans are “healthy.”
Occupation in the region’s various business incubators is also booming with a number of graduate companies striking out on their own. Concurrently, enrollment for training through Leadership Lackawanna has risen as efforts to recruit youngsters to the program bear fruit.
“Demand has particularly risen for our program that helps high school students become tomorrow’s leaders,” said Durkin. “This particular program is identifying some great candidates, and as the millennials grow up, they are becoming more comfortable with responsibility.”
In a dramatic reversal, Scranton’s available jobs are now outdistancing applicants for those positions, indicating that the region’s workforce, and not employment opportunities, are the weak link in area commerce. According to Durkin, more than 3,000 open jobs exist within Lackawanna County at any given moment, and the Chamber is working to alleviate this shortage of workers.
According to information compiled by the Lackawanna Workforce Investment Board, education is indeed needed by the regional workforce to meet the demands of modern commerce. Data for 2018 to 2019 indicated that only 39% of those working have some form of postsecondary education.
“The question we always ask is how to fill open jobs, and that must include the identification of training to break down job barriers,” said Durkin. “The Chamber’s outreach with the Scranton Lackawanna Industrial Building Company, commonly known as SLIBCO, now includes a workforce creation component.”
Durkin added that other specific changes could occur throughout the area and have a positive impact on the size of the workforce. These include expansion of mass transit to reduce transportation difficulties, the easing of language barriers, escalating tech awareness and development of superior soft skills throughout the workforce.
Incubators and investment
On the industrial front, three themes are quietly dominating the headlines in the Greater Scranton area, according to Ken Okrepkie, regional manager with the Ben Franklin Technology Partners. These involve business incubator success, availability of venture capital if a company agrees to stay in the region and a wave of private investment.
According to Okrepkie, the region’s four incubators, located in downtown Scranton plus the Valley View, Carbondale and Waymart areas, now house at least 20 total companies operating in specialties such as food manufacturing, business technology, coding and software.
“It has been firmly demonstrated within these incubators that the concept works, where budding firms can evolve while they mature and eventually operate independently,” said Okrepkie. “The one problem everyone is dealing with concerns the workforce shortage, and there’s no quick solution for that.”
Within the investment arena, Okrepkie’s regional portfolio now features $19 million of angel and investment capital that has been raised. Opportunity zones also are creating investment markets for capital gains that are accelerating national interest in select regional business parks, where nine million square feet are under construction.
“This expansion would not be possible without national investment from companies such as Trammell Crow, North Point and Cushman Wakefield,” said Okrepkie.
He also acknowledged that the nation’s economic indicators are increasingly indicating that an economic slowdown is near. When Washington’s trade tariffs and supply chain disruptions are added in, specific industries could suffer, and the Scranton area will not be exempt.
“Despite these concerns, expansion and investment in company infrastructures, processes and products is still very hot here,” said Okrepkie. “There is an understanding that even when the next downturn occurs, life will go on.”