Franklin County concentrates firmly on its future. Home to well-known and respected employers across multiple sectors such as original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), warehousing, and logistics, Franklin County is also the location of the famous Letterkenny Army Depot, Summit Health, and many prominent companies.
Much of the reason for the county’s growing popularity with businesses of all sizes is its location. As the county is connected to the Washington and Baltimore Metro area and ultimately to Philadelphia and the New York Metro area, some residents live in Franklin County and are daily commuters to Washington, with the Beltway just an hour and 15 minutes away. Ideally situated along Interstate 81, the county is extremely well-connected to major metropolitan regions, with access from the Carolinas to Ontario, Canada.
Prime location and skilled workforce
With a population exceeding 154,000 and growing, Franklin is one of 15 counties out of 67 in Pennsylvania which are driving the state’s economy. Along with its optimal location and existing industries, an important draw for companies great and small is Franklin County’s skilled workers. “It really is a driver of why there is growth here,” says Jesse McCree. As Chief Executive Officer at South Central PA Works for over two years, McCree spearheads the organization which funds employment and training programs, and enables businesses “to build talent pipelines to help meet workforce demands.” Serving thousands of Pennsylvania residents annually, South Central PA Works also operates six PA CareerLink® sites, and invests approximately $14 million every year into programs for youth and adults.
Much of the growth taking place in Franklin County, says McCree, is due to a higher percentage – relative to the rest of Pennsylvania – of residents holding a bachelor’s degree or higher, along with persons with middle skill jobs – essentially more than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year university degree. “This region is strong in that respect for the skilled workforce,” he states. “That is an area of strength for our region, and also something we need to continue to look at, and not get complacent. Increasingly, a skilled workforce will be the key driver… For right now, the skilled workforce in our region — in addition to our location and accessibility — is really a key factor in our growth.”
Ideal for employers
With great road access, close proximity to major centers like Washington, and a talented workforce, Franklin County is a terrific place to work, live, and play. The county’s extensive interstate highways – along with two Class-1 intermodal terminals – allow for ready, cost-effective access to over 50 percent of the North American population and the opportunity for businesses to distribute products all the way from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Toronto, Canada and beyond. Additionally, Franklin County is close to railway systems, major airports such as Dulles International and Harrisburg, water access through the Ports of Baltimore (just 75 minutes away), Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh, all of which help make Franklin County attractive to businesses.
Along with the Letterkenny Army Depot and Summit Health, many other major employers also call the area home, such as well-known consumer products manufacturer Proctor & Gamble, material-lifting equipment maker JLG Industries, the Manitowoc Crane Group, and Volvo Construction Equipment, to name a few.
Operating alongside South Central PA Works is the Franklin County Area Development Corporation (FCADC). Created on March 3, 1986, the FCADC remains under the leadership of its President of almost 33 years, Mike Ross. And like McCree, Ross remains grateful for the many long-term industries in the area but also willing to embrace new and growing sectors, including supply chain and big box centers, many located along Interstate 81. “We are continually adding big box centers, and have two or three under construction right now,” states Ross. “There are lots of good things going on.”
In August, construction began on an exciting project in the area, a new plant for the Jamison Door Co., which also has locations in Hagerstown and near Williamsport, MD. The $3.7 million, 50,000 square foot site follows the building of the Hagerstown location, which opened in 2012. The FCADC conducted a site search, identified the property and served as a developer, and the new facility, set to open in April of 2019, will be used to create large roll-up doors for the warehousing and food industries.
Jamison’s Chief Executive Officer and Chairman, John Williams, stated his enthusiasm for the project and praise for the efforts of the FCADC. “Michael Ross and his team have been incredibly helpful in our process of locating a site to increase our capacity for high speed roll-up doors. This new building is a major investment for our company and reflects our belief in a strong and growing economy and Jamison’s ability to prosper in it.”
Expected to create about 35 full-time jobs, the new Jamison Door facility represents the confidence companies have in Franklin County. “We are blessed here to have a strong manufacturing base with original equipment manufacturers, especially construction equipment sectors, companies like Volvo Construction, Manitowoc Crane, and JLG,” says Ross. “There is also a big supply chain. These companies now have global alliances and are trying to have companies located close to them, so we’ve had some international companies move into the area.”
Along with Jamison Door, the area also saw groundbreaking for the new Greencastle Medical Office Building for Summit Health. Budgeted at about $17 million, the facility will host diverse practices and disciplines, including a walk-in care facility. “Healthcare is a big deal here, especially in the southern tier of where we are, because Pennsylvania does not tax retirement income,” explains Ross. “So we get a lot of retirees looking to move here, especially out of the beltway. Because of the proximity, they can move here and still maintain a lot of their connections that they have wherever they may be coming from.” Under construction, the 48,000 square foot building is expected to open in the third or fourth quarter of 2019.
Strong education, low unemployment
With a solid median household income of $55,751 and reasonably priced housing, Franklin County also supports a strong educational system all the way from kindergarten to Grade 12, with close proximity to higher education including quality four-year schools. Mindful of the need for future workers, Shippensburg University is committed to making the curriculum relevant to employers in the area. With an engineering component added to the local university, students can obtain accredited degrees in mechanical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, and software and computer engineering, all important skill sets relevant to meet the changing needs of employers today and into the future.
With unemployment rates in the low threes, Franklin County has nearly two open jobs for every one person who is unemployed, the opposite of what happened in the community after the global financial downturn of 2008 to 2010. While this may seem to be a silver lining, it comes with its challenges, namely the need to upskill the current workforce and bring people who are not in the labor force back in with relevant skills, training, and education.
Recognizing the changing face of consumer buying habits away from retail stores toward online purchasing, area big box retailers need to gear up for the holidays in the coming months, with some doubling their workforce to handle online orders, packaging, processing, and more. “Companies are coming to us saying they are looking to hire hundreds of people. The tight labor market is not unique to Franklin County as it has become a national challenge,” says Ross. “Every retailer has an online component now, and a lot of companies are located on Interstate 81. The population is not growing as quickly as job opportunities are growing.”
To prepare for the need for future workers, Phenomenal Industries – a global welding and labor services company – opened a welding and training center in the area in 2017 with the intent of meeting the need for increased demand from the manufacturing and construction sectors. This in not only in line with requirements from business but well suits the anticipated growth in Franklin County and a world in which transformative skills will be required. Available jobs will range from the skilled trades to manufacturing, transportation logistics, information technology, artificial intelligence, and more, all requiring technical skills and education.
“Part of the challenge is preparing for unknown jobs in the future,” says McCree. “If we could look 10 or 15 years into the future, what are the industry sectors we believe will be growing? Demographics are changing, and we are getting younger talent moving into the area, which is critical. We are mindful not to be set in our ways, and are instead looking at the future and our ability to adapt to future changes at the speed of light.”