The rebound in U.S. manufacturing is being experienced firsthand in our region, a long-time and resilient home for manufacturing and industry.
As the primary marketer for Greater Reading, Pennsylvania, we’ve seen inquiries from companies and site selection groups growing steadily over the past four years. They reached new highs in 2015 and reflect economic trends: 75 percent were from manufacturing and distribution-related businesses.
This interest in our area is understandable:
• As the one-time site of the world’s largest textile plant, as well as other industries, Reading maintains its reputation as a global manufacturing center. It is still home to a number of international companies representing specialty metals, medical devices, food products and other industries. At the same time it is seeing growth in the business and financial services sector.
• The workforce is production-oriented. Of 13 cities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania analyzed by the Philadelphia Federal Reserve in 2014, Reading has maintained the highest percent – 20 percent – of jobs in manufacturing versus 12 percent for the other cities. In addition, Reading’s growing population is getting younger, which presents workforce development opportunities that will benefit relocating and existing local companies.
• The county is well situated for business success, with close proximity and easy access to major traffic arteries and markets in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast.
• The business community is proactive, agile and interconnected. The number of banking, engineering, and economic development organizations provide a highly supportive environment for companies to establish and grow their operations.
Moving to Greater Reading
One example is Seibu Giken’s North American Operations, SG America. In 2013, the Minnesota-based air handling systems company was looking at alternate U.S. sites to give them access to a larger labor pool and lower cost of business. With the support of the Greater Reading community and business leaders, they relocated and are now operating in a 25,000 square-foot location.
The area is also responding to the pent-up demand for East Coast distribution centers. Two national retailers looking to establish such centers recently set up operations at a 323-acre complex in the northern part of the County. PetSmart and Dollar General opened their facilities in 2014 and from the site, Pet Smart alone is looking to supply 25 percent of its retail stores nationwide.
The complex, called Berks Park 78, is close to Interstate 78, a key interstate stretching from west of Berks County to New York City. With its rural location and close proximity to densely populated East Coast areas, this and other planned distribution parks will benefit from the distribution center trend.
Manufacturing companies already based in Greater Reading are taking part in the rebound. Several years ago, the parent of Cambridge-Lee Industries LLC, a local maker and distributor of copper tubing, was interested in transferring a new manufacturing facility to Cambridge-Lee’s Reading site. Given the opportunity to retain and add jobs, the county, economic development organizations and local contractors worked to expedite the project, allowing it to open on schedule.
Developing a Skilled Workforce
The manufacturing rebound means an ongoing need for workers with the right technical skills. With the growing number of youth in this area, we saw this as an enormous opportunity for our region. The response has been marketing initiatives like “Careers in 2 Years,” to promote training and job opportunities in mechatronics, welding and other technical skills.
With these and other initiatives, Greater Reading is well positioned to serve the needs of U.S. and global manufacturers looking for opportunities to grow.