Every year the Economic Partnership takes stock of the economic development trends at the global, state, and local level to begin to strategize for the coming year. Developing predictions in response to recent trends not only allows the organization to proactively develop strategic actions, but also to continually position Berks County for business attraction and retention.
As we move into the New Year, the good news is, there is a lot to be optimistic about in the region.
2016 Berks County Outlook
1. Increased Role of Municipalities
The role of municipalities in the attraction and retention of companies continues to evolve with increasing importance. Because of this, the Economic Partnership has made it a priority to partner with Berks municipalities and develop economic development strategies to grow and retain commercial and industrial development in their communities. Removing potential stumbling blocks including streamlining the permitting process will continue to be critical in a municipalities’ ability to attract and retain commercial and industrial users.
2. Growth in Manufacturing and Logistics/Distribution Industries
Manufacturing has a long history in Berks County. While the industry has evolved, the region continues to be a natural fit. In 2015 over 60% of the inquiries for a Berks location or expansion were in the manufacturing sector. In addition, Berks County has maintained the highest percent – 20 percent – of jobs in manufacturing versus 12 percent for surrounding regions.
The transportation corridors in Berks County lend themselves to the logistics and distribution industry, specifically in the northern and southern communities of the county. These industries will continue to come to Berks County organically based on location and market access, and potential workforce
3. Workforce Availability Focus
New and expanding companies are required to continue focusing on general labor availability in the region. Business and education leaders have worked over the last three years to identify the specific skills gap to ensure that we are matching companies’ needs to the available workforce. In addition to focusing on the skilled jobs, there has been an increasing demand for an unskilled or semi-skilled workforce – due to increased levels of labor unavailability. This has and will continue to result in wage pressure across the region. Moving forward, it will be critical for the region to identify a broad labor pipeline - where labor will come from; how far they are willing to commute; and what are the specific skill requirements. 2
4. Increase in International Leads
Over the last three years the number of international leads has continued to increase in the region. The state of Pennsylvania has an incredibly proactive international team and global network working to cultivate leads and provides an outstanding support system. Berks County is well positioned to accommodate companies looking for a mid-Atlantic location with a close proximity to international airports and large metro markets, but at a much lower cost.
5. Filling the Site and Infrastructure Pipeline Critical
Adding depth to the regions’ ready-to-go site inventory is and will continue to be critical for Berks County’s ability to grow its commercial and industrial base. The lack of appropriate and desirable inventory will result in missed economic growth opportunities for Berks County. So look for a coordinated and strategic effort from the Berks County community to ensure that the inventory pipeline for the future is secure.
Plan to see economic development efforts in Berks County be more strategic and collaborative in 2016.