Lebanon County on verge of upgrading to 4th class county, reports state of the county event

Cris Collingwood//May 25, 2023

Lebanon County on verge of upgrading to 4th class county, reports state of the county event

Cris Collingwood//May 25, 2023

Lebanon County is the second fastest growing county in the state, with a population growth that has it on the cusp of moving from a 5th class county to a 4th class county.  

“That growth has a direct impact on the needs of the community,” Jamie Wolgemuth, Lebanon County Chief Clerk, told participants of the inaugural State of the County event, hosted by the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce at Lebanon Valley College Thursday. 

In fact, the population grew from 99,665 in 1970 to 143,257 in 2020.  

“The threshold is 145,000, so we are on the cusp,” he said. 

Wolgemuth was part of an eight-person panel to address the state of Lebanon County to inform and inspire business leaders and citizens to get involved in shaping the future of the county. 

Susan Eberly, president and CEO of the Lebanon Valley Economic Development Corporation, said while manufacturing is the largest employment sector, employing more than 18% of workers, transportation and warehousing are the fastest growing. In fact, she said, that sector has seen a 46% increase. 

And while most warehouses in the valley were historically in the 20,000-square-foot range, today, the valley is seeing growth in warehouses ranging in the 500,000 to 1 million-square-foot range.  

“We have 22 million square feet of warehouse space. It’s like growth on steroids,” she told the crowd of about 300 people.  

The event was an overview of where the county is today. Eberly said the event was intended to open doors to communication and provide insight into the needs of the community and showcase the things that are going well. 

Karen Groh, president and CEO, Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce, said workforce shortages are an issue. 

“If you add up all the people who are unemployed, there would not be enough to fill the jobs available,” she said. 

She cited barriers to employment that include childcare issues, language barriers, livable wages, and transportation. 

And, she said, “There is a marked absence in technical skills to help increase wages.” 

Julie Vicente, superintendent of Eastern Lebanon County School District, said the school districts said the education system is complex. While preparing students for their next opportunity, she said, schools face the challenges of state mandates, mental health services, specialized staffing needs and an aging infrastructure.  

Students need more services after COVID, she said. That requires more specialized staffing. 

However, Vicente cited a 73% decline in first year teacher certifications over the past 10 years, creating a shortage of staffing.  

And more students are looking to CTC for technical training to enter the workforce after graduation.  

“We had 566 students enrolled this year and we project 747 for next year,” she said, adding there is already a wait list. 

“This is an urgent concern that is being addressed,” Vicente said, through apprenticeships, internships, mentorships and leadership development. 

“We can’t do it alone. We want to partner with you,” she told the crowd. 

Nicole Maurer Gray, executive director, Community Health Council, spoke to the importance of a healthy community to move Lebanon County forward. 

To that end, she said the council has convened partners to create priorities around lifelong wellness, social determinants of health and mental health.  

“Chronic disease prevention is key,” she said. “The cost to U.S. employers is $36.4 billion per year.” 

Maurer Gray cited increases in blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, cholesterol and blood pressure. In fact, she said, there has been a 61% increase in diabetes across the county. 

“It costs more to treat these than it does to prevent them,” Maurer Gray said 

Housing and food insecurity play a big role in social determinants of health.  Maurer Gray said employees don’t leave their problems at home and it costs employers in lost productivity. 

“Income is the most powerful social determinant. Eight percent of residents are at or below the poverty level here,” she said. “And 36% of people make too much for assistance, but not enough to make ends meet.” 

While the presenters pointed out the needs of the community, the picture is not bleak. Lebanon County is growing and attracting business, Wolgemuth said.  

The cost of living is low, with the median price of a home at $250,000 and the median property tax, $787 per year, is lower than half of other fifth class counties, he said. 

And the county received an A+ stable rating, up from a Triple B rating 10 years ago, he said.