Lancaster Community fund receives $30M tax credit from U.S. Treasury Dept.

The Lancaster-based Community First Fund announced Monday the receipt of a $30 million New Markets Tax Credit allocation from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institution Fund.  

The Community First Fund was selected as one of 102 awardees from applicants requesting a total of $14.8 billion in tax credit allocation. 

Aimed at aiding economically distressed communities to attract private investment capital, the New Markets Tax Credit Program (NMTC Program) looks to fill project financing gaps by enabling investors to make larger investments than would otherwise be possible.  The federal tax credit is designed to help communities benefit from jobs created and the development of housing and public facilities, including health, education, and workforce development entities. 

“We are extremely proud of this accomplishment and even more excited about the resources it will bring to the communities we serve,” Daniel Betancourt, president and CEO of Community First Fund said in a statement.  “This program allows us to support projects that align with our goal of creating pathways to sustainable and vibrant communities that create jobs, provide affordable housing, grant access to healthy foods, promote access to health care and serve as a catalyst for even more community development initiatives.”     

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s CDFI Fund directs the program and allocates to local Community Development Entities (CDEs) across the country.  Community First Fund is a certified CDE, and the allocation gives Community First Fund the authority to provide tax credits to investors who can invest in impactful projects. 

Since 2013, Community First Fund has been awarded a total of $120 million in New Markets Tax Credits to benefit low-income communities in central and eastern Pennsylvania. Financing the expansion of workforce development training opportunities, creating grocery stores in areas designated as a USDA “food deserts,” developing affordable housing, and redeveloping blighted space into commercial and mixed-use facilities were the goals of previous projects.

Actalent anticipates positive impact of new Pa. workforce project

When Gov. Josh Shapiro signed an executive order on July 31 establishing the Commonwealth Workforce Transformation Project (CWTP), he put into law the nation’s first workforce training program to take advantage of federal infrastructure funding.

Justin Thomas, a Delaware County native and senior recruiter with Actalent, a global leader in engineering and sciences services and talent solutions, sees the potential benefits the CWTP brings to Pennsylvania.

“I definitely can see it having a positive impact within the Pa. industry, especially from a construction standpoint,” Thomas said. “In our division at Actalent, we deal a lot with federally funded projects that support our clients. COVID obviously slowed everything, and projects are still on the backburners for a lot of companies nowadays.

“Whether it be being able to invest in employees and in projects from a certification standpoint, training and development, I could really see (CWTP) help get more people into the industry, with that additional training and funding that they can offer.”

Thomas knows firsthand the construction industry and the challenges it faces.

“My dad’s in the trades,” he said, “and I worked in construction my whole life before going to college.”

Today, the Bloomsburg University product manages Actalent’s Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) recruiting team for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Thomas and his

team specialize in helping construction and engineering professionals build their careers across different client projects in the region.

He was intrigued when he first learned of the historic workforce program that the Shapiro Administration believes will help accelerate investments in infrastructure development – including repairing roads and bridges, and modernizing energy, water, and sewer infrastructure across the state.

“It’s been very informative to read about the program,” said Thomas. “I’m excited for the Pa. market in general, especially for getting work done. We’re able to partner with our clients and really talk through this and how it can help them, from a training and development purpose and from resources as well, whether that be supply chain issues from this year or dating back to last year, project deadlines, things like that.”

From a construction standpoint, Thomas said he’s eager to see how the program is going to boost the Pennsylvania job market as well as the state’s economy.

“A lot of construction and conceptual design projects, anything that was put on hold when we were in quarantine (during the pandemic), I think this will accelerate that forward. I’m excited to see the positive effects of this program.”

To fund workforce development, Pennsylvania will reserve at least 3% of funding it receives from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). This funding from the IIJA and IRA could lead to as much as $400 million being used for workforce training in Pennsylvania over the next five years. It is the largest infusion in funding for workforce training in state history, with as many as 10,000 new jobs in Pennsylvania being supported by CWTP.

“My understanding of the program is that it’s going to be for employers and employees that would be having funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or the Inflation Reduction Act,” said Thomas. “I believe from a project standpoint it’s going to be up to $400,000 in additional funding for those projects funded federally from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And up to $40,000 in additional funding for new employees as well.”

Knowing the construction industry is struggling to find workers, Thomas anticipates the program positively impacting the industry in Pa. and sees how companies in the state can best utilize the new funding offered through CWTP.

“In today’s economy from what I can see, there are a ton of jobs out there but not necessarily a ton of people for those jobs, whether that be qualification based or that the unemployment rate is very low within the construction area,” he said. “I think that could really be a segue where companies can use that to gain more workers, individuals coming from different backgrounds of education, certification level where that can really help move projects forward with training and development.”

Regarding education and certification, Thomas said the program could benefit those seeking certain certifications, including the challenging OSHA 10 and OSHA 30 courses. OSHA 10 is a 10-hour safety course covering general safety and health hazards for entry-level workers. OSHA 30 is a 30-hour safety course that provides an increased variety of safety subjects along with in-depth, industry-specific training. The latter is intended for supervisors and workers with safety and health responsibility.

“For some of the clients that we work with in central Pa. and in the Philadelphia market as well, having individuals with construction background, construction labor trying to get more technical, trying to earn those Osha 10, Osha 30, American Concrete Institute type of certifications, this is something that can help as workers enter the industry,” said Thomas.

He said additional education, which Actalent helps clients with, will be hastened through CWTP.

“This is going to accelerate that process for companies to gain more workers,” Thomas said, “and effectively get work done quickly.”

LGBT Center has new home in Harrisburg

The LGBT Center of Central PA’s 18-month search for a new home has ended. 

The center announced Tuesday the purchase of 1323 N. Front Street in Harrisburg as its new and permanent home. 

The 3,000 square foot building is in Midtown near Front and Verbeke, and accessible by bike, bus, car, or foot. The site is expected to host programs and events and serve as a hub for LGBTQ+ communities across Central Pennsylvania. 

Building renovations are scheduled to be completed this summer. Renovations include making the space fully ADA accessible, expanding the lobby and community room, and installing a full kitchen. The building contains a board room, two gender-inclusive restrooms, and staff offices. 

“This is especially meaningful for us because it is a home of our own, a building that we own, and a permanent space for our center,” LGBT Center Executive Director Amanda Arbour said in a statement. “Past experience showed us the importance of having control over our own space. Ownership will also support the long-term financial health of the center, as we build equity and plan for the future.” 

The center’s board leadership said its work at the LGBT Center of Central PA is as important as ever in the face of increasing anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and discrimination. 

“With the establishment of a home of our own, we extend heartfelt gratitude to all who support our efforts in fostering the health and wellbeing of our community,” said Wallace McKelvey, board co-chair. 

Board Co-Chair TaWanda Stallworth said the new site will help meet the needs of the LGBT community. 

The purchase of the center’s new home is supported by a capital campaign, which received pledges for 61% of the total $350,000 fundraising goal. The center continues to fundraise through its campaign and encourages donations at all levels to support the center’s new home. 

The capital campaign’s committee is chaired by Ted Martin, and its members include Donald Bucher, Benjamin Dunlap, Sandie Geary, Brad Gebhart, Marlene Kanuck, Stuart Landon, Barry Loveland, Dan Miller, Jennifer Ross, and Michelle Simmons. 

Martin, one of the founders of the center, said that now that the LGBT community is assured of having a home, “it’s on all of us to keep the doors open forever.” 

The center worked with Nick Sallack from Landmark Commercial Realty to secure the site and will preview the space at their “A Home of Our Own” soft launch event on August 18 from 5 p.m.-8 p.m. at 1323 N Front Street during 3rd in the Burg.

Wells Fargo to close two bank branches in Lancaster and Lehigh counties

Due to the increase in digital banking and other reasons, Wells Fargo will close two of its bank branches in Central Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley, the company confirmed.

In a weekly bulletin last month published by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the financial institution said it was shuttering its locations at 702 N. Seventh St., Allentown, and 1 S. Church St., Quarryville.

Wells Fargo said in a statement that it “has made the difficult decision to close the Quarryville … branch on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023, and the North Seventh Street branch in Allentown … on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023, respectively. Until then, customers can use each branch and bank with us as they always have. After that, North Seventh Street customers can visit us at our 5 City Center branch, less than a mile away. Quarryville customers can visit us at our Bridgeport branch, approximately 11 miles away. We apologize for any inconvenience … .”

This is not a decision taken lightly, Wells Fargo said. “Branches continue to play an important role in the way we serve our customers, and we continuously evaluate our branch network in light of changing customer needs, the increase in the use of digital banking and market factors.”

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Central PA company gets ‘Lift’ from ESOP

While Lift, Inc. is celebrating its 50th year of business in Central Pennsylvania, in terms of ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan), the company is considered relatively new. 

“We’re in the early, early stage,” said Lift CFO George Hennessy, whose company instituted employee ownership in October 2019. “So far, we’ve seen a lot of the benefits we hoped to see but probably not all of them. 

“Very early on, employees want to know, ‘What’s in it for me and when do I get this big windfall?’ It takes time to build shared value and the number of years in your account. After three, four years of getting statements, we’re starting to have material balances in people’s accounts and now you can feel a little more engagement.” 

Kevin McPhillips, executive director of the Pennsylvania Center of Employee Ownership, said Lift’s situation is common among ESOPs. 

“When ESOPs are first formed typically there’s a vesting period for employees for the first year or two,” said McPhillips. “There’s an adage about ESOPs – a third of the people get it right away, they understand how great this is going to be for them and their families; a third of the people have a wait and see attitude; and a third of the people are absolutely certain this is some kind of a scam. 

“After about two years they see this money accumulating in their accounts. As George said, what he sees is a culture change where people are thinking not only about their jobs but about their co-workers as well and how the success of the company can make a difference for them.” 

McPhillips said it’s common for people to call him and say, “Hey, we’ve had this ESOP for six months and people just don’t get it.” His response is to tell them to wait until Year Two or Year Three. Inevitably, he said, everybody starts to understand what an ESOP is about. 

“It creates a sense of, ‘We’re in this together and we want to make this company better,’” said McPhillips. 

An advantage of ESOP is that they create a structure for financial strategy toward employee stock ownership and an alignment between the financial goals of the employee and employer. 

In 2016, the number of ESOP companies in Pennsylvania ranked roughly in the middle of U.S. states. By 2021, however, Pennsylvania was second in the nation behind California in the number of ESOP companies. 

“Every (ESOP) plan is different,” Hennessy said. “In our plan, you must work a thousand hours in a 12-month period (to be eligible).” 

As a point of reference, a person working a 40-hour week for 52 weeks, works over 2,000 hours. In Lift’s ESOP plan, one would need to work at least six months of a 12-month period. An employee can then enter the plan on Oct. 1 or April 1, depending on when they reach the minimum 1,000 hours worked. 

Hennessy said Lift has a vesting schedule which sees its employees fully vested after six years. 

At the time of it becoming an ESOP nearly four years ago, Lift had between 275 and 300 employees, according to Hennessy. He recalled the company having immediate buy in from 25% of its employees, skepticism from 25%, apathy from 25%, and the final 25% wanting to know more. 

Of the 430 employees Lift currently has, Hennessy said 275 are eligible. 

“As we become a more mature ESOP, we’re hoping that number grows, the shared values continue to grow, and therefore the impact continues to grow,” he said. “You want to treat them as shareholders, and you want them to act and feel like owners.” 

Hennessy was first introduced to ESOP by a company in Lancaster that had transitioned to employee ownership. 

“They took us through the process,” he said. 

Hennessy added that ESOP is one thing the federal government believes in, regardless of political leanings. 

“The right side may like it because the owners get liquidity, and the left side likes it because the employees get ownership,” Hennessy said. “(ESOPs) give us the ability to not pay federal and state income taxes at the corporate level. You reinvest that additional cash flow into the company and it’s good for everybody. 

“When I’m at a party and I say, ‘We’re doing an ESOP and we don’t pay taxes anymore,’ they’re like ‘What?! Can you tell me more about that?’ 

“Go to anybody in any business and ask what’s their Number One problem and they’ll say ‘Labor, finding labor, keeping labor.’ ESOPs are a great way to attract and retain people.” 

McPhillips said the reason there aren’t more employee-owned businesses is because people don’t know about them. He acknowledges that employee ownership is not for everybody for a variety of reasons, but said once people know about ESOPs, there’s a subset of businesses that love the idea. 

“One of the great stories is what happens to ESOP companies after just a few years,” said McPhillips. “The more we raise awareness, if we can get people to know the term ‘employee ownership’, I think there’s a tipping point where businesses are going to be looking for this.” 

There’s legislation on the national and state level supporting employee ownership. The WORK (Worker Ownership, Readiness, and Knowledge) Act was introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, in 2009 and passed in 2022. The bill helps workers expand employee ownership across the U.S. by providing funding for businesses that are seeking to consider or convert to ESOP. 

In Pennsylvania, House Bill 2888 is aimed at establishing the Office of Employee Ownership within the Department of Community and Economic Development; establishing the Main Street Employee Ownership Grant Program; and providing technical and financial assistance to employee-owned enterprises. 

“We have to find other ways to provide for people in retirement,” McPhillips said. “If we don’t do that, who’s going to pay the bill?” 

Lancaster-based B2B receives investment from Ben Franklin Tech

Lancaster County-based Boostpoint is one of 10 startup companies in Central and Northern Pennsylvania that has recently received an investment from Ben Franklin Technology Partners.

The investment allows Boostpoint and the nine other companies to further develop and commercialize new products and software applications or stabilize operations in a long-standing manufacturing business.

Boostpoint is a recruitment marketing B2B SaaS platform that helps companies source and engage with qualified candidates through targeted social media advertising and automated SMS/text campaigns.

Investing in tech startups for nearly 40 years, the Ben Franklin program allocates capital to help catalyze economic growth, empower local entrepreneurs, and elevate rural Pennsylvania’s position as a hub for innovation.

Along with Boostpoint, the following companies received funding approval at the June board meeting – Advanced Power & Energy, Mercer County; Fixed-HHS, Erie County; HMS Technical Development, Bradford County; Horizon Technologies, Elk County; Impulse Technology, Centre County; PSNERGY, Erie; WaveClear, Erie; Wilds Sonshine Factory, McKean County; and X-Hab 3D, Centre.

Ground broken in Harrisburg for ‘Tiny Homes’ veterans village

Ground was broken Monday in Harrisburg for a “Tiny Homes” village for local veterans without homes. 

Seeking to end homelessness in Harrisburg for local veterans, Veterans Outreach of Pennsylvania (VOPA) is building 15 tiny homes and a community center on the wooded site by the PennDOT Riverfront Office Center. More than 100 supporters participated in the groundbreaking for the Tiny Home village that was formerly Phoenix Park. 

The VOPA project is the brainchild of retired businessman Tom Zimmerman of Lower Paxton and co-founder Valerie Fletcher, who passed away in August 2022. 

“Our objective is to give veterans a hand up, not hand-outs, as we work to restore the dignity and pride our veterans once had when they wore the uniform,” Zimmerman said in a statement. “They raised their right hand years ago and were willing to pay with their lives to defend liberty in America, with many of their brothers and sisters losing their lives after taking that pledge. It is tragic that some of the defenders of our homeland have no home to call their own.” 

The son of a World War II veteran, Zimmerman formed the nonprofit three years and has been fundraising with a board of volunteers. The VOPA project was donated five acres of land from Harrisburg philanthropist Peggy Grove, and received financial donations from American Legions, businesses, foundations, individuals, and VFWs. 

In honor of Grove, the village will be called Veterans Grove. 

“It would take me hours to thank all the people who gave so much of themselves to help us begin to build Veterans Grove,” Zimmerman said. “I will spend the rest of my life thanking you in words and actions.” 

State Sen. John DiSanto, R-Dauphin, Dauphin County Commissioners Mike Pries and Chad Saylor, and Harrisburg Mayor Wanda Williams were on hand for the groundbreaking and noted the urgent need for the project. The need is driven by the limited supply of affordable housing in Central Pennsylvania, many veterans experiencing difficulties following unexpected evictions, job loss, divorce, illness, fire, post-traumatic stress, and other challenging circumstances. 

“Our community has stepped up in a huge and heartwarming way to address that need by building a network of comprehensive support and a community of veterans helping veterans,” Zimmerman said. “Today is the fulfillment of a dream, and the inspiration to keep going.” 

Villages for homeless veterans have grown in popularity in several cities across the country. Each transitional home has a bed and bathroom. To forge friendships, create camaraderie, and lessen isolation, meals will be shared in the community center. 

Officials announced that while VOPA is close to its $4.1 million fundraising goal, fundraising continues to help defray rising costs driven by inflation, supply chain issues, and increasing lumber costs. 

Jordan Ames, a 21-year Marine and father of seven who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other areas of conflict, was hired in January as executive director of VOPA. Ames said churches, schools, and veterans’ groups have reached out to offer aid for homeless veterans. 

Serving as master of ceremonies at Monday’s ground-breaking, Ames said the goal of Veterans Grove is to fill local gaps in service. He cited the community’s convenient location and its proximity to public transportation, health care, educational sites, and places of worship.

Historic Harrisburg office building sold by NAI CIR

An historic office building in Harrisburg that dates to 1887 has been sold by NAI CIR. 

The 7,886-square-foot three-story building is located at 401 N. 2nd St.  

It was sold to Harrisburg Heritage Coworking LLC via Ten-X Auction. According to an NAI CIR press release, the building will be positioned by the buyer as an office property for lease. 

Located within two blocks of the Harrisburg Capital Complex, the building is accessible from I-83 and situated near businesses, government offices, and restaurants. It received the 1986 Preservation Award and is part of the Historic Harrisburg Association.  

Based in Lemoyne, NAI CIR was founded in 1970 and bills itself as Pennsylvania’s oldest and largest exclusively commercial industrial real estate brokerage firm. The company is the Central Pennsylvania representative of NAI Global, an international organization of real estate professionals.

Pa. nurses rally at State Capitol to address workforce crisis

Seeking to solve their workforce crisis, hundreds of Pennsylvania nurses from eight of the region’s largest nurses’ unions and advocacy groups rallied with patients, families, community advocates, and elected officials Tuesday at the State Capitol. 

Nurses met with legislators and testified before the Pennsylvania House Health Committee on the need for safe nurse staffing legislation and to urge passage of the Patient Safety Act (HB 106).  

Rebecca Hartman, a registered nurse from Allentown, said nurses are happy to work hard and happy to do hard work but want to be able to do the work safely. 

“If you make the job doable, more nurses will do it,” she said in a statement. “That’s why we’re here, asking our elected leaders to please help us and pass the Patient Safety Act here in Pennsylvania.” 

The bill was introduced in the PA House last Friday in bipartisan cooperation by state Reps. Tom Mehaffie, R-Dauphin, K.C. Tomlinson, R-Bucks, and Bridget Kosierowski, D-Lackawanna, who is a nurse. A companion bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate by state Sen. Maria Collett, D-Montgomery, who is a nurse as well. 

“As a legislator, a mom, and a registered nurse of 29 years, I have many concerns about some current healthcare issues,” Kosierowski said. “This proposed legislation that we have worked so hard on allows our nurses to give patients the care that they deserve in a safer environment for all.” 

The House Health Committee held a hearing Tuesday to discuss the bill and took testimony from nurses and stakeholders. Among those testifying was Denelle Weller, a registered nurse from Central Pennsylvania. 

“When I discuss the needs of our patients, I want this committee to fully understand what it really looks like when staffing is not appropriate or safe,” Weller said. “Basic needs like bathing, toileting, eating, and even drinking cannot be met, especially when a patient is relying on you to assist with these needs.” 

Weller said patients can lay in their own urine and feces and develop deep ulcerations on their bodies if not turned and repositioned in bed. The wounds, she added, can become so large and deep that an adult can fit their first into them. 

Supporters feel the legislation will help fix the nurse workforce crisis and save lives, as well as saving hospitals and health systems millions of dollars. 

Robert Williams, a registered nurse from Northeast Pennsylvania, said studies have shown that safer staffing levels correlate directly to better quality of care and patient outcomes. 

“One University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing study in 2021 estimated that the savings due to fewer readmissions and shorter lengths of hospital stays is about $70 million, more than twice what the safe nurse staffing levels would cost,” said Williams. 

Nurses believe chronic unsafe staffing has led to high turnover rates at hospitals and unsafe conditions for patients. A recent survey of current and former hospital workers revealed that 90% of respondents reported that their hospitals do not have sufficient staff to handle the workload. 

Myra Taylor, a registered nurse, said the problem facing nurses is not new. Even prior to the pandemic, short staffing was cited as the single biggest driver of nurse burnout and turnovers. 

“This is something I have seen building over the course of my career and when the pandemic hit, it exposed the long-growing cracks in our healthcare system,” said Taylor. “But we can fix these cracks. We can solve this crisis. We can save our hospitals money and we can save lives while we’re doing it. We just need to pass the Patient Safety Act.” 

Among the nurses and others rallying at the Capitol was a coalition of organizations, including the Nurse Alliance of SEIU Healthcare PA, Nurses of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses & Allied Professionals (PASNAP), the Jersey Nurses Economic Security Organization (JNESO), the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), Council 13 of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE), and the Pennsylvania Health Access Network (PHAN).

Bed Bath & Beyond stores closing in central Pa., Lehigh Valley

Bed Bath & Beyond store locations in central Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley have commenced closing. 

The liquidation event for 11 Pennsylvania locations and 360 stores nationally is being handled by Hilco Merchant Resources, Gordon Brothers, Tiger Capital Group, and B. Riley Retail Solutions in connection with the commencement of chapter 11 bankruptcy petitions and wind down of Bed Bath & Beyond, Inc. 

Store locations closing in Pennsylvania include Easton, Exton, Harrisburg, and Lancaster. 

Hilco Merchant Resources is a division of Hilco Global, and the company announced in a press release that buybuy Baby store locations in Lansdale and Whitehall are among 120 locations across the U.S. that are closing. 

A spokesperson for the liquidation event said in a statement that it is “an opportunity to save on household items or to stock up on baby essentials at discounted prices.” 

Shoppers can take advantage of discounts ranging from 10% to 30% off the lowest ticketed prices on a variety of home, baby, beauty, and wellness products at Bed Bath & Beyond and buybuy Baby stores. 

The Bed Bath & Beyond sales event offers a selection of home goods with discounts across all household items, including bedding, bath, décor, window curtains, furniture, kitchenware, cookware, small appliances, cleaning tools, storage, and organization solutions in addition to personal care items, luggage, and additional items. 

The buybuy BABY sale provides infant and toddler essentials from leading brands, including nursery furniture, cribs, bassinets, play yards, activity sets, strollers, car seats, travel gear, bouncers, swings, nursing and feeding supplies, clothing and accessories, bath products, diaper solutions, health and safety products, toys, and more. 

Select fixtures, furnishings and equipment will also be available for sale in closing locations. Gift cards, merchandise credits, and loyalty rewards will be honored through May 8. 

Hilco Global noted on it site that all sales are final during the store closing event. Returns and exchanges for items purchased prior to April 26, will be accepted in accordance with usual policies through close of business on Wednesday, May 24.

Strength in labor market reflected by rise in Citizens Business Index

Despite the risk of recession, Citizens Business Condition Index (CBCI) increased to 53.9 in the first quarter, Citizens announced on Tuesday. 

Citizens Bank has multiple locations throughout central Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley.

The index rise reflects continued strength in the labor market, additional business openings, and positive corporate revenue trends. The first quarter bounce-back indicates a return to positive business conditions following a drop below 50 in the fourth quarter last year.

“The U.S. economy bounced back during the first quarter and, despite the disruption in the financial sector, there are several positive signs going forward such as improving inflation measures and still-strong labor numbers,” Eric Merlis, Citizens’ managing director and co-head of global markets said in a statement. 

“Policymakers are still trying to thread the needle amid heightened recession concern, but companies that have made it through the pandemic and recent headwinds continue to prove their resiliency.” 

Despite aggressive Federal Reserve rate hikes aimed at slowing the economy to curb inflation, the labor market has remained resilient. Citizens’ proprietary data on client revenue grew across industries during the first quarter with consumer services and health care among the top sectors due to their ability to pass on rising costs to customers. 

The manufacturing sector slowed as higher borrowing costs impacted expansion by limiting capital expenditure. 

The index showed improving dynamics in the business environment. Three of the five components listed below boosted the index level while one was neutral, and one weighed on the reading: 

  • The proprietary activity data of Citizens’ commercial banking clients, a key component of the index, was very strong across regions, suggesting that the conditions at middle-market and mid-corporate businesses remained positive. 
  • The ISM non-manufacturing component grew as consumers spent more on services and companies in these sectors were more able to pass on any increased costs. 
  • New business applications increased, helping to boost the index. 
  • Employment trends, which are measured by initial jobless claims as an index component, were flat for the quarter, but nationally the number of jobs gained overall was surprisingly high despite much-publicized corporate layoff announcements. 
  • The ISM manufacturing index decreased as the sector is more sensitive to rising interest rates. 

 The trends capture a quarter where demand for goods was lower while demand for services was steady amid broader employment stability. CBCI’s first quarter rise revealed a business environment that is adapting to the year-long rate hike campaign from the Fed. The labor market’s strength continues to have a stabilizing effect on business.

Merlis said the first-quarter index indicated a business environment where activity has adjusted as interest-rate hikes seem to be working to curb inflation.

“The still-strong job market continued to be a source of support during the quarter,” said Merlis.

Lehigh Valley, Central Pa. rank high nationally for living wages

Both the Lehigh Valley and Harrisburg regions have ranked among the nation’s leaders in the percentage of workers with living-wage jobs in 2022, according to an analysis released by the Ludwig Institute for Shared Economic Prosperity (LISEP). 

LISEP Wednesday released a comprehensive analysis of the True Rate of Unemployment (TRU) by Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) for 2022, a more in-depth version of its monthly True Rate of Unemployment report that focuses on the nation’s 100 most populous MSAs.  

TRU tracks the “functionally unemployed,” defined by LISEP as the jobless, plus those seeking, but unable to find, full-time employment paying above the poverty line after adjusting for inflation. 

In the TRU by MSA report for 2022, LISEP found the rate of functional unemployment for the the Lehigh Valley decreased by 6.1% in 2022 to 15.3%. 

That makes the Lehigh Valley the third lowest and seventh most improved region.  

The Harrisburg-Carlisle MSA decreased by 4.2% to 15.5%. 

That makes the region the fourth lowest TRU.  

The institute said significant growth in the manufacturing sector helped fuel the growth in living-wage jobs in the Lehigh Valley, which grew by 4% in 2022 and has grown at a rate 11 times faster than the nation as a whole over the last five years. 

In the Harrisburg-Carlisle region employment grew notably fast in the trade, transportation, and utilities sector, totaling 6.5% in year-over-year growth, and employment in healthcare and social assistance showed significant growth at 5.6%.  

Nationally, the TRU was 22.9% for the month of February 2023. 

Other MSAs ranking in the top ten for lowest functional unemployment include Bakersfield, CA (14%); San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA (16.1%); Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD (16.8%); Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV (17.4%); Charleston-North Charleston, SC (17.6%); Raleigh, NC (17.7%); and Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, TN (17.9%).  

MSAs with the highest TRU are Dayton, OH (31.5%); Spokane-Spokane Valley, WA (29.7%); Greensboro-High Point, NC (29.4%); Rochester, NY (28.3%); New Orleans-Metairie, LA (28.1%); Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY (28%); Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL (27.5%); and Madison, WI (27.1%). 

“The huge disparity among these regional statistics – where 90 percent of workers are in living wage jobs in one region, and another where nearly half are functionally unemployed – tells a strong, compelling story,” said LISEP Chairman Gene Ludwig. “We are not a single, national economy where a one-size-fits-all economic policy will have uniform, positive results. It is important for policymakers to be aware of these disparities and take a deeper dive into these data to understand what is working – and perhaps more importantly, what is not – when making decisions that may disproportionately impact one region over another.”