Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC announces new president and CEO


The leader of Harrisburg nonprofit Team Pennsylvania will take over as CEO and president of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC when David Black retires at the end of June.

The Chamber & CREDC announced on Wednesday that Ryan Unger, president and CEO of Team Pennsylvania Foundation, will assume Black’s role effective July 1.

The announcement comes after a national search that the Chamber & CREDC began soon after Black announced his retirement in December 2020. The search conducted a dozen stakeholder sessions and convened over 100 people when deciding what qualities were needed an ideal candidate, said Ben Dunlap, co-chair of the chamber’s search committee.

“The search generated 125 applications from the region and across the country,” said Dunlap. “Our committee arrived at a decision after three rounds of interviews. It was very clear to all of us that Ryan’s enthusiasm and expertise is just what we were looking for.”

Unger was chosen for the leadership role for a number of reasons, including his passion for the midstate and his background in government advocacy, economic development and community organizations, said Meron Yemane, Chamber board chair and member of the search committee.

Unger joined Team Pennsylvania as its director of policy and programs in 2011 and was appointed president and CEO in late 2015.

Team Pennsylvania is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit that connects private and public sector leaders to improve the state’s competitiveness and economic prosperity.

During his time at Team Pennsylvania, Unger assisted with the creation of nationally recognized policy and state-level strategy documents and reports from topics ranging from Marcellus Shale development to manufacturing.

He also helped the organization form a public-private partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to support the state’s agricultural economic development efforts.

An Elizabethtown College alumnus, Unger previously worked in regional economic and community development at SEDA-Council of Governments in Lewisburg and the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce in Shamokin Dam.

David Black has been the president and CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC sinc 2001. PHOTO/PROVIDED

“Chambers are key connectors in our communities, and I’m excited to step into this role at a time when connection is vitally important,” Unger said. “I’m grateful to the business community for trusting me to lead this incredible organization, and I look forward to working with our inspiring members and board to continue building an organization where people feel comfortable coming to create meaningful change and tackle challenges. We’ll work to make sure everyone in our region is proud to call this home.”

Black will leave the chamber after 20 years as its president and CEO. Yemane said that he and the board are confident that Unger will continue where Black left off in his commitment to the region and its business community.

“We are confident that Ryan will build on the momentum of Dave’s leadership and further advance the Chamber & CREDC as a catalyst for job creation, policy change and economic growth that not only enhances the quality of life in Cumberland, Dauphin and Perry counties, but also makes our region inclusive and equitable for all,” he said.

Across the Midstate the demand for warehousing and logistics grows

Billboards along Route 30 and Interstate 81 in Franklin County tout jobs that offer sign-on bonuses and annual pay of $58,000. And that push for workers comes during a pandemic, said L. Michael Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corp.

“Companies are struggling right now to find workers for a number of reasons,” Ross said. 

 The unemployment rate has continued to fall since the peak of the pandemic in the spring as businesses reopened and some workers decided to drop out of the labor force to stay home to take care of children or other family members. That means that the number of workers who are trained, available and willing to fill open positions has been low across Dauphin, Franklin and Cumberland counties. 

In mid-November, the unemployment rate was 6.5% in those three counties, with 21,800 total job postings that unemployed workers could fill, said Jesse McCree, CEO of the South Central Workforce Development Board, or SCPa Works. His agency serves a region that also includes Adams, Juniata, Lebanon, Perry, and York counties. Just a few months ago, the overall region had an unemployment rate of 11.9%.

Like the rest of the state and the country, the situation remains dire for the retail, restaurant, hospitality, accommodation, tourism and recreation sectors. Industries that are hiring include healthcare, construction, warehousing, distribution and manufacturing, all of which were having problems finding workers before the pandemic.

For healthcare, McCree said, the prospects are strong for long-term growth, with a crunch in finding skilled workers expected to continue well beyond the health crisis. The transportation and warehousing sectors have been growing significantly, too, he said, adding that it “doesn’t seem as though the pandemic has significantly curtailed demand at all.” With more people moving to e-commerce, those industries have prospered and need more workers, he and others said. 

In Franklin County, three new warehouse and distribution projects are expected to create 2,800 jobs by the middle of 2021. With Franklin County already nearing full employment—which Ross suggested starts at about a 5 percent unemployment rate —the task of finding those workers will become even more difficult.

 In fact, he and officials in Cumberland and Dauphin counties are trying to anticipate what needs to be done now to prepare for what could be a strong turnaround. Those issues involve not only finding and training workers but also figuring out where they will live and how they will get to their jobs, as well as solving childcare issues.

 Residential construction remains strong throughout the region, partly because demand for housing is high for workers who need homes near their places of work. If companies can’t find workers, they need to market in other towns and cities, which means that transportation can then become an issue. The issue for housing is acute everywhere, the experts said.

 In terms of housing, Ross said, “We are a microcosm of the rest of the region.”

Childcare focus

The pandemic also put a focus on childcare. The crisis has forced some workers to think about whether they can go back to their jobs or whether they must drop out of the workforce to care for children or elderly relatives, said Jamie Keener, CEO of the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corp. That dynamic, coupled with demand in the industries that are still hiring, has meant a pinch on filling available jobs.

 “Quite a few of them have openings but they can’t fill them,” Keener says. 

Economic development officials have been trying to calculate solutions for childcare and housing that would last beyond the immediate crisis and allow for viable options for when the conditions are more normal. For example, childcare solutions might be largely resolved naturally once schools are fully opened, but the issues for affordable housing and transportation will remain as long as companies continue to expand and need to lure in workers from other areas.

 Officials still need more details on who is looking for jobs and whether they can be retrained into the positions where there are openings. For example, the hard-hit industries such as hospitality, restaurants, entertainment and tourism likely will not rebound completely until a vaccine is fully deployed and the pandemic ends. That might be well into next summer or beyond. More data would help determine whether those workers are prepared to enter new positions with other industries now.

 But the trends indicate that, while the pandemic has taken a toll, the region has remained resilient. 

Restore infrastructure

David Black, president and CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and CREDC, has maintained throughout the pandemic — even when unemployment had soared and just started to rebound—that the underlying economy has remained strong. But Black said much still needs to be done to make sure the economy stays on track, which includes being smart about additional measures to combat the crisis.

“A day doesn’t go by that I don’t get asked if we are going to shut down again,” Black said.

 He is among those who think the federal government needs to step up and pass a new relief package and not wait for a new Congress. While the Republicans and Democrats were far apart in the numbers in the late fall, they agreed that relief was needed. Black suggested that they could come up with something involving a lower number and then regroup later for more relief, if needed, he said.

Keener suggested that the federal government could help by focusing on a package that includes infrastructure investmentsomething that would spur economic activity but also push the country forward. Observers suggest that measures should include traditional infrastructure projectsroads, bridges, and water and sewer projects. But some observers also suggest that money should be set aside for expanding broadband to rural communities.  

“COVID has really shown that there is a great disparity with broadband,” Ross said. “It limits the ability to telecommute or work from home.”

Widespread broadband also would continue to encourage entrepreneurial efforts in those communities, as well, the experts said.

“A comprehensive infrastructure plan is absolutely needed,” Ross added.

Keener pointed out that the crisis proved again that residents of Cumberland County showed great flexibility, which will serve communities well after the crisis ends.

“We are going to be in pretty good shape when we come out of thiswhenever that is,” Keener said.

19-year Harrisburg Regional Chamber leader, David Black, to retire in 2021

David Black has been the president and CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC since 2001. PHOTO/PROVIDED

David Black, the longtime president and CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC, will retire in the middle of next year, it was announced Monday.

Black joined the Chamber & CREDC (which stands for Capital Region Economic Development Corp.) in 2001.

“On behalf of CREDC Chair Ben Dunlap and myself, I want to thank Dave for his steady hand as steward of the ship,” Chamber Board Chair Tom Sposito said in a release. “Dave was likely challenged more in 2020 than in any other year during his tenure. Over his nearly two decades of service, Dave has helped to guide and grow the Chamber & CREDC as the go-to organization serving our business community and the region as a whole.”

Black is credited with building a talented staff and increasing the capacity to serve Chamber members, CREDC clients and the larger community; as well as advocate for public policy and collaborate to position the organization and region (Dauphin, Cumberland and Perry counties) for the longer term.

The announcement said the the Chamber & CREDC were accredited with five stars from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a distinction awarded to less than 2% of chambers across the nation.

According to his Chamber & CREDC bio, before joining the organization in 2001, Black helped Gov. Tom Ridge with the merger of the Department of Community Affairs with the Department of Commerce, creating the Department of Community and Economic Development. He also served as chief operating officer of Team Pennsylvania, helping Ridge restructure it as a long-term public/private sector tool for economic development in the state.

“Every great region has a great organization, and the Chamber & CREDC has been this region’s great organization since 1884,” Black said in the release. “It has been my pleasure to serve for nearly 20 years. My goals have always included making a difference. Together with great volunteers, staff, supportive members and donors, this organization has done just that. I’ve been fortunate to be a small part of the success and growth of the organization and region. Many thanks to people from all sectors of the region and beyond for the support, collaboration and friendship. I look forward to the successful transition of leadership in the months ahead. …”

A national search for Black’s replacement will begin in early 2021. Jorgenson Consulting, an executive search firm with expertise in chamber of commerce and economic development corporation searches, has been chosen to lead the process.

Black is a native of Clarion County, where he served as a county commissioner. He and his wife, Shirley, live in Cumberland County and have two children and three grandchildren.

Business leaders praise $2 trillion CARE Act stimulus package

The largest stimulus package in American history was signed into law last week and while it may take time to feel its effects, businesses are beginning to look at what it could mean for their employees and communities.

President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act into law on Friday following the bill’s approval in both the House and Senate.

The $2.2 trillion federal stimulus package promises to provide $1,200 in checks to Americans making under $75,000, $350 billion in loans for small businesses with less than 500 employees, and creates a $500 billion lending fund for industries, cities and states and more.

The law is meant to help businesses keep their employees, allow individuals to continue paying their bills with the help of the stimulus check and provide a broader net for people who find themselves unemployed.

It’s passage was welcomed by business leaders across the state.

“I’m thankful that it passed,” said Tony Iannelli, president and CEO of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce. “The economy went from white hot to zero. We need something and we need it fast. The next phase is to get people back to work.”

Iannelli described the stimulus bill as bold and something businesses desperately need. “They are hurting, they are not entirely sure what it entails but for right now, it’s a life raft for many businesses.”

Right now, the chamber, which relies on meetings and business events for revenue, is “out of business,” but has enough in its reserves to last for 30 days, Iannelli said.

“Cash flow has stopped. It’s just not going,” said David Black, CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and CREDC. “I don’t think anybody knows if $2 trillion is enough but it will address a lot of the need. That is an unprecedented amount of money.”

Business loans available through the stimulus could help organizations refrain from layoffs and furloughs, but businesses should be aware that the funds aren’t meant to help maintain their bottom line, said Travis Gentzler, president and CEO of Weldon Solutions in West Manchester Township, York County.

“Everyone is looking to keep their businesses open, but there is a difference between profits and poverty,” said Gentzler, adding that if Weldon Solutions was failing to pay its employees or keep the lights on, it would look into a loan.

Scott Fiore, president of TriStarr Staffing in Lancaster, has seen a number of business owners and leaders in the region struggle to maintain their employees and keep their businesses afloat; something he said could be alleviated in the short term with help from the stimulus.

Unemployment help critical

Fiore and Gentzler also praised the law’s expansion of unemployment benefits, which will increase eligibility and give unemployed workers an additional $600 per week, on top of what they already receive, for four months.

“The extra $600 in federal money for unemployment benefits is a game-changer in my opinion,” Gentzler said. “Most people cannot survive long on typical unemployment benefits, especially those who were already living paycheck to paycheck.”

Fiore, who works with employers through TriStarr, said most businesses he’s talked to are primarily concerned with trying to do what they can for employees. The additional unemployment benefits and the stimulus check will go a long way toward that goal.

The Central Pennsylvania Chapter of the Independent Electrical Contractors in Silver Spring Township, Cumberland County, expects the stimulus to have an impact on its membership, said Marissa Bankert, the chapter’s executive director.

“Not only will this package provide these small businesses with necessary lending to keep them afloat during this uncertain time, it will help employees maintain the quality of life they had prior to this crisis,” Bankert said.

HB Global, an employee-owned HVAC, plumbing and electrical installation company in Harrisburg, has focused on helping its employee owners and their families while trying to remain financially viable during this crisis, said Bob Whalen, the company’s president and CEO.

Whalen said the bill will go a long way in helping the company meet those goals.

“The U.S. coronavirus spending bill will help make this less traumatic for our employees with direct payments to our workers and improved unemployment benefits for those we have had to furlough.”

Time for patience

The Small Business Administration is also offering disaster loans to small businesses throughout the country. But Black warned that the applying for the loans online has proven difficult with so many companies trying to use the online portal at once. When applications open for the $2 trillion stimulus, there may be long waiting times there, as well, he said.

“You just have to stick with it, you might have to do it in the middle of the night,” he said. “We know the electronic portals will be slow and backed up. It’s just a matter of timing.”

Some praised the bill’s focus on small businesses.

“I think it’s a great effort and it was done quickly, and the channels of payments are in the right area,” said Don Cunningham, president and CEO of Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp.

Cunningham said the focus should be on small businesses first and noted the bill would include $350 billion administered through the SBA.

In addition, the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority is administering $61 million in small business loans, he said. LVEDC is administering these loans in the Lehigh Valley.

“We are seeing a heavy demand,” Cunningham said.

The Lehigh Valley chamber is one of the nation’s largest, and has nearly 5,000 members who employ more than 220,000 people. Now, Iannelli said, “our worlds have been turned upside down.”

So far, the chamber has not had to cut any staff. But if the virus and massive business closures stretch beyond the 30-day period, phase two of the chamber’s plan could mean a variety of cuts to chamber staff. Phase three would involve taking “bold steps.”

Cunningham says the stimulus bill will help get the economy moving again.

“It shows you that at least in a time of crisis, people can work together to get something done quickly in government,” he said. “There’s no doubt we will be in a recession. I think one advantage in the Lehigh Valley is we have that balance in the economy.”

It’s eerie

The leader of one local manufacturer said he was optimistic about the bill but noted there is much uncertainty over how companies will reap the benefits.

“I am still optimistic of the benefits of the stimulus bill but the execution of it is very disheartening,” said George Reitz, president of American Millwork & Cabinetry, a manufacturer in Emmaus. “The CARES Act is good but I listed a boatload of questions to accounting and that led to more questions.”

These questions dealt with the timeline and semantics of how the bill would be executed, he said. In addition, he questioned whether $2 trillion would be enough for all the companies in the U.S.

Much of AMC’s job sites are shut down because of COVID-19, and that affects important parts of projects such as manufacturing, engineering and ordering, he said.

His company has 83 employees and after Wolf’s state-wide business closure order on March 19, his first inclination was to preserve cash, so he laid off about half of his workforce.

However, the company has projects in the health care industry, and was able to continue building. It obtained six exemptions, and Reitz has called back about 45 people, including some office and production workers who are practicing social distancing.

Since his company operates in the construction industry, he has seen uncertainty over what’s closed and what’s open throughout the state.

“Certain jobs are opening, certain jobs are not, it’s very stressful,” Reitz said.

He recalled a recent meeting with his employees, which appeared to reflect the mood of the moment.

“It was so solemn,” he said.  “It’s like someone dropped a bomb on the U.S. It was eerie.”

Friends, co-workers remember Vera Cornish as mentor and inspiration


News traveled swiftly last week about the unexpected death of Vera Cornish, a midstate icon who left her mark on Harrisburg’s business and nonprofit communities over several decades through her words, deeds and her ability to bring people together.

When Cornish took the stage in front of an audience, her outgoing personality and positive outlook on life was infectious to those who watched and listened.

To get an idea what the professional life coach and publisher of The Urban Connection of the Capital Region magazine in Harrisburg could do to motivate people, watch her keynote speech from August’s convocation at her alma mater, Misericordia University in Dallas, Luzerne County. During the roughly 15-minute speech, Cornish managed to get young and old alike to stand and dance to the Frankie Beverly & Maze funk song “Before I Let Go,” after getting the crowd to ponder what truly exhilarates them and makes them want to jump out of bed.

Cornish, 64, also spoke about her path to higher learning, becoming the first person in her family to graduate from high school and college, and eventually earning a master’s degree in education with a specialization in multicultural curriculum development from Misericordia in 1993.

She didn’t grow up in a family that sat around the dinner table and talked about future opportunities, she said. But what was instilled in her was that education was her “pathway to freedom.”

“The energy you put into something is going to determine the results that you get out of whatever you do,” Cornish said in the speech. “Take action on the things you want to become true in your life.”

Her Life

Originally from Wilkes-Barre, Cornish knew an education was what would allow her to succeed. So, she scrubbed floors for 50 cents an hour and work as a maid for wealthy residents in the Poconos to pay for her schooling at Penn State. She would go on to teach after graduation and eventually pursued an independent study program at Misericordia.

It was when she moved to Central Pennsylvania in 1995 that she began to leave her mark on a wider audience, serving as the first director of institutional diversity at Harrisburg Area Community College.

Dr. John J. Sygielski, president of HACC, said Cornish paved the way for her successors in the role of promoting diversity and inclusion at the college. Cornish always served as a strong advocate for studying at HACC and the benefits of students pursuing a community college education, he said.

Sygielski said Cornish served as a mentor to many of the staff at the school, and he would call on her often for advice. He said in his first week as president in 2011, Cornish personally drove him to State College to introduce him to educators at Penn State she felt would be important for him to know.

Cornish’s impact on Harrisburg itself may have been even greater than just HACC. She created the annual Martin Luther King Breakfast and The Women of Heritage Leadership Breakfast.

Through her company Cornish & Associates, she advised organizations small and large on empowerment strategies and diversity in the workplace since 1999, teaming up with The Hershey Co., The GIANT Co. and Capital BlueCross. One of her most recent works, the book “Dare to Dream,” published last year, is filled with motivational stories from her life.

Connectivity was Cornish’s most important personal trait, brokering to serve as a facilitator for conversations, Sygielski said.

“Her legacy will be bringing people together to enhance the communities that are part of this tapestry of Central Pennsylvania, as a bridge builder, as a connector, as a cheerleader, as a promoter, engager and challenger,” Sygielski said.

Community Tributes

Tributes to Cornish began appearing early on after the news of her passing on Feb. 26.

David Black, president and CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC, said Cornish was serving on the Chamber’s board when he joined the organization in 2001, becoming fast friends. Black pointed to her welcoming and encouraging nature and her belief in the potential of Harrisburg as a community.

“Vera was a force in our region,” Black said. “She was a strong advocate and passionate participant in the advancement of diversity and inclusion in all aspects of our region, particularly our business community.  She was always upbeat, always had a major hug for friends old and new, and she was always working a room, connecting people and causes in her unique powerful, yet gentle and kind style.”

Vera Cornish, left, is joined by Una Martone, president and CEO of Leadership Harrisburg Area, center, and the late Colleen Nophsker, a former Leadership Harrisburg committee member at an event a few years ago. PHOTO/SUBMITTED

Una Martone, president and CEO of Leadership Harrisburg Area, met Cornish in 2007 when she started working for the organization. Even before they met, there was “a huge build-up” of the way people spoke about Cornish and what she had done for the community, she said.

When they finally met, Cornish greeted her with a hug and was quick to give her insights and suggestions to improve Leadership Harrisburg. Cornish also didn’t hesitate to accept Martone’s offer to volunteer with the group, serving for years on the marketing and public relations committee.

“Not only did I get the chance to meet this community icon, but I had the chance to work with her almost right away,” Martone said. “She was full of openness, honesty, candidness and frankness. She did not hold back, and because of that everybody around her learned. We gained new perspectives. She wanted people to learn and gain insights.”

In Cornish’s own words, her own experiences guided her life lessons for others to follow.

“Learn from the past, live in today and cast a vision for your future,” Cornish said at the Misericordia speech in August. “Build relationships with great people. Some will be for a season, and some will be for a lifetime.”

I-81 is driving economic growth in Pennsylvania

The route along Interstate 81 from the Maryland line in Franklin County north through Cumberland and Dauphin counties continues to attract economic activity that makes those counties some of the fastest growing in Pennsylvania.

Interstate 81, which traverses Dauphin, Cumberland and Franklin counties, has sparked development because it offers easy access to major markets on the East Coast. –

And economic development experts in that region don’t expect the trends to end any time soon, especially through 2020. They also note that one of the biggest challenges facing them is the same one hindering growth nationwide — a low unemployment rate that makes filling open positions difficult.

“A lot of times the first question that companies ask is what type of workforce do you have out there,” said Jamie Keener, CEO of the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corp.

Keener and others have been working to bridge the gap, endorsing job-training programs that cater to employers’ needs. They also mention a focus on helping existing companies to grow or expand, while simultaneously navigating the current trends.

Put simply, said David Black, “There are not as many people moving into the workforce as there are moving out.” Nationwide, Baby Boomers have been retiring in droves, said Black, president and CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and Capital Region Economic Development Corp.

Jesse McCree is CEO of South Central PA Works, a workforce development board based in Harrisburg.  McCree has access to software that can collate numbers specifically for Franklin, Dauphin and Cumberland counties. The average unemployment rate for those three counties hovers at about 4 percent, which is slightly above the national average and below the statewide average, McCree said. There are nearly twice as many job postings in the three-county area as there are people looking for work, and that situation is encouraging more people to re-enter the workforce, McCree said. That is why some communities might be seeing a slight increase in the unemployment rate compared to a year ago, he added.

“Unemployed people who were on the sidelines have decided to jump in,” McCree said.

Michael Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corp. in Chambersburg, was among the experts who pointed out that a strong labor market clearly is good for communities. But, if companies can’t find workers, they can’t expand. That means that officials need to get creative to ensure continued growth.

Franklin County, for example, markets itself along with communities that are served by I-81 in Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia, he said. Procter & Gamble Co. has been adding jobs at its new facility in Berkeley County, West Virginia, which means it can pull workers from throughout the four-state region, including Franklin County.

In fact, the phrase that captures that cooperation is “four counties, four states, 40 miles,” Ross said. The four counties are Franklin in Pennsylvania, Berkeley in West Virginia, Washington in Maryland, and Frederick in Virginia, McCree said.

Black said a lot of companies have been turning to automation, especially in the warehousing industry, to handle additional workloads and a lack of available labor.

“That is good for growth,” Black said. “… And that is good for us as a region.”

While automation might absorb jobs, he added, it also creates opportunities for people with technical skills to maintain the machines. Those jobs often come with better pay and benefits than a typical warehousing job, he said.

Keener pointed out that Cumberland County officials want to encourage warehousing growth and the jobs they create, especially along interchanges where there isn’t prime agricultural land. In fact, he said, officials want to ensure that prime agricultural land stays in farming.

“There needs to be a balance,” he said.

Population on the rise

Statewide, Pennsylvania is thought to have a relatively flat population growth rate, McCree said. Yet, he added, the overall population continues to grow in the three Pennsylvania counties. In 2010, the total population was 654,089. It had grown to 687,515 in 2019. And it is projected to reach 729,550 by 2030, according to the analysis that McCree ran.

Access to I-81 sparks development such as this one just off the Cameron Street exit in Harrisburg. PHOTO/FILE

The population is growing because of the increasing opportunities along the I-81 corridor, which attracts diverse development beyond warehouses and logistics. For one, the experts noted, their areas remain attractive to longtime private employers, such as Volvo Construction Equipment in Franklin County, the Hershey Co. in Dauphin County, or the various health systems in Cumberland and Dauphin counties. Dauphin County also has Harrisburg, with its built-in workforce provided by the state government. And all three counties host a large military presence along I-81, including the Air National Guard in Dauphin County, the Naval Support Activity Mechanicsburg, the Army War College in Carlisle and the Letterkenny Army Depot in Franklin County.

McCree’s analysis says health care and social assistance create the largest industry sector in the three-county region, followed by retail trade and then transportation and warehousing. His analysis also shows that the median household income is $60,416, and the median house value is $177,891 for Franklin, Dauphin and Cumberland counties.

The future

The optimism for 2020 and beyond can be seen by just looking around, several people said.

“Cranes are in the air all over the region,” said Black. A new federal courthouse is under construction in Harrisburg, he mentioned as an example. Residential construction remains strong in some areas, such as along Routes 15 and 581 south of Harrisburg. Some retail growth has followed, he added.

“2020 looks good,” Black said. “There are no signs of a recession.”

When an inevitable downturn does come, the experts noted, they don’t expect it to be like the one 10 years ago. Black said the region will continue to do well because economic development officials have learned to adapt.

“One thing we know is that economic development and the regional economy are constantly changing,” Black said. “You can be part of the change or not. … We just need to be embracing of change and new opportunities.”

The GIG is up

The gig economy is here to stay as freelance workers’ ranks swell.

Whether from desire or necessity, gig workers, those defined as independent contractors, freelancers or part-time jobbers, continue to fill gaps or take ongoing work to meet employer’s needs in an evolving workforce landscape.

“We’re seeing a lot of clients utilizing gig workers for short term or one-off assignments, and I’m seeing that growing,” said Jeffrey Stewart, an attorney at White and Williams LLP in Upper Saucon Township, who specializes in employment and labor law.

Companies will tap freelancers for almost any task.

“Companies use them to put together presentations, where [the company) has the substance, but they want it to [have] a certain level of professionalism with creative and design,” Stewart said.

The website smallbizgenius.com reports that about 36 percent of workers are involved in the gig economy – from full-time employment to side-hustles – and indicators show this employment trend is on the rise.

In 2018, freelancers made a roughly $1.28 trillion contribution to the U.S. economy, the report said.

David Black, president and CEO of Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC said quality of life and controlling one’s workday and career path were top motivators for those opting to pursue freelance working options.

“We saw it at the end of the recession in 2008 when people were doing it out of necessity,” he said. “Now, lifestyle is a big reason.”

In the past, companies did a hiring analysis to justify adding a full-time position by tallying up the cost of wages, health and medical benefits, taxes and paid time off against the amount of work to be done. If they couldn’t justify the hire, they did without.

“Now there is this middle step,” Stewart said. “We have work that needs to get done, or we have a busy season.”

Bringing in a freelancer to address a particular project gets the work done without the additional cost of on-boarding a full-time employee.

By definition, gig or freelance workers do not receive employment benefits.

Flexibility and freedom

Finding freelance talent is easier today with websites designed to connect employers with workers. Word-of-mouth referrals remain the top matchmaker, Stewart said.

“If I have an IT project I might be able to use someone in Sioux City, Iowa, and the internet has allowed this,” he said. But he noted many companies in the Lehigh Valley still prefer to work from a local talent pool.

Experts interviewed for this article agreed technology was the key factor in providing a platform for freelance, virtual and remote workers to thrive. Technology has not only supported freelance or gig workers and enabled them to serve many clients, it has opened up the workforce.

In 2017, Tom Newmaster, a partner of FORCE pkg in Lancaster, began his firm fueled entirely by freelance talent. FORCE is a packaging design and brand development company. The design and branding agency now employs five full-time staff members, but still uses freelances.

“I have a freelancer in Colorado [Mountain Time], and because they are earlier we can stretch the workday to get a project done,” he said.

The flexibility and freedom of the freelance model optimizes his business, Newmaster said. Younger workers have increased the size of the gig-worker community, because they are used to being able to work with a laptop or smartphone from virtually anywhere.

“Accessibility [through technology] and flexibility, as well as a generational mind-set” moves the gig workforce forward, he said.

While younger workers choose freelancing as a work lifestyle because of technology, older workers never had those options, until now. And many are discovering they can earn a good living by developing a client base and relationships–much in the same way any traditional company becomes successful, said Black, of Greater Harrisburg Chamber.

Becoming mainstream

In the past few years, talent and recruiting firms are paying attention to the way they can bridge the connection between freelancers and companies, too.

Lindsay Watson, co-founder, FIA NYC Employment Services

Lindsay Watson, co-founder of FIA NYC LLC Employment Services in Allentown, said her company has been placing freelancers with firms for about three years with the niche tied to growing mainstream trends. “Maybe two years ago we were looking at 10 percent [of placements] and now we’re looking at about 30 percent and growing.”

She attributed the shift to greater awareness of the value of gig workers, a more mainstream acceptance of their legitimacy and the financial benefit to only paying for work specified in a contract.

And, the number and variety of jobs can be handled remotely or during “off hours” is increasing, Watson said. Pay-per-click or SEO advertising experience are skill sets that might set a traditional marketing hire apart – and be hired on an as-needed basis.

“With the gig economy you’re able to monetize your skills,” Watson said.

Software development, finance and web development, website or content creative and design services, and IT are other types of jobs gig workers are often hired to do on a short or long-term contracting basis.