Berks County has become the home to several new businesses as the U.S. economy continues to recover.
It is simple: lower costs, trained workforce and access to markets. Companies who now call Berks County home include outside firms wanting an East Coast presence as well as Berks-based companies looking to expand.
As the primary marketer for the Greater Reading area, the Greater Reading Economic Partnership saw relocation inquiries from outside companies reach new highs in 2013, up 51 percent from 2009.
They continue to climb. Since 2009, we have seen the growth or retention of more than 3,700 jobs to Berks County and almost 4 million square feet being occupied.
A keystone of our organization is our ability to respond in a time sensitive and thorough manner to all inquiries for information about sites, services, infrastructure, permitting – and the list goes on.
ATTRACTING OUTSIDE BUSINESSES
The increased inquiries represent a range of industry sectors, with a concentration in advanced and diversified manufacturing, warehousing and distribution, food processing and metal fabrication. This focus speaks both to the resurgence of manufacturing after pent-up demand – and to Berks County’s legacy as a manufacturing center with a skilled production workforce.
Berks County’s business climate makes sense for small to medium-sized companies who are growing and we have continued to see that interest grow.
Other attractive factors are affordability; proximity to major traffic arteries and metropolitan areas; investment in workforce training; and the network of agencies and businesses to help them get established.
An example is Seibu Giken’s North American Operations, SG America Inc., which moved to Greater Reading from Minnesota in 2013. The air handling system parts maker wanted access to the larger labor pool and lower cost of doing business that is available here.
With the assistance of NAI Keystone Commercial & Industrial and other local partners, the manufacturer’s needs were met in a 25,000-square-foot location in Wyomissing.
National retailers PetSmart and Dollar General also opened facilities in Berks County, at Berks Park 78 in Bethel, a 323-acre complex near Interstate 78. Together, they are bringing more than 1,000 additional jobs to the area.
SUPPORT FOR GROWING BUSINESSES
The same qualities that attract outside companies to Berks County make existing companies want to expand here.
Several years ago, the parent company of Berks County-based Cambridge-Lee Industries LLC, a maker and distributor of copper tube and industrial metal products, was interested in transferring a planned manufacturing facility from Mexico to Cambridge-Lee’s Reading site.
Given the opportunity to retain and add jobs, the county, economic development organizations and local contractors such as Dolan Construction Inc. worked to expedite the project so that it could open on schedule.
GETTING SITES READY
Despite these recent successes, continued growth in our area will depend on a number of factors.
One is the development of more occupancy-ready sites. While we have a number of vacant commercial and industrial buildings, they require considerable work to meet relocating companies’ requirements.
Making them ready for occupancy requires the cooperation of municipalities, development groups and private companies. We continue to work toward that goal.
PRODUCING MORE SKILLED WORKERS
And as the need for skilled workers continues to grow, we have implemented a marketing campaign strategy to attract more students and underemployed adults to pursue technical education.
This campaign touts “Careers in 2 Years” – GREP’s partnership with Reading Area Community College and our career and technology centers – a commitment to helping change any remaining perceptions about manufacturing jobs and the required skills.
With this commitment, we know we will continue to be considered a proactive community. We are not just sitting on the sidelines and waiting to see what comes our way.
We’ll stay focused on the challenges that continue to present themselves to the economy in general, but if you want a safe bet, it will always be Berks County.
Jon Scott is president and CEO of the Greater Reading Economic Partnership.