December 22, 2020
Daily News-Record – For original article, click here.
The Harrisonburg metro area is the 21st best place to work in manufacturing out the nation’s 378 metro areas, according to a study by SmartAsset, a personal finance technology company.
The study analyzed localities’ percentage of workforce in manufacturing, job growth over one- and three-year periods, income growth over one- and three-year periods, housing costs versus manufacturing wages, and the unemployment rate.
There has been an 8.7% increase in manufacturing jobs in the area over the past year, and wages have risen 4.1% over the same period of time, according to the SmartAsset study.
Between 2016 and 2019, workers in jobs that do not require college degrees saw their pay rise 10% — faster than jobs that require degrees, where worker pay has risen 7.5%, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Nearly one out of every five Harrisonburg metro residents work in manufacturing — 18.9%, according to the study.
Manufacturing employers have voiced concerns about the difficulty in finding workers over the past several years before the pandemic.
Experts have said the difficulty for employers to find workers results in increased wages and benefits as employers compete against one another to entice new employees, but the competition also presents challenges to a business’ ability to grow and operate due to increased costs.
The state and federal government have ramped up scholarships and incentives for those seeking careers in high-demand fields like manufacturing.
Two examples include the Re-Employing Virginians program and FastForward, which are both part of the Virginia Community College System. REV was open to American citizens who have received unemployment benefits on or after Aug. 1 or are working part time for under $15 an hour after losing a full-time job, while FastForward is a short-term work-training program.
Though the Harrisonburg metro area places high on the list, the Staunton-Augusta-Waynesboro metro area is the No. 10 best locality in the country to work in manufacturing, according to the study.
Of the top ten localities, most were in “right-to-work” states, which have laws prohibiting a company and a union from signing a contract that would require workers to pay dues or fees to the union that represents them. Roughly two-thirds of the top 50 localities to work in manufacturing are in states with such laws.
Typically, in a unionized business, all employees must pay union dues to pay for things such as legal counsel and collective bargaining with bosses for increased wages and benefits.
OxFam America, which considers the policy to suppress labor unions, ranked Virginia as the worst state to work for the second year in a row in a 2019 study.
Virginia’s low minimum wage of $7.25, along with scarce protections for incidents such as sexual harassment, as well as its status as a “right-to-work” state produced the bad score for the Oxfam report.
Only three Virginia localities showed up in the study’s top 50 metro areas, including Harrisonburg, Staunton-Augusta-Waynesboro and Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol, which placed 43.
In 2019, Virginia was named the top state to do business for the first time since 2011 by CNBC, a business news outlet.
Over the past 23 years, 91,000 manufacturing plants have closed, resulting in the loss of 5 million American jobs, according to the SmartAsset study.
Many plants, such as H.D. Lee in Broadway, closed as operations were shipped overseas where labor could be obtained for cheaper with fewer protections, lower wages and scarce benefits for workers.
The share of American jobs in manufacturing is expected to continue to shrink from 8.3% of jobs in 2019 to 7.3% by 2029, while the share of jobs in hospitality is expected to continue to grow from 10.2% in 2019 to 10.5% by 2029, according to a report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Sept. 1.
More specifically, employment in food preparation and serving is projected to grow 7% between 2019 and 2029, adding about roughly 1 million jobs. This growth is faster than the average for all employment growth, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
However, these jobs are in the lowest paid occupational group, and workers of these positions had a median annual wage of $24,220 in May 2019, while the median annual at the same time for those working in manufacturing was $33,830, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Manufacturing is still a strong source for Valley employment and community, as evidenced in the SmartAsset study.
Production jobs have been able to remain in the Valley through business acumen and local ownership.
For example, in June 2019, the 115 employees of city plastic plant Graham Packaging were to be laid off as the multinational was pivoting away from pharmaceutical and personal care packaging.
On Aug. 29, five days before the layoffs were to take place, a $5.3 million deal was finalized for the plant on West Wolfe Street and it became Artisan Packaging, retaining and even expanding its job count.
Shenandoah Valley Organic is also in the process of building a new 76,000-square-foot packaging plant on Acorn Drive in the city, which will create 110 new jobs.