More than 77,000 in workforce

mdawson@centredaily.comFebruary 9, 2013 

More than 24,000 employees work at Penn State, and more than 3,000 of them are on the faculty. There is only one who is the Nittany Lions’ head football coach.

The workforce in Centre County also includes the lawyer who represented Jerry Sandusky, and the retired police officers who work as deputies for the county Sheriff’s Office.

There are the grandmas and grandpas who are greeters at Walmart, the high-schoolers who are lifeguards at the local pools in the summer, farmers, ultrasound technicians, chefs and website developers.

In all, the latest available data from the state’s Department of Labor and Industry show Centre County has a civilian workforce of 77,800, of whom 73,300 are employed.

That gives the county an unemployment rate of 5.9 percent, the lowest in the state in January, and usually one of the lowest rates as Penn State helps shield the local economy from rough swings and changes that play out in other parts of the state and country.

As Penn State remains the county’s unquestioned largest employer for some time, the industries that employ the workforce here have changed.

Manufacturing employed 4,000 people here in 1997. But, as everyone knows, the big plants such as Corning-Asahi and Cerro Metals closed, leaving workers in the lurch. By 2012, the number of people employed in manufacturing had dwindled to the hundreds, with some of the county’s large plants left with fewer than 100.

“I think we lament those folks’ loss, but at the same time, we have to appreciate what we have,” said Vern Squier, the president and CEO of Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County.

Mount Nittany Health, the system that combined the Mount Nittany Medical Center and the Mount Nittany Physician Group, has added employees over the past two years. It employs about 2,000 workers, most of whom are from Centre County. The health system sees commuters from Blair, Clearfield, Mifflin, Huntingdon, Clinton and Cambria counties who come to State College for work.

Three-quarters are women.

An important factor officials from Mount Nittany think will add to their work force is the health care insurance reforms that will give insurance to uninsured people.

“These factors will enhance the need for primary care physicians, certified registered nurse practitioners, physician assistants and care coordinators for chronic diseases,” said Nichole Monica, a spokeswoman for the health system. “As more people get insurance and the focus shifts to treating people to be well, rather than just when they are sick, these types of jobs will be more in demand.

“All of this is really exciting for the future as we focus on wellness and keeping people healthy.”

The health system’s growth beyond the hospital off East Park Avenue in College Township likewise has expanded the workforce.

“From an employment aspect, this means that we now employ physicians and their staff as part of the health system,” Monica said. “In addition, the workforce is becoming more specialized and people want access to the new technologies to care for patients.”

Last year, Mount Nittany Medical Center added daVinci robotic-assisted surgical technology.

“The added benefit is that new surgeons have trained on this type of technology and expect their employer to have this technology available,” Monica said. “We are better positioned to be able to recruit surgeons who expect to use this type of technology.”

Another area of potential growth inside the health care industry for Mount Nittany is information technology. It is important, Monica said, that health systems have robust health record and health information exchanges.

“That expected organizational competency means that health systems need people to evaluate, build and maintain the flow of information across the continuum of care for the patient,” Monica said. “Developing an information systems strategy and the framework by which to accomplish this initiative is a strategic initiative for Mount Nittany Health with the goal of an electronic health record by June 2013.”

Mount Nittany’s growth resulted in the addition of two positions to its executive team — a chief strategy officer and a chief operating officer. The hires will be announced soon, Monica said.

“It’s iceberg-esque,” said Squier, the CBICC president and CEO. “What you see in the medical center indicates a more robust healthcare system in the community at large.”

At HealthSouth Nittany Valley Rehabilitation Hospital in Pleasant Gap, the number of patients admitted increased by 9 percent from 2011 to 2012, and because of the increase in demand, the hospital hired more workers in 2012. The inpatient, 73-bed facility has about 165 employees.

“We always try to match our staffing to our patient-care needs,” said Susan Hartman, the CEO of HealthSouth, which has smaller locations in Lewistown, Mifflin County, and Mifflintown, Juniata County.

Hartman said HealthSouth is projecting a 4 percent increase in admissions in 2013. Based on the health care data they review, they will continue to grow as more and more people require services the hospital provides.

“We’re happy to grow along with them,” she said.

The core clinical staff consist of registered nurses, and HealthSouth has physical therapists and occupational therapists, jobs that require professional degrees and produce a good number of applicants when positions are open.

Beyond that, the hospital got 125 applications for a recent accounts payable opening, a high number Hartman attributed to the economy.

As the health care industry grows and creates jobs along with it, the question of what to do with Centre Crest, the county-run nursing home in Bellefonte, loomed over county leaders in late January.

Officials would like to turn Centre Crest over to a nonprofit organization, which would mean the 250 employees at the nursing home would then work for the nonprofit and not the county, said Tim Boyde, the county’s administrator. The nursing home has run a deficit that officials attribute to a low Medicaid reimbursement rate set by the state.

Turning over Centre Crest would remove a quarter of the county’s workforce from its payrolls. Some of the 250 positions are part-time, and some are after-school jobs for local high-schoolers.

The year 2015 could bring some change. The county is slated to become a fourth-class county, up from the fifth class, which could mean an expansion of how the county offers some services. For instance, the Prothonotary’s Office, which is the record-keeper for civil and criminal cases, could be split in two offices — one that handles civil and a separate one that handles criminal cases.

That is up in the air, as a bill from state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff would allow the county to keep its office at the status quo.

Outside of that, the county watches Harrisburg for how its funding shakes out, such as whether there will be continued decreases to public welfare, mental health and drug and alcohol services the county provides.

“Our workforce is going to be dependent largely on what happens in the governor’s budget,” Boyde said.

The president of Glenn O. Hawbaker Inc. blamed the governor and other state leaders for a downturn in his company’s fortunes.

Glenn O. Hawbaker Inc. furloughed more than 110 workers in 2012, including 60 who were laid off July 31 because of what the company’s president said was inaction by state government to find funding for infrastructure projects.

The president, Dan Hawbaker, predicted tens of thousands of jobs in paving and highway construction across the state could be at risk.

Cuts in state funding have similar impact on public schools across the state, and districts have been cutting costs in the face of skyrocketing health care expenditures and retirement contributions.

The cuts to educational programs could force districts to furlough teachers.

That is what school officials in State College Area want to avoid.

Just last month, the district began offering a monetary incentive to get at least 28 people to commit to retiring. District officials are trying to reduce salary and benefits by replacing the higher salaries of the longer tenured employees with lower level employees.

“Since compensation is a significant part of our budget, controlling these costs will lead to continued financial success for our district,” two officials, business manager Randy Brown and human resources director Sandy Emerich, wrote in a memo to the school board in January.

The district cannot furlough teachers for economic reasons, but it can seek state approval to furlough based on changes to its educational programs.

At Penn State in 2011, employees in the College of Agricultural Sciences and the university’s Outreach office were offered a year’s salary incentive to take an early retirement. Eighty-two people took it in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

The college laid off seven employees and collapsed more than 30 vacant positions in 2010. Twenty-three were cut in September 2011.

In all, the College of Agricultural Science saw its workforce cut by 200 positions from about 800 employees in 2009.

Numbers across Penn State from 2007 to 2012 show the university added faculty. In 2007, it had 3,049 faculty. In 2012, there were 3,173.

But Penn State continues to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in research money from various sources, such as the Department of Defense, National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health, just to name a few. The research money helps fund faculty hires and graduate students to help out with the work, as well as supplies and other materials.

Penn State is hosting a network of researchers who are studying sustainable climate-risk-management strategies that is part of a $11.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The research center uses the acronym SCRiM, for Sustainable Climate Risk Management.

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