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Wages in region climb thanks to better educated workers, more white-collar jobs

| Friday, April 21, 2017, 6:42 p.m.

Wages in Westmoreland and Allegheny counties stayed ahead of inflation between 2005 and 2015, according to Census Bureau data released Thursday.

The average wage in Westmoreland County increased by 31.8 percent to $40,419 over the decade while the average wage in Allegheny County increased by 32 percent to $51,786, data show.

Inflation from January 2005 to January 2015 increased the cost of goods by about 23 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A more educated workforce and an increase in higher-paying white-collar jobs probably explain much of the wage increase, said Donald Smith Jr., executive director of the Regional Industrial Development Corp., a private agency that manages 11 industrial parks in the region.

“We're cautiously optimistic,” he said. “We really need to see the population numbers and the job numbers start to move.”

The number of jobs in Westmoreland County in 2015 was 126,336, a 1.2 percent decline from 2005, according to data.

That trend matches other figures showing the county's workforce is shrinking due to population loss and aging, said Chad Amond, president of the Westmoreland County Chamber of Commerce.

“It is definitely a complicated situation right now,” he said.

The county's median age went from 40 to 45 years between 2000 and 2010 and is projected to be 51 years by 2020, Amond said. At the same time, the number of people moving into the county is nearly equal to the number moving out while the number dying is higher than the number being born.

“There's a less of a pool for employers to gather those workers (they need)…,” he said. “The more employers I talk to, the more it is being a challenge for them day to day.”

One bright spot is that the county gained more than 2,000 jobs in a manufacturing sector that includes navigational, measuring, electromedical and control instruments, according to the Census figures. The data doesn't show which companies created those jobs.

Gaining manufacturing is important to the region's long-term economic health because it brings money into the area, Smith said.

“Those jobs are just so important to driving everything else in the economy,” he said. Manufacturing “brings new money into the region.”

Service jobs also are important, but they mostly circulate the money that's already here, Smith said.

“People only buy so many hamburgers, so many clothes, so many entertainment services,” he said.

The number of business establishments in Westmoreland shrank by 4.6 percent to 8,674 establishments in 2015.

Each physical location where business is conducted counts as an establishment. For example, a retail store that has a warehouse in a different part of the county would count as two establishments. And a chain of 10 convenience stores owned by the same person would count as 10 different establishments.

The number of jobs in Allegheny County increased 4.4 percent to 701,226 in 2015 but the number of establishments shrank by 3 percent to 33,818 business locations.

Brian Bowling is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1218, bbowling@tribweb.com or via Twitter @TribBrian.

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