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Westmoreland

Westmoreland County wage growth among fastest in the nation

Stephen Huba
| Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, 5:03 p.m.
Construction workers prepare a concrete pad for support of a steel casing that will house steam generation pumps at the Tenaska Westmoreland Generating Station on Wednesday, Feb.22,  2017. The natural-gas fired power plant, expected to open by December 2018, has been cited as a factor in Westmoreland County's strong wage growth in 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Construction workers prepare a concrete pad for support of a steel casing that will house steam generation pumps at the Tenaska Westmoreland Generating Station on Wednesday, Feb.22, 2017. The natural-gas fired power plant, expected to open by December 2018, has been cited as a factor in Westmoreland County's strong wage growth in 2017.

A new government report placing Westmoreland County 18th in the nation for wage growth is giving local economic development officials reason for hope.

The average weekly wage for Westmoreland County in the second quarter of 2017 was $829, a 6 percent increase over the same period in 2016. The percentage change placed it 18th among the 347 largest counties in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics .

It was the second consecutive quarter that showed such a high rate of growth for Westmoreland County wages in the private sector. In the first quarter, the county had a 6.4 percent increase over the same time period in 2016, according to the bureau.

Allegheny County, although home to thousands of tech jobs and more populous than Westmoreland County, ranked 102nd in the same report. The bureau said the average weekly wage for Allegheny County in the second quarter was $1,082, a 3.8 percent increase over the same period last year.

Jason Rigone, executive director of the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp., welcomed the latest wage growth report, although he said more data is needed for a proper analysis.

“It's a positive sign that our employers are investing in their workforce,” he said.

Rigone said no one large job creator can account for the growth in wages. “The way we need to look at this is internal growth of existing employers investing in wages and salaries,” he said.

Westmoreland County Commissioner Ted Kopas also welcomed the ranking.

“I hope it helps dispel the myth once and for all that there are not good-paying jobs here. These statistics really validate that there's good, high-paying, high-tech jobs in Westmoreland County,” he said.

Kopas singled out manufacturing as one sector that continues to show promise.

“It has remained the backbone of Westmoreland County's economy,” he said. “A lot of those are indeed higher tech than they were a generation ago, and I think that's reflected in the wages.”

The labor report said the average weekly wage for manufacturing in Westmoreland was $1,103, a 5.7 percent increase over the same period last year.

But it was in the construction sector that Westmoreland showed the most growth in the second quarter. The county ranked second in the state, after Susquehanna County, with an average weekly construction wage of $1,215 — a 24.7 percent increase over the same period last year.

It was the highest rate of growth for construction wages in Westmoreland since the fourth quarter of 2007, according to the bureau.

Kopas said that may have to do with the construction of the Tenaska Westmoreland Generating Station in South Huntingdon — a $780 million project with hundreds of well-paying union jobs.

“I would suspect that is a significant factor (in the ranking),” he said.

The gas-fueled power plant recently reached 1 million work hours stemming from 600 construction jobs. At peak construction, the project is expected to generate 650 jobs.

“Those business owners (in the construction trades) are needing to recruit younger people to come into those occupations, so they're bumping up the wages,” said Chad Amond, president and CEO of the Westmoreland County Chamber of Commerce.

Rising wages, combined with Westmoreland County's low cost of living, are helping employers retain workers and attract new ones, Amond said.

Rigone said he hopes the county's comprehensive plan process will “uncover where our highest wage growth is occurring and where the opportunities are.”

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1280, shuba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @shuba_trib.

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