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Pandemic Progress: Despite Downturn, NEPA Sees Growth in Several Sectors


Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County, PA - Wico van Genderen, President/CEO of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce, said while the coronavirus pandemic has slowed things down, it has certainly not put a full stop to business expansion.


This new, 31,005-square-foot building under construction at the main entrance to CenterPoint Commerce & Trade Park in Jenkins Township will house new retail and office tenants, said Jim Cummings, vice president of Marketing at Mericle Commercial Real Estate Services.

Roger DuPuis | Times Leader


 “COVID has certainly created a challenging business environment, but core business value propositions are key to keeping the proverbial wheels on the wagon,” Van Genderen said. “These business expansions generate business activity, create new jobs, and create business momentum as companies take notice in their long term strategic planning that our area continues to be an ideal location to drive economic activity even in these trying COVID times.”


John L. Augustine III, President/CEO at Penn’s Northeast, said NEPA has been experiencing record growth with industry in the last few years. He said the U.S. and Pennsylvania have realized that they need to onshore, re-shore, and make products in America.


 “And that is exactly the trend we are seeing,” he said. “We are on par for our best year of job growth in history thanks to low cost and reliable utilities, great regional partners, an excellent education system, and dedicated hard-working people from Northeastern Pennsylvania.”


In recent weeks, several companies have made major announcements:


Ball Corporation

Read more about Ball Corp. here!


Colorado-based Ball Corporation announced it plans to bring 230 full-time jobs to northeastern Pennsylvania with the creation of an aluminum beverage packaging plant in a modern industrial building at the former Techneglas site, 140 Industrial Drive, Jenkins Township.


Production is set to begin in mid-2021, the company said.


Ball has pledged to invest approximately $360 million into the project over multiple years, according to a statement released Wednesday. The project will generate more than $16 million in new employment payroll for the region.


“Ball looked at multiple sites in several states before choosing Pittston for our newest facility,” Ball Director of Strategic Communications Scott McCarty said in an email on Friday.


“Pittston offers a great location in relationship to regional customer demand, proximity to major transportation routes, the regional talent base and existing infrastructure on site,” McCarty added. “It’s impossible to name everyone who worked with us on this massive project, but the cooperation among state and local entities to make it possible was a key factor. We’re excited about calling Pittston home and hiring for roles at the plant is underway.”



National Cart

Read more about National Cart here! 


Rob Unnerstall, President and CEO of National Cart, last week said his company’s expansion into Pennsylvania with a Hanover Township presence will provide additional manufacturing and distribution space to better serve east coast customers.


“This expansion makes logistical sense and demonstrates our commitment to our customers and the investment to grow our business,” Unnerstall said. “Our three strategically placed locations will give National Cart a better opportunity to help our customers grow their business.”


National Cart, a family-owned business started by Unnerstall’s father in 1979, is a leader in the manufacturing of material handling products headquartered near St. Louis, held a news conference/tour/ribbon cutting ceremony at its new facility in at 32 Earth Conservancy Drive, near the Hanover Industrial Park.


This is the third U.S. location for National Cart — the other sites in Reno, NV that opened in 2000, and the corporate office in St. Charles, Mo.


Unnerstall, 55, said the combined locations bring the company’s total manufacturing and distribution space to more than 460,000 square feet.


The Hanover Township building has about 42,000 square feet. Unnerstall said he is looking for a larger space of about 60,000 to 75,000 square feet for a permanent location to move to when the current two-year lease runs out.


A partial list of businesses that opened or expanded in the region or announced expansion in the past year, both before and during the pandemic:


• National Cart Company, Hanover Township, opened 9-16-20, 20 jobs

• Restaurant Depot, Wilkes-Barre, 2019

• Ocean State Job Lot, Wilkes-Barre, 2019

• Marx Sheet Metal & Mechanical, Wilkes-Barre

• Ball Corporation, Jenkins Township, 9-2-20 announced 230 new jobs

• Iris USA, Hazleton, 250 new jobs

• CANPACK, Lackawanna County, 7-16-20, 400 new jobs

• Piling Solutions, Hanover Twp, 2019, 87 new jobs

• Best Cigar Prices, Drums, expanding

• Chewy, Wilkes-Barre

• Adidas, Hanover Township

• Patagonia, Hanover Township

• Spreetail, 2018, Nanticoke

• True Value, Hanover Township, 2019

• McCarthy Tire, Wilkes-Barre, 2019

• PFNonwovens, Hazleton, 9-11-20, 40 new jobs

• The Salt Barre, Pittston, 2-28-20

• Finch Manufacturing, West Pittston

• Coordinated Health, Hazleton, 2019

• Colours, Hanover Township, 2019, 42 jobs

• Broncos Vault, Wilkes-Barre, 6-25-20

Source: State Sen. John Yudichak’s office


“We have had three ribbon cuttings to open and expand businesses this past month with one more scheduled shortly,” Van Genderen said. “Just this week, we saw family-owned National Cart Co. open operations with their design, manufacturing and distribution location near our Hanover Industrial Park.”

In addition, Van Genderen said Wren Kitchens, a prominent European company chose Hanover Township for its first U.S. manufacturing and distribution center.


“All are bringing family-sustaining manufacturing jobs to our area,” he said. “We are also seeing legacy businesses making new investments as well. Family-owned, 4th generation McCarthy Tire is making a significant multi-million dollar investment to upgrade and re-tool their headquarters location in Wilkes-Barre.”


State Sen. John Yudichak, I-Swoyersville, said prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Luzerne County was experiencing historic economic growth and had the lowest unemployment rate in four decades.


“Despite the state shutdown of wide swaths of our economy, Luzerne County continues to attract national companies to the I-81 corridor who are creating jobs and driving our robust economic recovery,” Yudichak said.


More jobs coming


Penn’s Northeast’s Augustine said more jobs will be announced in the coming weeks in Mountain Top, Hazleton, Pittston and other locations.


“COVID slowed us down, but did not stop us,” Augustine said. “Prior to COVID we were at our lowest unemployment rate in years and we are going to come back even stronger.”


“As an example, we have companies that started at $9 per hour two years ago and are now at $15 per hour with benefits and sign-on bonuses,” he said.


Augustine said the region’s location is central to one-third of the U.S. population and half of the Canadian population in a one day drive gives us a great advantage.


He said our universities, community colleges and career technical schools are graduating more than 40,000 students a year in all different types of curriculum and skills.


“Just in the past few weeks, we announced Ball Corporation and CANPACK — both of whom will pay over $60,000 a year on average,” Augustine said. “And National Cart which is an amazing family-owned corporation.”


Strong demand for space


Jim Cummings, vice president of Marketing at Mericle Commercial Real Estate Services, said since the start of the pandemic, the company has continued to see strong demand for industrial space in Northeastern Pennsylvania, both from manufacturing and distribution companies.


“The continued growth of online shopping has definitely been a contributing factor,” Cummings said. “Despite COVID 19, we are continuing with our strategy of constructing buildings on speculation. We have three industrial buildings and an office and retail complex under construction on spec in CenterPoint Commerce & Trade Park. We are also clearing, grading, and compacting several sites in the market as part of our ReadyToGo Program.”


Cummings said the local market is now highly regarded by the national real estate brokerage community.


“We are getting to compete for almost all of the deals that are considering the Lehigh Valley and Greater Harrisburg,” Cummings said. “The I-81 Corridor, from north of Scranton south to the Maryland border, is considered to be one market by the real estate community.”


Cummings provided some startling statistics.


“With the completion of our most recent lease transactions, there are close to 17,000 people working in the 24 million square feet we have developed in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1985,” he said.


Cummings also talked about a new building going up at the main entrance to CenterPoint Commerce & Trade Park — a two-story, 31,005 square foot building under construction on a 7.98-acre site with easy-off, easy-on highway access, great visibility, and high traffic counts. The building will house new retail and office tenants.


Tens of thousands of vehicles pass the park every day on the interstates and on Route 315. Approximately 16,000 vehicles per day pass CenterPoint Commons directly as they enter and leave the business park.


Traffic signals provide easy ingress and egress. Almost 1,500 employees at companies such as Geisinger, Maximus, C3i, Apollo Flow Controls, and Isuzu are within walking distance.


“The growing traffic counts near the site have already drawn many national retailers to Route 315,” Cummings said. “However, CenterPoint Commons is closer to the business park than all other retail locations.”


Manufacturing sector strong


Eric Joseph Esoda, NEPIRC President/CEO, said the manufacturing sector across northeastern Pennsylvania is recovering from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic quickly and experiencing dynamic growth due to several factors, including its diversity, placement within critical supply chains, and proximity to major markets.


“Northeastern Pennsylvania’s manufacturing community is exceptionally diverse,” Esoda said. “This diversity insulates our overall manufacturing economy from sub-sector-specific downturns. Whereas manufacturers within some regions across our country, and, to some extent, even entire state manufacturing economies, may be dependent upon specific end-user supply chains, such as automotive, aerospace, defense or natural resources, our region is diverse enough to absorb temporary recessions within those supply chains and still remain viable overall. It’s a matter of ‘not having all your eggs in one basket,’ as the old saying goes.”


Esoda said during the COVID-19 pandemic, while automotive, aerospace, transportation equipment and some other sub-sectors of our economy hit the pause button, others thrived, such as food manufacturing, medical device manufacturing, home improvement products, paper and packaging products and certain segments of the plastics industry.


“Our region was fortunate to have relatively little exposure to the industries that were compressing and a multitude of companies within the sectors that held their own or expanded,” Esoda said. “Although diverse, our regional manufacturing economy also consists of key players in critical supply chains.”

Esoda said food manufacturing is among our region’s largest industrial product subsectors. During the pandemic, food consumption actually increased – thus driving sales and revenue for food manufacturers, as well as their local suppliers of plastic and paper packaging.


Department of Defense contract manufacturers are also prominent across our region, Esoda said. During the pandemic, those firms remained open by virtue of the products they produce and, as a result, retained much of their employees.


Plastic manufacturers are abundant across the area, and many, including companies like i2m, pivoted into the manufacture of medical supplies and consumable medical devices during the COVID-19 crisis.


“The same could be said for our paper, packaging products and filtration products manufacturers, which also constitute a large share of our regional firms,” Esoda said. “Overall, many of our manufacturers were in the right place at the right time and either benefited from growth within their existing subsectors, such as food, paper and packaging products, or were nimble enough to pivot into new markets.”


Lastly, Esoda said our proximity to major markets is fueling some of our manufacturing growth, including the attraction of new firms and expansion of others.


“In late-2019, our region announced expansions of Seokoh, Inc., a manufacturer of cosmetics and related beauty products, in Lackawanna County and All Weather Insulated Panels, a metals manufacturer, in Monroe County,” Esoda said. “In both cases, the management team cited our region’s advantageous location and closeness to key markets as major factors in their site selection decision.”


More recently, Esoda pointed to Ball Corporation and National Cart, who each announced openings in Jenkins Township and Hanover Township, respectively.


“Again, geography was referenced as one of their motivators. CANPACK, a Poland-based manufacturer of packaging products will be moving into the area as well,” Esoda said. “These business-attracting wins come on heels of recent expansions by existing companies such as Cornell Cookson, Pride Mobility, SCHOTT Glass and others.”


Ball Corporation’s McCarty elaborated on why his company has been seeing strong demand despite the pandemic.


“Because Ball supplies beverage packaging, our business was classified as “essential” very early in the pandemic. Our manufacturing plants have continued to run, while our office personnel have been working from home since mid-March,” McCarty said.


“In terms of the macrobusiness, we already knew entering 2020 that we would see a significant increase in demand for our sustainable aluminum beverage packaging,” he added, noting that 75% of all aluminum ever made is still in use today, thanks to its infinitely recyclable nature and the demand for recycled aluminum.


“The aluminum can is a sustainability success story that has really come into its own, and more customers want to package their existing and new products in our metal packaging,” McCarty said.


“On top of that anticipated increase, COVID-19 added even more demand as people stayed home and bought more canned goods,” he added. “We can sell essentially every can we can make … .”


As a result, Ball has completed line speed ups in 2020 as well as installed two new lines and are building two new plants — Glendale, Ariz., and the Jenkins Township plant, both of which are expected to open in 2021.


More stats from NEPIRC


The Northeastern Pennsylvania Industrial Resource Center (NEPIRC) reported that statewide Industrial Resource Center (IRC) manufacturing clients realized $252.4 million in new and retained sales and $15.3 million in cost savings during the first six months of 2020 as results of their recent IRC engagements.


Those companies also invested $57.4 million in expansion, capital improvements and technology initiatives over the same period while avoiding 2,550 layoffs and adding 439 jobs to their rosters.


Those results were gathered by an independent market research firm during the months of July and August and reviewed by the U.S. Department of Commerce.


“We are delighted to see that our advisement, training and consultative services are continuing to yield dynamic results for our clients and their employees despite very challenging times,” said NEPIRC’s Esoda. “The engagement impacts and outcomes reported by our clients are testament to the importance of the IRC Program to the Commonwealth as manufacturers continue to rebound from COVID-19 and drive our economy forward,” he added.

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.

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