Uncertainty on Jobs and Spending

Posted: September 08, 2007

Thanks to caramel-covered apples, Christine Murphy, the owner of a Philadelphia manufacturing company, has doubled her workforce.

That makes her a rarity among manufacturers, who once again, along with construction companies and transportation firms, led the downward slide in the nation's payrolls reported yesterday by the U.S. Department of Labor.

For Murphy, who owns S. Zitner Co., caramel-covered apples herald the annual swelling of her workforce to a high of 30 in the winter months, when the North Philadelphia candy factory churns out chocolate Easter eggs and bunny rabbits.

"They just started Tuesday," she said, referring to the caramel crew.

For the first time since August 2003, the nation's payrolls shrank last month, shedding 4,000 jobs, although the unemployment rate stayed steady at 4.6 percent.

Locally, Philadelphia-area employers expect to continue to hire, but at a slow pace, with 23 percent planning to hire and 23 percent planning to cut jobs, according to a survey by Manpower Inc., the staffing company.

New Jersey and Pennsylvania labor department Web sites show that area companies are planning some layoffs. For example, the DeSimone Group, in Mount Laurel, which sells cars and runs events, submitted a notice that it would lay off 205 people beginning Aug. 6. No other details were available.

And Macy's in King of Prussia said it would lay off 180 as part of a continued trimming of duplicate stores.

However, many area companies say they need help.

Hundreds of applicants visited the Valley Forge Convention Center yesterday to seek jobs at the 100-store Philadelphia Premium Outlets shopping center set to open in November in Limerick.

The construction sector lost jobs, the Labor Department said. But "my members can't get enough skilled craftsmen," said Geoffrey Zeh, president of the Southeast Pennsylvania chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., a trade group based in Montgomery County.

In the city, the expansion of the Convention Center and work at the University of Pennsylvania should provide ample employment for union construction workers, said Patrick Gillespie, head of the Building and Trades Council.

Contractor Sean Reshetar, who owns Reshetar Custom Homes in Doylestown, said his homebuilding business was down. But he said he had been able to pick up work building additions.

Even as banking businesses are shuddering from the decline in the subprime market, local banks say they are looking for employees.

"We haven't experienced any kind of slowdown in hiring," said David Flaherty, senior vice president of corporate relations at Commerce Bank. The bank expects to fill 1,400 new positions this year.

Hospitals are hiring, said Priscilla Koutsouradis, communications director for the Delaware Valley Healthcare Council, which represents hospitals.

"Our most recent . . . information shows continuing shortages for nurses, therapists, imaging, and lab technicians and pharmacists," she said.

Comcast Corp. is among the local companies actively recruiting. Spokesman John Demming said the company planned to add 1,000 workers in the Philadelphia area this year, not including 800 in a new call center in Delaware. Nationally, Comcast added 6,000 jobs in the first two quarters.

Despite the payroll decline, yesterday's Labor Department report also showed a continuing increase in hourly earnings.

John Bialous, chief operating officer at Miles Technologies Inc., has seen the upward trend at his technology company in Moorestown.

He said he knows he will have to pay more for the 10 programmers, network specialists and Web designers Miles wants to hire by year's end.

"It's been very competitive to get good candidates," he said. He said he knows recruiters are calling the company, trying to hire away his people.

"There's not a big supply, and there are other employers trying to compete for the same people," Bialous said. "It's also competitive to retain them."

Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or jvonbergen@phillynews.com.

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