The bad news continues for Erie, Pa.
I wrote about this lakeside city last year, detailing failed efforts to establish a community college in the town formerly known for its manufacturing prowess. While a lot of those industrial jobs moved abroad, the ones that are left are more technical, requiring credentials and training beyond high school. Without a community college, Erie workers only have pricey, for-profit options from which to choose.
And now, Erie County’s largest employer, GE Transportation, announced a plan last week for more than 1,000 layoffs, in favor of moving more operations to its new locomotive plant in Texas. (A slowdown in locomotive demand is also to blame for 200 separate temporary layoffs announced last week.)
That’s about one-quarter of Erie’s GE workforce. Jim Kurre, of the Economic Research Institute in Erie, estimates that the layoffs will force the county’s unemployment rate up by .07 percent.
No one will link the closures to the lack of a skilled workforce, but when I was there last spring, officials estimated that 7,500 jobs are waiting for qualified candidates with high-tech training. (This would, of course, include positions in other high-demands sectors in Erie, like healthcare.)
Instead, officials sugar-coat the layoffs, saying they “remain hopeful” that Erie union workers can negotiate to reduce the layoffs within the next 60 days. But don’t they see? GE is chipping away at its standing as the county’s No. 1 employer: It opened the new locomotive plant in Fort Worth, Texas, two years ago this month, rather than expanding operations in Erie, where GE was headquartered. Then, last year, the worldwide transportation company, moved its global headquarters from Erie to the much larger (and likely more fruitful) Chicago.
This already happened, don’t forget, with International Paper. In 2001, that plant – a staple of the town’s economy for more than a century – closed its doors. It was around that same time that Brian Bosworth, in a report commissioned by the county, predicted economic doom if officials didn’t wake up and start investing in their workforce.
Twelve years later, Erie remains the most populated part of the Keystone State without access to a community college—and one large plant short of its former manufacturing prowess.