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Pennsylvania, other states try to fill holes in labor force

Tuesday, December 19, 2000

By Genaro C. Armas , The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Across the Midwest and into the Middle Atlantic, states are trying to plug holes in their labor pools.

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack is pursuing an aggressive campaign to recruit new immigrants to fill jobs left vacant, in part, by retirees. Ohio and Pennsylvania are among the states trying to combat the "brain drain," the departure of highly educated students for more attractive jobs in other states.

In an economy with low unemployment, workers are hot commodities.

"We need more workers. We need all levels of jobs, and levels of people within those jobs," said Harold Bowman, a project coordinator for Vilsack's Iowa 2010 plan, which seeks an additional 310,000 workers by the end of the decade.

New workers are especially welcome across America's heartland and into Pennsylvania, where growth forecasts of the working age population -- people ages 16 to 64 -- are lower than fast-growing states in the West.

Among the findings of a report that reviewed the latest Census Bureau population estimates from 1999 and projections for 2015:

West Virginia (1 percent) and Michigan (less than 1 percent) are the only two states where the working age population is estimated to drop.

Iowa's working age population is forecast to rise by 3 percent.

Western states are projected as having the greatest gains, led by New Mexico (29 percent) and Hawaii (27 percent). Arizona, Nevada and California also are expected to show increases of 20 percent or more.

This growth comes from increased immigration and shifts of people who leave one state for another, said John Haaga, an analyst at the Population Reference Bureau, the nonprofit research group studying population trends.

Generally older populations reaching retirement age and more mobile workers in their 20s and 30s are slowing growth rates in the Middle Atlantic and Midwest, he said.

"Those states are not getting particularly large shares of immigrants, and they've been losing domestic migrants. People are most likely to leave in their 20s, and settle down around age 35," Haaga said.

When Dan Sadosky, 34, left Toledo, Ohio, in 1989, he likened his hometown's economy to a "sinking ship." His outlook has changed since returning to the Toledo area in 1996 after attending college in Columbus, Ohio.

He opened a software development company and has joined other businesses in trying to keep well-educated students from leaving.

"When I moved back and I brought the business with me, much of the support and infrastructure I found in other towns I did not find here," Sadosky said.

As part of the area's "Foundation for the Future" program, Sadosky and others try to retain students through internships and other efforts.

"The ingenuity of businesses will be tested again and again as labor force developments over the next 10 years represent new challenges as well as the continuation of existing ones," said Richard Hokenson, chief economist with Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette.

Similar steps are under way in other states.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. this year shifted a $5 million advertising campaign from recruiting companies to recruiting skilled workers.

West Virginia, the state with the oldest median age in the country (38.9), is trying to attract older workers approaching retirement age, pitching a lower cost of living.

"We're not trying to portray an image one way or another," said Fred Cutlip, director of community development for the state development office. "We're trying to attract people who would want to retire in this state, or attracting business owners who would want to retire afterward."

Vilsack's quest to bring in more immigrants to Iowa is just the latest move after having held receptions around the country aimed at getting former state residents to return.

In Harrisburg, Greg Rothman, president of Harrisburg Young Professionals, hopes "brain drain" soon turns into "brain stay." His group has sought to jazz up the Pennsylvania capital's image for young professionals who he says may not have considered returning.

"We also believe that we have to sell the city of Harrisburg, not just to young people, but to companies and retail establishments," said Rothman, 33, a partner in a real estate business.

"The idea is that there are young professional who left that would like to come back and raise children and families here."

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