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Pa. Stands Out In Economy On Brink Of Recession

State's durable goods manufacturing sector provides 414,000 jobs and some employers say they are doing well — perhaps aided by a weak dollar overseas.

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — In a national economy teetering on the brink of recession, there are a couple bright spots for Pennsylvania.
That is good news for a state that has suffered its share of manufacturing job losses over the past 30 years and watched as other states' newer economies shot skyward.
Amid Wall Street's tailspin, Pennsylvania added a relatively small 2,800 jobs during December, according to just-released figures.
It's a pleasant surprise considering that 17 states lost jobs last month, said James Diffley of Global Insight Inc., an economic analysis firm.
The overheated growth that occurred in Sun Belt states like Florida, Arizona and California is acting like whiplash in the downturn. In Pennsylvania, where the housing boom was more modest, the downward ride may be a slower, easier curve.
''We didn't have the same boom,'' Diffley said. ''There was a boom in Pennsylvania to be sure ... but not like in the areas that are getting hammered.''
Then there is the manufacturing sector. For many years the backbone of Pennsylvania's economy, manufacturing jobs disappeared as automation took over or fled the state for places where land, labor and materials were cheaper.
But in the past couple years, Pennsylvania's durable goods manufacturing sector has stabilized. The sector now provides 414,000 jobs, and some employers say they are doing well — perhaps aided by a weak dollar that makes American-made goods cheaper overseas.
Pennsylvania and other heavy manufacturing states stand to benefit from the cheap dollar, Diffley said.
Lee Taddonio, who is president of SMC Business Councils, an association of 3,000 businesses in central and western Pennsylvania, said his manufacturing members seem to be doing better than members in other business sectors.
''Everyone's talking about the potential recession thing the last couple of days, and they say they don't see anything like that,'' Taddonio said.
St. Mary's Pressed Metals, which makes ball bearings for appliances like air conditioners, washing machines and lawnmowers, just wrapped up a very profitable year, said general manager Jim Aiello. The only worry — aside from panicked talking heads on the television business programs — is the rising cost of metals, such as copper, stainless steel and chromium, that St. Mary's needs to make the bearings, Aiello said.
Holtec International's suburban Pittsburgh plant that makes shipping and handling products for nuclear waste has added dozens of workers in the past year as nuclear power plant licenses are being extended in the United States and new plants are being built overseas, said Jennifer McDade, controller of Holtec's manufacturing division.
With the dollar weak, the company is considering bringing some other product manufacturing lines back to the United States, McDade said. The company's biggest problem? Finding enough workers, she said.
It is unclear, though, how long the weaker dollar will help bring foreign investment. Robert Dye, senior economist of Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group, said the U.S. downturn could spread — and hurt key foreign customers of American companies.
''As long as the rest of the world's GDP hangs in there, we should benefit with strong export markets,'' Dye said. ''The concern there is the United States recession may, in fact, lead other countries into recession as well.''
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