Pennsylvania employers brought in 3,418 mostly unskilled foreign workers under the federal government's H-2B visa program during fiscal year 2012 to fill jobs they said U.S. citizens in Pennsylvania did not want.

Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Spa, which operates a state-licensed gambling casino at Farmington, Fayette County, was certified by the U.S. Department of Labor to bring in 98 foreign maids and housekeepers, and 34 dishwashers, for the biggest H-2B workforce in the state.

"We just don't have the labor pool around here" — in the hills near where Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia meet — "to fill these much needed positions," general manager Chris Plummer said. "The paperwork for this program is difficult and time-consuming. It would be much less expensive to hire local workers. But we raised the rate on housekeepers by $2," to more than $10 an hour, the federal minimum for foreign workers in the program, "and we still can't find local workers to do those jobs."

In Lower Merion, the Philadelphia Country Club was certified to bring in 22 landscapers and groundskeepers at a minimum $8.68 an hour, and nine food-prep supervisors and serving workers, starting at $10. The White Manor, Llanerch, Green Valley and Meadowlands country clubs, among others in the Philadelphia area, also imported foreign labor to keep the greens clipped or the dining-room glasses clean.

Stokesay Castle, a restaurant near Reading, was approved for 28 "formal" waiters and waitresses, at a minimum $7.61 an hour, and two cooks, at $10.67. Managers at the Philadelphia Country Club and Stokesay did not return calls.

A Montgomery County dentist was certified to import a dental hygienist at $26 an hour. A handful of construction and manufacturing companies were also certified to import labor, though local building trades union members complain demand for skilled workers is still slack.

Most of Pennsylvania's H-2B workers — almost three-quarters of the total — were hired by suburban landscaping firms. Landscaping contractors who use H-2B workers have said privately that they prefer to use legal foreign labor, despite the paperwork and fees, because that way they pick up reliable workers, which they can't find around Philadelphia for the work they do at the wages they pay. They also prefer to avoid the risk of using "illegal" undocumented workers.

With around 3 percent of the U.S. population, Pennsylvania brings in 6 percent, or more than twice its share, of the nation's 64,576 H-2B workers. Poverty lawyer Arthur Read, longtime chief counsel at the Friends of Farmworkers migrant legal aid office in Philadelphia, has pushed the Obama administration to post higher wage rates that he says more accurately represent American wages. U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan (R., Delaware County), among others in both parties in Congress, has argued for keeping H-2B wage rates lower, on the theory that small businesses that need foreigners to survive should be able to afford them.

Intelligent technologies

GPX Realty Partners, the real estate arm of tech investors Thomas Gravina and Michael Peterson's GPX Enterprises L.P., Philadelphia, has combined its million-square-foot owned-and-managed real estate business with lawyer-turned-investor Michael Forman's $100 million-asset commercial real estate investment portfolio.

Forman's ex-real estate chief, Gary Brandeis, will be president of the new company, iBuilding Realty Partners. iBuilding will apply "intelligent business technologies" to reducing utility costs and speeding tenant communications and improving other building operations, Gravina, cofounder of ATX Communications and boss of Evolve IP, said in a statement.

"We are actively pursuing targeted acquisitions in the marketplace now," and hope to boost building values by installing digital technology to make them run more efficiently, added Brandeis.

The deal will leave Forman to concentrate on his high-yield funds business, Franklin Square Capital Partners. "We merged the businesses together," Forman said. "I'm still involved at the board level, Gary will run day-to-day and Tom G. will be fairly active. I'm focused on Franklin Square."

Contact columnist Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194, or @PhillyJoeD on Twitter.