Why so slow?

Pennsylvania is one of the states where fewer people are working than in 2007.

This isn't quite new. Job growth here has been half the national average for the last 75 years, writes senior economist Mark Vitner and his team at Wells Fargo Securities L.L.C., the investment arm of the Philadelphia area's dominant bank, in its yearly report reviewing the state's economy.

Last year, Pennsylvania suffered layoffs at military contractors, steelmakers, drugmakers. Home prices went flat, and Philadelphia developers are building so many apartments, they are risking a glut - unless the city attracts "considerably more jobs and residents," according to Wells Fargo.

What about all the new little bio and tech firms in Center City and other job centers? That's still not enough growth to eclipse flat or declining employment in mature service companies - or in manufacturing, which now employs one in eight working Pennsylvanians, down from one in six in the late 1990s.

What about all that Marcellus Shale gas? Vitner cheered energy companies' increased investments in pipelines and plants to store and ship gas and other fuels to customers in other states and countries.

But that doesn't add up to a lot more permanent jobs: "The energy booms in Pennsylvania and Texas are not the same," Vitner writes. Even though natural gas activity should grow much larger upstate, the impact on employment will be "modest," given the still-small size of the energy industry compared with other sectors here.

"While under construction, pipelines can employ a substantial number of workers. Once completed, however, few workers are required to maintain and inspect them," he added.

Won't cheap gas draw new employers? The state needs to be more welcoming: "Pennsylvania's inability to hang onto current employers is concerning," Vitner reported. "Future growth will require the state to attract more businesses to locate within its borders and to keep more of the ones currently operating in the state."


Vitner urges "tax breaks for capital spending, improvement, research and development, and infrastructure spending."

That's expensive, but it will cost more if employers keep shutting down, he said.

Pennsylvania is fortunate to be next to higher-cost New Jersey, as Pennsylvania has been "winning the arms race" to get employers to relocate here from its higher-cost neighbor, Vitner said.

And at least we have warehouses: Forever 21, Nordstrom, and Urban Outfitters are building giant "fulfillment centers" in Lancaster County. Walmart has two near Bethlehem, each as big as a Philadelphia office tower.

Pennsylvania's aging population is holding it back, Vitner concluded: "The state could certainly use more workers and the additional tax revenue that they would generate," especially if it hopes to keep up with new tech-based industries.


Investor Jonathan Litt on Tuesday applauded Pennsylvania Real Estate Trust's new plan to sell four upstate Pennsylvania shopping centers and the half of Springfield Park in Delaware County that it owns - but he still wants PREIT to also unload the Exton, Willow Grove, Moorestown, and Voorhees malls, and eight other "lowest productivity" centers.

PREIT shares have lately risen above $24 for the first time since 2008. But Litt says PREIT would be worth more like $30 if investors believed the company was more serious about unloading dead-end malls and improving viable centers.

The company has said it's selling some properties - and investing in others, like Philadelphia's Gallery - at an appropriate pace.