Regional market

Regional Labor Market Trends and Comparative Analysis

“Labor availability trumps labor costs as a top concern in the Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey markets,” said David Hickey, global managing director at Hickey Associates. He led experts in a dynamic discussion at I.CON East this week in Jersey City, New Jersey. They drilled down on the region’s data and provided strategies to navigate the tight talent market.

The War for Talent

“Four out of five employers are concerned about the competitiveness of labor and if they can find it,” said Hickey, whose firm extensively studies labor markets for logistics and industrial customers.

Businesses want to locate their facilities in economically thriving areas with low unemployment and high labor growth. This allows them to fill their job openings with the greatest success. Hickey showed that the New Jersey and Pennsylvania region’s unemployment is low and mirrors that of the U.S. overall.

Yet, the available labor pool has low single-digit growth, slower than in some other metro areas, namely the Carolinas.

The COVID-19 pandemic was responsible for population shifts, especially out of New York City. While many people went to the southern part of the country, New Jersey and Pennsylvania actually experienced some growth, particularly from New Yorkers moving to the region.

Dynamic workforce trends

“Sectors continue to experience high job quit rates. We saw a spike in employees quitting during the Great Recession, but even though that has subsided, rates are still higher than historic levels,” added Hickey.

One of the hottest issues potential employees grapple with is the availability of affordable childcare. “This is not insignificant to workers as childcare costs in the region can be between $20,000 and $30,000 a year,” explained Hickey. Other factors include access to reliable transportation, spousal employment, and issues working in traditional versus clean manufacturing.

Employer strategies to overcome talent shortage

Addressing these employment concerns presents a good opportunity for industrial and logistics developers to stand out from the pack. Hickey pointed to an industrial park that incorporates a childcare center with dedicated slots for park employees and military personnel.

“To address skill gaps, employers can upskill and reskill current employees, invest in automation and add more roles,” explained Hickey. All speakers were quick to correct an often-held view about automation. “Sometimes you forget that even with automation, you have increased demand for workers to service these facilities,” said Michael Larson, managing director of industrial at InSite Real Estate, LLC. “From what we’re seeing, there are just as many jobs if not more.”

To overcome talent shortages, employers are also making roles more flexible (when possible) and increasing wages.

The logistics workforce in East Pennsylvania/New Jersey

The logistics sector is a significant employment driver in the Eastern Pennsylvania/New Jersey labor market. Job categories within this sector, such as truck drivers, industrial truck operators, and material movers, are projected to grow steadily. However, Hicky highlighted challenges related to the availability of resident workers versus regional job opportunities, indicating potential mismatches that businesses need to address through targeted recruitment and training programs.

Benchmarking this region to other emerging logistics hubs in the Eastern U.S., the Virginia Beach region in Virginia looks strong for labor, but these areas aren’t built up to meet the high demand of customers.

The value of talent in logistics

“Companies can find success by working with the company culture to make sure your facility is attractive,” said Kevin McGowan, president at McGowan Corporate Real Estate Advisors. “Amenities like air conditioning can’t be overstated as these facilities can get quite hot. Another way businesses can improve employee’s quality of life is by lobbying locally for access to transportation.”

Larson explained the process he usually sees with his firm’s clients when looking at a location. “First, they ask about zoning. Then they ask about utilities and power. The third question is if there’s an available workforce in the market. Labor is more important than it was 10 or 15 years ago,” said Larson. They want to know if the labor market is growing and if it will be there in the future.

Tools that can help assess the labor market include skills commute mapping, skills concentration mapping, and occupational demand analysis. The panelists felt that firms need to rely on more than a labor density metric alone. Larson uses the standard underwriting process as a developer, but analyzes market, vacancies and local labor studies.

Best regions for facilities

Are there friendlier regions for facilities?

McGowan fielded this audience question with a few considerations. “Lehigh Valley is along the New Jersey border. It’s close to Elizabeth [in New Jersey] and the New Jersey Turnpike. If you can get it, the facilities here are well entitled and easier to navigate.”

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This post is brought to you by JLL, the social media and conference blog sponsor of NAIOP’s I.CON East 2024. Learn more about JLL at or

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