The Greater Reading Chamber Alliance has released its second annual Mid-Year State of the Economy, a compiled economic snapshot of Berks County.
The largest industry sector in Berks County based on both Gross Domestic Product and employment numbers continues to be manufacturing, employing 30,038 workers.
While manufacturing employment numbers are strong, the numbers indicate there are approximately 2,000 fewer workers than in 2019, before the pandemic.
This runs counter to other economies in the region where their workforces are at or above 2019 levels.
It suggests Berks County businesses may face greater challenges in meeting market demand and preserving productivity.
Berks County’s Gross Domestic Product, which is the total value of goods and services produced by a region, expanded 5.8% in 2021. That follows a contraction of 2.8% in 2020. As of 2021, total GDP in Berks was $21.5 billion.
The Economic Development Company (EDC) of Lancaster County Center for Regional Analysis said that the second quarter GDP forecasts are varied, signaling uncertainty over how quickly a recession could materialize.
The latest estimate from the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow forecasts negative growth in the second quarter (-1.2%).
In contrast, The Conference Board forecasts positive growth (+0.8%), noting that it anticipates the US economy is headed towards a “shallow recession” at the end of the year and into early 2023.
The report also showed that key sectors in Berks’ economy continue to operate with a significantly smaller employee base than prior to the pandemic.
Wages have increased 4.4% in 2022, compared to 9.4% during this same period in 2021
The overall cost of living remains lower than the national average and surrounding metropolitan areas
Consumer spending in Berks County has flattened, while nationally it has continued to rise. The local shift suggests county consumers may be adopting a more conservative stance as inflation continues.
The cost of housing continues to be lower than surrounding communities. Despite lower costs, Berks County continues to be challenged in diverse and desired housing options.