Greater Reading Chamber Alliance looks to tap talent

The Greater Reading Chamber Alliance is looking to recruit talent to the Berks County region with a new program its launching. 

The Meet Greater Reading talent attraction program is a new service that is designed to connect prospective residents and job seekers with companies in the county. 

In a press release, the GRCA referred to talent attraction as the top “pain point” for local companies. 

Meet Greater Reading will have a trial run starting this month through the end of the year with an official launch coming in January. 

The GRCA is working with a national talent attraction consulting agency, RoleCall, in developing the program. 

“A vibrant and skilled workforce is vital to the success of local businesses and our economy. This initiative aims to bolster and cultivate our community’s workforce, which has contracted in recent years, primarily attributed to our aging population,” said Keith Stamm, director of workforce for the GRCA. “For this reason, we have been working with RoleCall, local businesses and partners over the past year to identify specific ways to support our employers’ talent attraction efforts while also developing strategic solutions to attract new talent to the area.” 

 The program will tout the region’s low cost of living, outdoor amenities and schools. It will also point to the convenient location of Berks County, which is only a short distance from Philadelphia and Lancaster and has easy access to major airports. 

These main selling points and others will be highlighted through a paid, digital marketing campaign targeting candidates interested in moving to the Greater Reading region, which it hopes will ultimately result in a Talent Roster that GRCA’s talent team will distribute to local employers. Prospective candidates will receive curated information relevant to their industry and interests on a regular basis.  

A special emphasis will be placed on nine key industries, including education, healthcare, engineering, manufacturing and skilled trades.  

The program work was funded largely by the County of Berks as well as GRCA’s economic development investors.  

Berks economic report shows growth in economy, wages and expenses

Berks County is growing and so is its economy. 

The Greater Reading Chamber Alliance has released its 2023 Mid-Year State of the Economy report. 

Highlights of the report include an increase in population, wages and housing costs throughout the county with manufacturing remaining the largest employer. 

Berks County now has more than 430,000 residents with the median age being 39. That population includes 20,000 college and technical school graduates living within a 50-mile radius of the city of Reading. 

The largest industry sector in Berks County based on both GDP and employment numbers continues to be manufacturing, employing over 31,000 workers. 

The report said that manufacturing employment numbers are strong and have continued to rise over the past three years. However, there are still about 600 fewer workers than in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

Electric and electrical manufacturing jobs paid an average of $64,708, while metal and product manufacturing paid an average of $100,476. 

The next largest employer is health care and social service with 30,607 workers. Ambulatory health service providers earned an average of $83,620 while hospital salaries averaged $76,648. 

Third is retail with 19,642 workers. Restaurant and beverage workers averaged around $25,213 while general retail workers earned an average of $28,599. 

Sectors in Berks County with the highest average wages per worker are management of companies and enterprises at $123,326, utilities at $100,169 and finance and insurance at $88,086. 

Meanwhile, the fastest growing sectors over the next five years in the region are expected to be transportation and warehousing, adding an expected 2,528 jobs; health care and social assistance, adding an expected 578 jobs; and finance and insurance, adding an expected 502 jobs. 

“The overall size of the labor force is rising, but labor supply remains tight,” the report said. “The county’s labor force has generally grown through the first six months of 2023. Berks County started the year with 212,400 participants, approximately 2,500 more than last year and 3,650 fewer than in 2019.” 

The year 2019 is considered the benchmark for pre-pandemic conditions.  

For context the post-pandemic gap was nearly 8,000 fewer labor force participants, suggesting that the gap is starting to close. 

Meanwhile, after wages spiked dramatically post pandemic because of the shortage of available workers, wages appear to be normalizing.  

The average worker in Berks County earned annual wages of $58,080, an increase of 2.2% in by the end of the first quarter of 2023.  

By comparison the annual average wages increased 4.4% during the same time period in 2022 and 9.9% in 2021.  

The annual average wage in Berks was slightly lower than the national average, which was $68,501 as of end of Q1 2023. 

It is getting a little more expensive to live in the county, however.  

The report shows that while housing has remained affordable in Berks County in comparison to surrounding communities, housing prices are on the rise. 

 In June 2019 the median list price in Berks County was $220,000.  

In June 2023 the median list price is $340,329. That’s a nearly 54% increase since before the pandemic. 

According to the report there is a lack of housing options to meet current and projected demand, a challenge similar to what communities across the nation are confronting. 

Berks launches interactive online agriculture map

Visitors to Berks County will have an easier way to find where their food comes from. 

The Greater Reading Chamber Alliance has partnered with the county to launch an interactive local food directory and map website. 

The Berks County Local Food Map, which can be found at www.growtogetherberks.com, was designed to help consumers find local farmers, growers and other agricultural-related businesses throughout Berks County. 

On the website, users can search by business type, products and accepted payments. 

It gave the example of a visitor searching for such things as grass-fed beer, pick-your-own produce or local honey. 

“Berks County is fortunate to have agriculture be a driving force of our economy and residents will now have the ability to continue to support the businesses by purchasing locally sourced items identified through the directory map,” said Deb Millman, vice president of development for the GRCA. 

In addition to the map, the website also offers an event calendar specifically for agriculture-related events including fairs and festivals to baby goat yoga or food preservation workshops. 



Berks Athena award goes to local STEM educator

Adelle Schade
Adelle Schade –

Women2Women of the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance has named Adelle Schade as its 2023 Athena Leadership Award recipient. 

The founder of Total Learning Experience and Dean of Pre-College and Summer Programs at Albright College will be honored at the organization’s 12th Annual Conference + Expo. 

In a release, Women2Women said Schade has been a catalyst for educational change in Berks County. Total Experience Learning was named a top four STEM program in the United States in 2019 by District Administrator Journal.  

In December 2022, the program received international recognition at the United Nations as the most innovative educational model by the Materials Science sub-division of the United Nations.  

Schade has taken the program from the high school environment to launching a world-class program that embraces students and educators. Developing a curriculum for teachers while continuing to push the boundaries for students. 

Schade’s leadership and expertise also extends to the Berks County community.  

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Schade partnered with community leaders and manufacturers to address PPE shortages in the community. She worked to source 3-D printers and supplies to print equipment for first responders, educators and those in most need of protection from the virus.  

Business leaders raising funds for R.M. Palmer explosion victims

Berks business and community leaders are raising money for the victims of the March 24 explosion at R.M. Palmer Co. PHOTO/COURTESY GREATER READING CHAMBER ALLIANCE –

The Greater Reading Chamber Alliance is working with other business and community leaders in the Berks County area to help raise funds for the victims of the March 24 explosion at R.M. Palmer Co. 

At the request of West Reading Borough Council, Berks County Community Foundation and the United Way of Berks County have partnered to create the West Reading Disaster Recovery Fund to aid members of the community who were affected by the explosion that killed seven and injured several others. 

Depending on the amount of funds raised the organizations have a prioritized list of where the money will go. 

The first priority would be for grants to organizations providing support to the families of individuals killed in the explosion for immediate financial losses. 

Second would be grants to organizations providing support to individuals displaced from their homes as a result of the explosion. 

Third would be grants to organizations providing support to individuals displaced from employment as a result of the explosion. 

The fourth priority would be to support the Borough of West Reading towards an historical commemoration of the explosion including the creation of a memorial to those lost. 

The Berks County Community Foundation and the United Way of Berks County will help distribute the funds to organizations assisting families who lost loved ones in the explosion or those who lost work as a result of the blast.  

Any remaining funds will go to honoring those who died, said Tammy White with United Way of Berks County. 

The chamber noted that the candymaker has been a part of the Greater Reading business community for 75 years and spent more than 40 years as a chamber member.   

Elizabethtown College’s High Center looks to strengthen local nonprofits

Elizabethtown College’s High Center has launched a new Nonprofit Center as it seeks to expand its mission of strengthening family-owned and privately held businesses in South Central Pennsylvania. 

The Center’s mission is to serve the needs of the regional’s nonprofit leaders and organizations via services that include executive peer groups, best practice surveys, leadership speaker series, and member benefits. 

“Nonprofit organizations, their boards, and executive teams tackle unique challenges and have needs that are often underserved in our business community,” High Center Executive Director Michael Mitchell said in a statement. 

“The leadership and organizational development model that the High Center provides has become essential for hundreds of businesses and leaders in the region, and we are excited to offer this invaluable resource to the nonprofit sector.” 

Julie Larison, who joined the High Center recently as managing director, is leading the Nonprofit Center. She most recently served as senior director of membership services for the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance and is a graduate of Elizabethtown College with a master’s degree in strategic leadership and organizational development. 

“Nonprofit organizations are truly essential businesses in our communities, and I am thrilled to be partnering with them and their leadership teams to further enhance and support their work,” said Larison. 

Along with the core offerings that encourage business and leadership development, nonprofit members can take advantage of a High Center Speaker Series that is scheduled to bring nationally recognized experts to Berks, Lehigh, Lancaster, and York counties. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is the scheduled speaker for the High Center’s Business Forum at Lancaster’s Marriott on Penn Square, Wednesday, March 29.

Grant to help plan Reading passenger train service redevelopment

A state grant from gaming revenue could help bring the city of Reading a step closer to bringing back passenger rail service. 

The Greater Reading Chamber Alliance said it has been awarded $142, 346 for its Franklin Street Transit-Oriented Development Strategic Planning Process.  

The money is coming from Category 4 licensed gaming revenues.  

“We are thrilled to receive these funds as we continue to work with our public and private sector partners to lay the groundwork for restoration of passenger rail service to the City and County,” said Jim Gerlach, president and CEO of the GRCA. “And we especially appreciate the great leadership of Sen. Judy Schwank and her State House colleagues in supporting this initiative. They fully understand the importance of rail restoration and the monumental economic growth opportunities it presents.”  

In addition to Sen. Schwank’s support, the project garnered support from Rep. Manny Guzman, Rep. Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz and Rep. Mark Rozzi, who all represent parts of Reading.  

The focus of the Franklin Street Transit-Oriented Development Strategic Plan is to formulate the best and most appropriate course of action to support the redevelopment and revitalization of residential, commercial and industrial properties within the neighborhoods adjacent to the train station.  

This funding will enable the city of Reading to properly plan for future revitalization and growth.  

The GRCA said the re-establishment of an intercity passenger rail system has the potential to bring over $1.4 billion in income generation, over $1 billion economic development, nearly $1 billion in tax revenue, and 28,000 person years of work. 

The Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority is also in the process of applying to the Federal Rail Administration’s Corridor Identification and Development Program, which will direct billions in funding to develop intercity passenger rail services with the goal to reconnect underserved communities.