Study: Local economy fared better than US

MIFFLINTOWN – Dr. Chip Baumgardner is an associate professor of business administration at Penn College in William-sport, but he calls Mifflintown home. His curiosity about the sustainability of Juniata County through the Great Recession lead to research that was printed in this month’s publication of the International Journal of Liberal Arts and Social Science.

Baumgardner was formerly the president of the Pennsylvania Economic Association. As a group, the association would choose different economic topics of interest for discussion and research. Through the Great Recession, which lasted from 2007 to 2009, Baumgardner watched with interest to see what would become of Juniata County’s economy. On the surface, it didn’t seem as though the county suffered terribly, so he set out to find hard facts to back up his perception.

In 2011, he began background research on labor market statistics to understand the normal trends of the county. Throughout 2012, he began comparing national, state and local data. While the recession began in December 2007, Baumgardner analyzed two time periods. The first, December 2007 to June 2009, is the “official” period of the recession; however, unemployment rates continued to rise into December 2009, so the second time period extends to the end of that year.

He found that through the recession, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rates were generally lower than national rates during both time periods. While Juniata County’s rates were consistently better than national rates, the data showed the local labor market didn’t perform quite as well as the state on the whole from December 2007 to June 2009. In the extended time period, though, the county unemployment rate was better than the state’s, with a lower average in both seasonally and nonseasonally-adjusted employment rates.

To find out what made Juniata County virtually recession-proof, Baumgardner looked at the types of industry present in the area and discovered a unique economical composition. During the Great Recession, the industries most negatively affected were construction, various financial services and manufacturing.

Empire Kosher Poultry Inc., the county’s largest employer, is technically a manufacturer, but it found itself in a stable position because of the fact that it manufactures basic food products, a necessary market. While construction on the whole was down during the recession, Juniata County’s construction-based businesses, mainly smaller operations dealing in specialty construction, catered to a specific market, one that felt the recession’s effects less. Even the financial services industry, with Juniata Valley Bank and First National Bank of Mifflintown rounding out the list of top employers, survived in Juniata County because of their localized approach to the market.

“We just have the right occupation combination,” Baumgardner said.

Baumgardner began meeting with the county’s top employers in 2013 and continued doing so into 2014, collecting specific employment figures and information on the companies.

He offered several possible reasons for Juniata County’s resistance to the recession:

Occupations in decline, such as aerospace engineering, electrical manufacturing, precious stone and metals, underground mining and specialty finance, are not relevant in the area;

Occupations with the highest growth rates like heating, air conditioning, refrigeration, brickmasons, stonemasons and specialized carpenters are part of the area’s labor market;

Food production and agriculture, government, health care and education industries comprise a core group of stable employers;

Residents working in strong labor market areas may commute to Harrisburg and State College, where markets were also consistent; and

A large number of residents claimed self employment, which might be less depending on the actions of outside employers.

Baumgardner’s research was sent to the International Journal of Liberal Arts and Social Science for a panel review and was accepted for publication. The journal seeks works from all over the world to provide a diverse perspective to its readers.

“They don’t want everything from one country. They want a world view,” he said. “When people think of the U.S., they’re not thinking of Juniata County.”

While Baumgardner’s interest in the subject matter was personal because he resides in Juniata County, he wanted to share it with the area.

“It’s good for local people to understand, things could have been a lot worse,” he said.


Penn College is an affiliate of Penn State University.