By Denise Allabaugh, Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice
More jobs are located in downtown Wilkes-Barre’s 16 blocks than in all municipalities of the Crestwood and Dallas school districts combined, according to a Diamond City Partnership report.
Forty-six percent of the jobs in Wilkes-Barre and one in 10 in Luzerne County are in the downtown Wilkes-Barre, according to statistics recently compiled by Larry Newman and Elizabeth Graham of the Diamond City Partnership.
Downtown Wilkes-Barre jobs translate to more than $433 million in annual wages to Northeast Pennsylvania residents. Thirty-two percent of people who work in downtown live outside Luzerne County, according to their data.
Downtown employment information is not routinely calculated. Mr. Newman said he used data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and workforce counts by industry sector to calculate average annual wages for each of the sectors found within downtown Wilkes-Barre from Academy to North streets and from Wilkes-Barre Boulevard to the Susquehanna River.
The Diamond City Partnership, whose goal is to improve economic vitality downtown, released the statistics with the recent online Downtown Wilkes-Barre Perception and Use Survey. The survey gathered people’s assessments of downtown Wilkes-Barre and feedback about revitalization efforts. The majority of survey respondents agreed downtown is headed in the right direction.
Specific employment numbers about downtown Scranton were not available.
Nonprofits top employers
Top employers located in downtown Wilkes-Barre include Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania, Berkshire Hathaway Guard Insurance, Geisinger Health System, King’s College, Wilkes University, the city, county, state and federal governments.
Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania has approximately 740 employees in Pennsylvania, with about 710 in downtown Wilkes-Barre. The health insurance provider has been part of downtown Wilkes-Barre for more than 75 years.
“We are proud to be in the downtown area, and our employees enjoy and appreciate the amenities, such as the Farmers Market in the summer and fall, the convenience of downtown shopping and the many restaurants that offer options for lunch,” said Joselle Lencicki, senior director of human resources.
Wilkes University has 679 full-time and part-time employees. The faculty, staff and students support downtown Wilkes-Barre businesses and help create the “college town” atmosphere, said spokeswoman Vicki Mayk.
“People appreciate the beauty of the River Common,” she said. “Seasonal events, like the Farmers Market on Public Square and Fine Arts Fiesta, give everyone other reasons to take a break off campus. Being part of Wilkes-Barre is part of our tradition.”
King’s College has 412 full-time employees and 182 part-time employees. King’s College also has invested to improve the downtown through facilities like O’Hara Hall and King’s on the Square.
The college spent $16 million renovating the former Ramada Hotel on Public Square to include housing for students and space for the exercise-science, physician-assistant and athletic-training programs. A restaurant, Zime, recently opened at King’s on the Square.
Government tops in Scranton
Top employers in downtown Scranton include the city, county, state and federal governments.
Lackawanna County employs 1,154, including 983 full-time and 171 part-time, and 713 work downtown, according to county spokesman Joe D’Arienzo.
Another 472 full-time employees work in a state office building at 100 Lackawanna Ave., said Lindsay Bracale of the state Department of Labor and Industry. The building includes several state agencies, including Public Welfare, Health, Transportation, General Services, Labor and Industry, State, Education, Revenue, Auditor General, Executive Offices and the Public Utility Commission.
Among the federal offices in Lackawanna County, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania is based in downtown Scranton.
“Certainly, downtown Scranton is a critical economic hub not just for Scranton, but for the entire region,” said Robert Durkin, president of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce.
The University of Scranton, historically in the Hill section of Scranton, has expanded into the downtown.
The University of Scranton has 1,180 full-time and part-time faculty and staff and thousands of students neighboring the downtown’s theaters, restaurants and shops.
“It’s nice to have all that within walking distance,” said Stan Zygmunt, director of news and media relations for the university.
The university runs a Downtown Engagement Initiative to familiarize students with places to go downtown. Almost two-fifths of freshmen in the last school year attended downtown First Friday events compared to about one-fifth in 2011, a university survey found.
Making up the fabric of downtown Wilkes-Barre and Scranton are small businesses.
Downtown Scranton is the not only the center for education with the University of Scranton and Lackawanna College, but it also is a hub for banks, financial and investment institutions and lawyers working downtown as well as arts, culture, entertainment and restaurants, Mr. Durkin said.
Downtown Scranton also is the home the Scranton Enterprise Center. The business facility’s second floor houses a business incubator.
Downtown Wilkes-Barre contains several smaller employers, including information/tech firms like eBay in the Innovation Center, Fairchild Semiconductor, Verizon Wireless and ReferLocal, as well as law, accounting and investment firms and architectural and engineering firms.
Downtown Wilkes-Barre has 37 more occupied storefronts than 2006 and more restaurants, Mr. Newman said.
“The biggest success is downtown’s emergence as a restaurant row,” Mr. Newman said.