The list of the 25 largest employers in Berks has many familiar faces

Debi Gernert of Lenhartsville stacks finished batteries on a pallet Tuesday at East Penn Manufacturing. She is one of 8,107 employees at the Berks-based company.

The top three remained the same, and 22 of the top 25 returned on the annual list of Berks County's largest employers compiled by MediaNews Group

East Penn Manufacturing Co. Inc. remained in the top spot, followed by Tower Health and the state government. Inperium Inc. and Berks County government rounded out the top five.

Overall, 12 employers gained jobs, six employers shed jobs and one remained the same. The Eagle was unable to reach two employers, and three employers are new to the list.

Penn State Health St. Joseph gained the most jobs, going from 1,236 to 1,973 — an increase of 737 — and FirstEnergy/Met-Ed saw the biggest decrease, going from 1,083 to 754 — a drop of 329.

Three employers dropped off the list from last year: Bear Creek Resort, which was 16th; Gage Personnel Services, which was 20th; and Elwood Staffing, which was 24th. They were replaced by newcomers Morgan Truck Body LLC, Gov. Mifflin School District and Exeter Township School District.

The fact that only six of 23 employers contacted by the Eagle reported job losses is an indication of a strong local labor force, said Dan Fogarty, director of workforce development and chief operating officer for the Berks County Workforce Development Board.

Other indicators, he said, is the unemployment rate of 3.6% and nonfarm jobs increasing to record 181,400 in June. The last time the unemployment rate was 3.6% or lower was March 2000, Fogarty said.

"The good news is that our large employers are doing well, but the bigger picture is that from an employment standpoint, our medium-sized companies and even smaller employers are doing quite well as well," he said.

Fogarty also noted that manufacturing remains the county's strongest sector, with more than 500 manufacturing establishments. Five of the top 25 employers are manufacturers and they account for more than 12,000 jobs. Overall, jobs in the sector are up 1,000 from last year.

"It's quite unique for any region to have its largest employer a manufacturing employer," Fogarty said. "The good news there is not only East Penn the largest, but they continue to add jobs."

Still on top

Lyons Station-based battery maker East Penn claimed the top spot for the fourth year in a row, increasing from 7,807 employees to 8,107 employees.

Bob Harrop, vice president for personnel at East Penn, said the workforce has grown as the company continues to grow and increase it manufacturing capacity.

"As we have opportunities to grow our business, we expect our employment numbers will also continue to increase," he said.

That growth includes the acquisition of another battery maker, Navitas Systems LLC, a Woodridge, Ill.-based manufacturer of larger-format lithium batteries. East Penn announced the acquisition July 15, but it is unknown if it will have an effect on how many employees the company has in Berks County.

Like many other employers, the tight labor market is causing East Penn to have difficulty finding employees, Harrop said.

"It has been more of a challenge to recruit in the current labor market with unemployment at an historic low," he said. "So we have participated in more recruitment events this year than in prior years, and we have held several East Penn exclusive recruitment events onsite."

Harrop said East Penn believes its employees are the heart of the company and its service to the customer.

"Many companies give credit to their employees for success, but here at East Penn we genuinely realize and recognize how their contributions have made us who we are today and have paved the way for the future," he said.

Continually evolving

After shedding 51 employees last year, West Reading-based Tower Health gained them back and then some, increasing from 7,219 to 7,592, a gain of 373.

Russell Showers, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for Tower Health, said that as the health care needs of Tower Health's service area have continued to evolve, the system has expanded to meet those needs.

"Tower Health continually evaluates the health care needs of our patients and their families," he said. "We align resources to meet the needs of the communities while focusing on providing high-quality, cost effective care to our patients."

With the labor market, especially in the health care sector, being so tight, Tower Health continually evaluates ways to more effectively recruit and retain employees to meet and adjust to community demands for services, Showers said.

"We strive to offer competitive pay and a robust benefits package including medical coverage and unique employee wellness programs that promote work-life balance," he said. "We also continually work to offer a work environment that people find attractive."

Overall, Showers said, Tower Health has a talented team of professionals, and its employees are dedicated, compassionate, and the reason for the system's continued success. He noted that Reading Hospital recently was awarded the prestigious 5-star rating from CMS, an A grade from Leapfrog, and listed as one of America's top 100 Best Hospitals by Healthgrades.

"These national recognitions showcase the impact our team has on the patients and communities we serve," he said.

A unique model

Moving into the top five for the first time ever is St. Lawrence-based human services and behavioral health company Inperium Inc., which increased from 2,121 in to 2,489.

"The uniqueness of the model/approaches we deploy and our affiliation architecture is just now beginning to gain greater understanding, appreciation and traction in the health care parent-subsidiary, sole member or consolidation arena," said Ryan D. Smith, founding president and CEO.

Smith noted that Inperium added several companies last year through mergers, acquisitions/purchases and affiliations and will be adding four more by the end of 2019. He expects growth to continue for the foreseeable future.

"The growth in the Berks County market will eventually shift to other areas in Pennsylvania and outside Pennsylvania and in time the number of employees tied to the Berks County area may stabilize but the growth will continue in other markets," he said.

Inperium has been able to combat the difficulties presented by the tight labor market by offering highly competitive starting wages and benefits along with exceptional training and support, Smith said.

"Moreover, the Inperium model allows for the development of inter-affiliate synergies and resultant career advancement," he said. "The development of the continuums of care between and among affiliated entities has provided access to a career ladder for many employees that is less accessible in smaller, less inter-connected organizations, which has improved internal opportunities and employee retention."

Smith credited Inperium's employees as being among the most compassionate and dedicated professionals serving marginalized populations to help them live their best and most productive lives.

"The commitment of the Inperium's employees is the keystone of each affiliate's success," he said.

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