HAGERSTOWN, Md. (WDVM) — One of the nation’s top economists was in our region this week, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
Tom Barkin is on the front lines of economic recovery. His input on monetary policy reaches the highest levels of government. So connecting with the business community gives him a sense of where we’re headed.
“I was in Martinsburg yesterday,” Barkin said. “Significant growth in manufacturing operations. I am in Hagerstown today and, of course, the distribution centers and warehousing space is growing so I just think there’s a lot of investment going into this marketplace.”
Paul Frey heads the Chamber of Commerce for the greater Hagerstown and Washington County. His take from the president’s briefing?
“I think he sees a recovery, and he sees things doing well. And he also talked about how we can’t overlook the fact that the pandemic is not totally gone,” Frey said.
This is a topic brought up by the latest data showing a spike in COVID rates in some places, the delta variant perhaps contributing.
That’s an immediate concern, but in the long term, Delegate Brenda Thiam (R – Washington County) said that “right now we’re at that juncture in the road where things are just really complicated, but eventually President Barkin sees us coming out of this and improving.”
Barkin says stability in the labor market is the immediate challenge to getting the economy on track. Employers are desperate for workers hoping to fill more than 9 million jobs, the highest level of job openings in more than 20 years.
“Of course the challenge we all have — and I think it’s disproportionately felt here — is finding workers,” Barkin said.
Barkin says this fall will be a benchmark, when schools reopen, workers go back to the office and there is less dependency on government assistance. He sees a strong trend toward the $15-an-hour entry-level wage. States and cities are moving in that direction with new laws as well as employers seeking to get their shop floors and factories fully staffed.