HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - A day after campaigning in Pennsylvania, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said the Harrisburg area reminded him of a war zone because of the disappearance of major factories.
The decline of factory jobs and the toll Trump says America’s trade agreements have taken on the U.S. have been a prominent theme of his campaign.
But the Harrisburg region actually represents something of a bright spot in what is still, in many respects, a rust belt state. The area has comparatively low unemployment and has for years experienced a modest but steady influx of new residents.
“This entire south-central region is growing, and it’s had a fairly vibrant economy,” said David Black, president of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and Economic Development Corp. “I get what he’s saying, yeah, it’s not the manufacturing heyday of 30 years ago, but it’s a different kind of economy that those of us that are living here have learned to live with.”
Trump said at a rally in Virginia on Tuesday that upstate New York was “a disaster area” and that when flying into Harrisburg for a rally in suburban Mechanicsburg on Tuesday, “it looked like a war zone where you (once had) these massive plants.”
The counties in south-central Pennsylvania have generally had lower jobless rates than the state as a whole; Pennsylvania in June reported an unemployment rate of 5.6 percent.
The capitol region, in fact, includes many of Pennsylvania’s fastest-growing counties. Cumberland County, where Trump spoke on Monday, added more residents over the four years ending in 2014 than all but four other counties, and all the others are considerably more populous.
Harrisburg has seen a growth in light manufacturing, small business, service economy jobs and some high tech development, said state Sen. Rob Teplitz, a Democrat who represents the city.
“If he had made the point that our cities have challenges and we need to bring manufacturing back to our country, I think most people would agree with that,” Teplitz said. “But it’s the insulting nature of it that makes it seem like it is a uniquely Harrisburg problem, which is just flat-out incorrect.”
The Harrisburg region is a transportation hub, the intersection of rail lines, the Susquehanna River and three major interstates. Many of the new jobs that have been added are in transportation and warehousing, although state government also is a major employer.
Just south of Harrisburg, the town of Steelton shows the remnants of what was once a bustling Bethlehem Steel plant that produced rails for the railroad industry. Today some of those buildings have been retooled with millions in investment, and are operating on a much reduced scale.
“We’ve lost some and we’ve gained some,” Black said.
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