The Mack Trucks production plant in Lower Macungie Township, Pa. (Lehigh County), will soon hire 100 new workers, and Berks County residents are vying for those jobs.
The factory, which is just across the Berks County line, is expanding just about a year after laying off a substantial number of employees. Through February, Mack deliveries were up 31 percent compared with the same period last year, said John Mies, company spokesman. Now additional workers are needed to assemble the trucks.
Because the trucks are built to order, Mack production is a reflection of immediate demand, said plant manager Roger Johnston.
"The demand comes as a consequence of trucking companies wishing to replace older trucks in their fleets, growing customer confidence in the economy and increased construction activities," Johnson said.
The 100 new employees will begin training in May. Most positions being filled are in assembly and material handling.
Johnston said he's no longer accepting applications for the jobs. As of now, he's reviewing a pool of more than 700 applicants. About 20 percent of the applications are from Berks County.
"Employment at Mack Trucks has always been highly desirable," he said, noting that Mack provides competitive salaries and benefits for skilled labor workers.
Industry experts say Mack's expansion isn't just good news for the area; it means consumer confidence is up, freight demand is strong and construction is rebounding.
Trucking is the dominant way to move freight in the United States, according to America Trucking Associations, a national trade association. The organization reported in February that 2013 was the best year for truck tonnage since 1998.
And the overall North American truck market is projected to increase by about 6 percent in 2014, Mies said.
Dr. Halim Dalgin, assistant professor of economics at Kutztown University, said the current surge in Mack truck production makes sense. As the country comes out of the recession, he said, demand for goods and building materials has been ticking upward.
And those products need a way of getting to stores and construction yards.
"Demand for transportation of things in general, UPS, FedEx, business is picking up for them," Dalgin said. "The trucking industry is getting its fair share of the increase in demand."
Mack's Lehigh Valley plant currently employs about 1,650 people.
In early 2013, the plant laid off 160 employees, Johnston said. Those workers were brought back as production ramped up.
The plant is the company's main production headquarters, although other truck parts are designed and manufactured in Hagerstown, Md., and Australia.
Dalgin said manufacturing makes up more than 20 percent of gross domestic product in both Berks County and Lehigh Valley, so jobs being added in the sector indicate gradual economic gains.
"If you consider the time before the recession, they had a much bigger labor force in Lehigh Valley," he said. "The downturn cost a lot of jobs. We're not back to 2000 levels, but Mack seems to be trying to lure back its workforce."
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