Published in The Times Tribune, March, 2009 – On March 4, Cinram Manufacturing told 200 workers they no longer had jobs.
One dejected man told a Times-Tribune reporter, "I'm in trouble. There's nothing out there."
With regional unemployment at 7.7 percent - the highest it's been since the early '90s - he seems right about the vast, empty spaces in the employment universe as seen through a manufacturing lens.
Change the lens, however, and unexpected bodies of quality employment pop up. TMG Health, for example, with offices in Scranton and Dunmore, has just hired 200 people and is looking for 120 more.
According to TMG's president and CEO, Dunmore native Jack Tighe, the business he founded in 1998 "in a cubicle," won't stop growing as long as Americans keep aging, health care keeps expanding and government continues to be involved in Medicare, Medicaid and SCHIP. In short, there is no foreseeable downturn for this company. In fact, TMG is currently so busy hiring that Kim Courtois, TMG's human resources director, says she sometimes forgets that there's a recession.
The jobs TMG offers range from hourly pay in the $8 to $13 per hour range for customer service representatives to salaried positions in IT and accounting where the pay rises to $50,000 to $70,000 per year. An added attraction for CSRs: TMG wants 25 percent of that work force to work from home.
These jobs are available right now, says Ms. Courtois. Here's the catch for the NEPA work force: Everyone has to be computer literate, with some working knowledge of the Microsoft Office suite. Otherwise, Ms. Courtois says TMG has an intensive eight-week training program for "adaptable, bright, focused people" for customer service, billing and enrollment positions.
"We really train people, " she says. A college degree is not necessary for the CSR jobs, and there's room to grow into supervisory positions where earnings rise to $32,000 or more.
If you were looking for a company to embody what our post-recession job market will look like, TMG is it. Company literature says that "TMG Health offers technology-enabled business process outsourcing services for insurers, employers, health plans and providers in the Medicare Advantage, Part D, Medicaid Managed Care and Group Retiree health plan markets."
What this means is that a Blue Cross provider in, say, Texas, hires TMG to administer its Medicare plan - from enrolling members to answering questions about coverage. When a Texas beneficiary calls his plan's 800 number, he doesn't realize he is ringing a worker sitting in TMG's Dunmore office - or that worker's own NEPA home.
"We have 13 Blue Cross plans, " says CEO Mr. Tighe of his customers, "along with other large national insurers and regional health plans. We offer systems, enrollment, claims processing - all the work for these government books of business. We offer a lower-cost administrative infrastructure for these plans."
"TMG is service-based. Its growth is predicated on government spending. People accustomed to a goods-producing economy might fret: Where does the wealth come from? How can such a structure be sustainable? Is it safe for the economy to rely on jobs that rely on the federal government as the bill payer?
Satyajit Ghosh, Ph.D., professor of economics and finance at the University of Scranton, is not concerned.
"I am happy to see some sector growing," he says. "Since December of 2007, 4.4 million jobs have been lost, at a pace of 600,000 jobs a month." In this environment, jobs stimulated by federal spending mean money for consumer spending, long the central driver of our economy.
"No one, not even the staunchest supporter of government spending, will say the government should create unnecessary jobs," Dr. Ghosh says. "These jobs in health care, they're terrific and that type of job will continue to grow. However, there does need to be more widespread growth. Manufacturing will play its part."
Just don't expect it to look like the assembly-line jobs of the past. Technical skills will be required. As Dr. Ghosh explains, "Increasing energy efficiency - who does that? The private sector. The gains will come from energy-efficient building."
Comparing Cinram jobs lost to TMG jobs gained yields this lesson: It's a new world. Be bright. Be adaptable. And above all, be computer literate.
ELIZABETH ZYGMUNT is editor of Northeast Pennsylvania Business Journal.