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DelVal Workers Slowly Returning to the Office

“The pandemic is over,” President Joe Biden told 60 Minutes last week — but do Delaware Valley workers agree?

Biden has stepped up his advocacy for employees to return to their normal work routines, sending  a letter to federal workers urging them to show Americans the time is right to return to work as COVID cases decline.

“It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again,” Biden said. “People working from home can feel safe to begin to return to the office. We’re doing that here in the federal government. The vast majority of federal workers will once again work in person. The workplace enables a sense of teamwork and belonging.”

At many companies, hybrid work settings have become the norm in a post-pandemic world. Hybrid work is a flexible working model where employees work partly in the physical workplace and partly remotely – at home or from another workspace.

Here in the Delaware Valley, Chris Yangello, a broker at Capital Commercial Real Estate Group, in King of Prussia says that “business is slow but steady, and anything from where we were before the pandemic would be an improvement. We are getting more and more calls and inquiries for office space recently.”

“Basic signs are going up. But business employers must tread carefully.  Offices have been the weakest area of growth in the past. But this could change dramatically. In light of the pandemic, this type of business landscape has been forever changed,” Yangello said.

But it’s hardly pre-COVID business as usual.

Bernard Dagenais, President & CEO of the 850-member Mainline Chamber of Commerce in Wayne, says his employees work two to three days per week at the chamber office.

“It is a matter of culture vs. choice,” said Dagenais. “The trend throughout the Delaware Valley region is hybrid, with some segmenting members requiring in-person, and some members only requiring two to three days per week. Larger companies, culturally, are requiring four to five days per week. Some embrace remote work. Some incentivize to compel workers to stay in the office.”

Not everyone is buying into the remote work model. Celebrity CEO Elon Musk of Tesla (and perhaps, eventually, Twitter) issued a strict return-to-office edict this spring, informing employees on May 31 that they would need to “spend a minimum of forty hours in the office per week.” Return-to-office advocates argue something is lost by not being in person, like team building.  It is harder to assure a strong company culture when people work at home. Member companies are encouraging younger workers to work in person to develop needed interaction skills.

Kevin McCann, a five-year business owner of the SearchStone Partners recruiting firm in Doylestown, with 28 years specializing in the food, beverage, and flavors industry, says that the “trend over the past year is to get workers back to the office quicker.”

“But there is a blend – some have gone back, and some are more productive at home,” he said. “Some corporate cultures have suffered because workers have lost their teamwork ability – a big tradeoff cost.  Over the past two years, sales and corporate operations workers have worked from home, while marketing and research & development have worked from the office. Hybrid test kitchens have also worked from home.”

“Productivity in this industry may not have actually suffered from being at home. It could be a matter of enticement, although one must draw the line somewhere,”  he said.

Overall, the general sentiment within the industry is to get back to work. However, some who’ve been working from home say they are not going back.

Kimberly Tinari, president of Rowland Personnel in Newtown Square, which serves law, engineering, manufacturing, and industrial firms in Montgomery, Delaware, and Chester Counties and Philadelphia, says “In general, employers want workers back in the office.”

“They were amenable to workers working at home at the start of the pandemic. Over this period of time since the pandemic, there has been a noticeable productivity drop. Employers, therefore, want white-collar workers back into the office, although candidates themselves want remote work to stay at home,” she said.

“The pendulum will eventually swing back,” Tinari said. “Although right now this trend of workers wanting to stay at home is unsustainable. Younger workers will have to change their attitude about staying at home. They simply can’t hold out over the long run.”

Employers are trying to get back to pre-pandemic levels, and are seeking to snatch up new hires or experienced workers right away.

“But there is a disconnect between employers and candidates on the work-at-home issue,” she says. “This gap needs to be closed, to create a coming together. I am optimistic this will happen.”

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DelVal Dems Have Holiday Season Headache as Inflation Hits 39-Year High

Delaware Valley Democrats, some already facing a tough electoral environment next year, got hit with more bad news Friday: Inflation reached a 39-year high, and voters believe the federal spending in Washington is part of the problem.

Friday morning, the Labor Department reported the consumer-price index jumped to its highest rate in 39 years, rising to 6.8 percent in November. It is the sixth consecutive month inflation was higher than 5 percent. That is a blow to Democrats like U.S. Reps. Chrissy Houlahan and Madeleine Dean, who voted for trillions in new federal spending and likely face serious challenges in the 2022 midterms.

Hours later, a new Congressional Budget Office analysis of the Biden administration’s Build Back Better spending plan found the bill would add $2.8 trillion more to the national debt than originally projected. Despite claims by President Joe Biden and Dean that the CBO found the BBB spending plan is “fully paid for,” the agency has always said the proposal will add between $160 billion and $367 billion to the deficit.

“This holiday season Pennsylvania families are having to empty their wallets for gas, groceries, and gifts—and some of them can’t afford all three. Prices have skyrocketed to a 39-year high and consumer prices in the Northeast are up a costly 6 percent,” said Pennsylvania Republican Party Chairman Lawrence Tabas. “Next November, Pennsylvania Democrats will be held responsible for Joe Biden’s reckless policies, which are hurting Main Street businesses, eating up workers’ gains, and crippling our economy.”

The cost of a frozen turkey for this past Thanksgiving was up 20 percent from last year, and the entire meal cost the average family 10 percent more.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said, “Today’s jaw-dropping inflation report should alarm every single American, but especially policymakers. Hardworking American families are suffering as a direct result of the Biden administration’s reckless borrowing and spending and anti-energy policies. If the message wasn’t clear enough before, it’s crystal clear now. Democrats should immediately halt plans to advance their nearly $5 trillion spending spree and the Fed should quickly normalize monetary policy before it falls further behind the curve.”

Guy Ciarrocchi, a Republican running for governor who is on leave from his job as president of the Chester County Chamber of Commerce, said, “Inflation is the cruelest of all taxes. It eats away at a family’s savings each week, each month. The good news is that bad government policies created this; so good policies can fix it. Step one and two: Time for almost everyone to get back to work and let’s get Pennsylvania energy out of the ground.”

Some Democrats are pushing back and claiming costs are actually going down in December and contending their policies are working so the Christmas ham won’t be as pricey as the Thanksgiving gobbler.

“As we head into the holiday season, I recognize that the pressure of increased costs is weighing heavily on many Americans,” said Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Delaware Co.). “My colleagues and I are working hand-in-hand with the Biden administration to get people back to work, address supply chain issues, and lower prices — and there is good news on those fronts.

“Americans, on average, have about $100 more in their pockets each month than they did last year, even after adjusting for inflation, thanks to rising wages and the Child Tax Credit passed as part of the American Rescue Plan,” said Scanlon. “In December, costs have also been falling for gas, used cars, and other goods that are driving inflation; these changes aren’t reflected in the latest Consumer Price Index report. I know the past several months have been tough, but we’re moving in the right direction.”

But consumers and business owners are holding onto their wallets as polls consistently show voters believe federal spending is making inflation worse, not better.

Maryann Brown, a pharmacist living in Warminster, said gas prices are down a bit, but other items are up.

“Grocery prices are high so I shop at Aldi or a grocery outlet,” said Brown. “Electricity is going up so I turn off all unused lights. Stamps are up, so I’m sending out fewer cards this year. I use coupons like at Old Navy or Kohl’s ‘cash’ since the prices are up.”

Wendy Klinghoffer, executive director of the Eastern Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, said, “Obviously, it’s a major issue because the cost of goods and services went up for both purchasing as well as personnel.”

“For small businesses in particular, this is problematic,” said Klinghoffer. While business owners are reluctant to pass costs along to consumers “at some point they have to in order to stay in business. They have to recoup their costs.”

Meanwhile, the restaurant sector was particularly hard hit during the pandemic shutdowns and is still struggling with food and wages now increasing due to inflation, she said.

Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry President and CEO Gene Barr noted inflation is the highest since 1982.

“Our economy is already overwhelmed with supply-chain issues, a workforce shortage, and an increase in consumer demand, particularly during the holiday season,” Barr said. “A high inflation rate hampers economic recovery and can be particularly painful on small businesses as they are less able to withstand challenges to their financial goals. As products and services get more expensive, there is no doubt that consumption will continue to fall.”

Barr called on Congress to drop the pending tax and reconciliation bill that would add “another $150 billion in transfer payments and tax cuts, plus additional spending will be a recipe for disaster for more inflation over the next year. We must continue to prioritize rebuilding our economy, and this bill is a roadblock to long-term economic recovery.”

 

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