JESSUP — A proposed natural-gas-fired power plant in the borough has the potential to bring dozens of jobs — both temporary and permanent — to the area.
While opponents of the plant say economically healthy Jessup does not need the jobs, project supporters say the jobs are critical in a region crippled by decades of job loss.
Those who drive Jessup’s main street will see few empty storefronts, a common sight elsewhere in Lackawanna County. Blighted, abandoned homes are almost nowhere to be found. The streets are often active with people walking among neighbors’ homes, Italian eateries and a few bars.
More desirable businesses already occupy the business park where Invenergy wants to build a power plant, said members of Citizens for a Healthy Jessup, a group that opposes the plant.
They point to TekRidge, the technology business incubator sponsored by the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce and TMG Health, a company that employs 1,800 who provide technology consulting for health plans.
“These do belong here,” said resident and attorney Janine Pavalone, one of the group’s leaders.
The debate over the power plant plays out over the backdrop of a persistent regional economic slump.
Lackawanna County’s stagnant unemployment was 5.6 percent in August, the most recent figure available. Lackawanna’s median household income is $46,044, which is $3,268 below Jessup’s, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data. The stagnation is the result of a manufacturing bust that followed the departure of other heavy industries — coal, steel and railroads.
“We had an exodus,” said Rick Schraeder, business manager of Scranton’s International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 81. He and other union members showed up with “Yes” and “Jobs for Jessup” signs at nearly every public meeting about the plant.
“This powerhouse would be critical for putting people in this area to work,” he said.
Earlier this month, Mr. Schraeder and union members Paul Casparro, Gino Arcuriel and Mike Brust showed off their Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee Center on Skyline Drive in South Abington Twp., a converted warehouse they use to train apprentices.
As globalization led to closed factories across the northeast, local workers felt the pain. The drawdown of Cinram Manufacturing in Olyphant, the closure of the 1,070-job Thomson Consumer Electronics plant in Dunmore and other closures have hurt employment in the region. These followed the closures decades earlier, including Capitol Records and Scranton Lace.
“I could go on with one thing after another thing after another thing that ended up leaving the area,” Mr. Schraeder said.
Kiewit Corp., Invenergy’s preferred contractor for its Jessup project, expect the power plant to put 125 to 175 of the union’s electricians to work for two to three years, Mr. Schraeder said.
“Our whole life is temporary jobs,” he said.
Invenergy officials estimate the construction of the Jessup plant will require 500 to 600 jobs for two-and-a-half years, with 30 permanent jobs once the plant is operational.
The electricians have worked hard to keep their training in line with the projects going on locally. They train apprentices on medical facilities, solar panels and wind farms. There is some talk of adding an elective course on electric car charging stations.
Few major local construction projects happen without union electricians. Recent jobs include: Marywood University’s new library; the Kalahari Resorts & Conventions in Monroe County; the new Edward R. Leahy Jr. Hall at the University of Scranton; and Geisinger Community Medical Center’s $97.1 million expansion.
None employed as many of the union electricians for as long as the power plant is expected to, Mr. Schrader and the other union members said.
With the help of donations from suppliers and contractors, the local union filled training rooms with equipment to train their would-be electricians. Two nights a week from September to June, apprentices work in the building, practicing their skills by working with switches, transformers, wiring, conduits and control panels.
Worried about tradeoff
The training will come in handy with the Invenergy project, if it gets approval.
However, opponents of the plant worry about the trade-off. On a May tour of the borough, Citizen’s For a Healthy Jessup member Joseph “Jiggzy” Piconi points out the Jessup Youth Sports Association Complex as a community hub that could soon be overshadowed by three looming towers. The idea rankles the musician and seventh-generation resident, who considers the town a potential “destination point.”
“Kids have been playing here since my dad was young,” he said. “This has always been a recreational area.”
The town swells for St. Ubaldo Day, a festival imported from many residents’ motherland of Gubbio, Italy, that involves people racing down Church Street street carrying representations of Catholic saints on their shoulders.
“Jessup has always been a thriving residential community,” said accountant Tom Fiorelli, who is a member of Citizen’s For a Healthy Jessup. “The proponents of the plant are trying to portray Jessup as a struggling community.”
This article was written by Brendan Gibbons from The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.