She did it the old way.

Debbie Loesch used to work at the Pfaltzgraff Co. facility, moving the pottery collectibles by hand.

The 67-year-old York resident hasn't found work since the West Manchester Township distribution center closed in 2009.

"I haven't looked real hard. I figure they have robots doing what I used to do. That's the new way," Loesch said.

As computers and advanced technology have streamlined production in the manufacturing industry, she said, there's less of a need for assembly-line workers.

"You either have to be real smart and someone who can fix the machines, or you need to be a manager. There aren't a lot of manufacturing jobs for regular people like me anymore," she said.

Replaced: Computer automation has slowly replaced the need for workers in the manufacturing industry, said William Sholly, an analyst with the state Department of Labor & Industry.

In March, the local manufacturing workforce reached a record low, he said.

The most recent statistics available show the manufacturing workforce in York County shed 600 jobs in the past year, falling from 31,200 in March 2013 to 30,600 two months ago.

"It's been going down since 1990, and there were a lot of cuts in 2009. Automation and technology have replaced a lot of jobs. The jobs available now tend to be more technical," Sholly said.

Added and lost: The local manufacturing industry hasn't been able to get consistent gains. Jobs are shed as quickly as they are added.


For example, Church & Dwight said it will add 180 jobs in Jackson Township as it increases vitamin production. Johnson Controls is building a $148 million facility in Hopewell Township. And Caterpillar is keeping its plant in Springettsbury Township, thanks to a $6.4 million funding package from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

Meanwhile, defense contractor BAE Systems in West Manchester Township recently laid off 135 workers. Graham Packaging Co. in Emigsville cut 55 jobs in March. In June, American Signature Inc. is closing operations in West Manchester Township, and Soriau is closing its Manchester Township operations and shedding 53 jobs. And in September, Osram Sylvania is cutting 118 jobs at its York City plant.

"It speaks to the fragility of the economy," said Mike Smeltzer, executive director of the Manufacturers' Association of South Central Pennsylvania.

It's not just happening in York. Statistics from across the country show losses or a stagnant manufacturing workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Taxes: The National Association of Manufacturers in Washington, D.C., and the local organization Smeltzer leads both attribute some of the decline to the country's tax code.

A simpler tax code would be a boost to consumers and businesses, and voters will make their thoughts about that clear during the mid-term elections, said Dorothy Coleman, vice president of tax and domestic economy policy at NAM.

"Among the American people, tax reform bridges the partisan divide — and voters want Congress and the (Obama) administration to move beyond the gridlock to fix our broken, uncompetitive tax code," she said.

Keeping up: But some local companies have been able to grow or maintain their workforce in the current economic climate.

Martin's Potato Chips Inc. in Thomasville has never had production facility layoffs, said CEO Ken "Butch" Potter Jr.

"We've been fortunate," he said.

But automation has ensured the company also hasn't added jobs.

"Compared to 20 years ago, we're making twice as much product with a similar number of people. Some of that is because we have larger equipment than when we started," Potter said.

The company has 180 employees, and about 70 of them work in production.

"Most of those 70 are not replaceable by computers. People are a lot more flexible than machines," he said.