WASHINGTON – Pennsylvania has unleashed a secret weapon in its fight to lure high-tech workers back from Maryland and other states: Mister Rogers.
Public television’s soft-spoken children’s show host is just one of the famous Keystone State residents, including Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who are featured in a seven-minute video aimed at wooing technical workers back home.
Among the 3,500 videos mailed out so far by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, 392 landed in Maryland mailboxes late last month. Another 389 were sent to former Pennsylvanians now working in Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Standing in a lime-green cardigan on the set of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” Fred Rogers smiles and says, “We hope you’ll come home to your Pennsylvania Neighborhood.” Paterno says from a locker room that, “Pennsylvania needs winners. Come on back.”
Pennsylvania’s pitch is unusual, but its plight is not. High-tech workers are a scarce commodity across the country and states are beginning to compete for those workers the same way they work to lure businesses.
Up to 10,000 information-technology jobs are currently unfilled in Pennsylvania, said Lisa Wolf, of the commonwealth’s Department for Community and Economic Development. She said that industry groups estimate that number runs as high as 300,000 to 400,000 nationwide.
Maryland High Technology Council President Diane Brasington said that 18,000 technical workers are currently needed in Maryland.
“We need that pool of potential employees here, too,” said Jacquelyn Lampell, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development.
Maryland’s focus is on keeping the tech workers here in the first place, with a new scholarship program that targets high school seniors interested in math and science-related college majors.
The state is offering those students up to $3,000 a year, with one catch: If they accept the scholarships, they must work in the state one year for each year they received money, said Maryland Higher Education Commission spokesman Jeff Welsh.
The state is just beginning to get applications now, but it expects to award over 2,000 scholarships to next year’s freshman classes, Welsh said.
The Greater Washington Board of Trade is also planning a regionwide effort to attract and keep technical workers, said Patrick Valentine, American University’s director of corporate and government education and training.
Valentine, who estimates that 40,000 technical jobs are unfulfilled in the Washington region, said the proposed Capital Move Project will target tech workers nationwide. He said the Pennsylvania campaign is “different and more aggressive, but much narrower than what we are trying to do.”
“It’s kind of cute,” he said of Pennsylvania’s pitch.
Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., are three of the six areas that Pennsylvania is targeting with the help of its local colleges and universities. The schools provide contact information for alumni who majored in fields such as engineering, computer programming or math within the past seven to 10 years and who, of course, have left the state.
Tracey Staley, a campus recruiter for Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin Corp., said that Pennsylvania schools provide the company with a good number of new hires each year. In fact, she said, the University of Pennsylvania, Penn State and Carnegie Mellon are among its 48 “corporate select” schools.
“This is the most competitive job market from an employer’s perspective that I’ve seen in my 15 years of recruiting,” she said.
But because Staley recruits for all of Lockheed Martin’s sites — including one in Valley Forge, Pa., — she said she is happy to place tech workers in either state. She estimates that a little more than half of the Penn State grads she has hired recently have opted to stay in Pennsylvania.
But Wayne Hudders, president of the Penn State alumni club in the Washington area, said that from what he has seen, Penn State grads “consider this a hot area.”
Hudders, who said his 1,400-member club is the largest chapter of Penn State’s alumni network nationwide, estimates that 30 to 35 percent of members live in Maryland and an even greater number work in Maryland. He attributed that to the number of young people here and the number of companies, which makes it possible to switch jobs down the road without moving again.
For those who do leave the area, Hudders said, Pennsylvania is not often the destination.
“A lot move to New York or Boston from here, wherever there’s opportunity,” said Hudders.