PhillyInc: Economists confident of 2011 job growth

The monthly employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is the NCIS of the prime-time economic statistics right now.

For the last three years, it has been the most widely watched measurement of the economy, even if the story lines seem depressingly similar.

Perhaps Friday's edition will live up to economists' predictions for nonfarm payroll growth of between 150,000 and 200,000 jobs in December.

Even if the numbers don't match expectations, many economists seem pretty confident that 2011 will be a better year for job creation than 2010.

The reason is that many leading indicators are signaling improvement in the economy. For one, the major U.S. stock indexes have recovered to levels not seen since August 2008 - that's pre-Lehman Bros. collapse.

On Wednesday, the Institute for Supply Management said its nonmanufacturing index had bumped to 57.1 in December from 55.0 in November. It measures activity in service industries, which account for the vast majority of the U.S. economy. Any report above 50 indicates growth.

Even somewhat esoteric measures are building a case that the economy is getting stronger. For instance, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has collected more revenue than budgeted for its motor-license fund since the fiscal year began July 1. Revenue from that fund comes from fuel taxes as well as license and registration fees, fines, and penalties. More driving means more fuel purchases and thus more tax revenue.

PennDot spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick said the growth from August through November was a sign of recovery, especially when compared with the poor performance of fiscal 2010 and the even uglier fiscal 2009.

No one would say the construction industry is ready to lace up its work boots. Building permits are one way to peer into the future, and the most recent data showed a 4 percent decline in them between October and November.

But another forward- looking indicator is the architecture billings index, tracked by the American Institute of Architects. The November score of 52.0 was the highest since December 2007, the start of the most recent recession. As with the ISM index, any reading above 50 suggests that billings are on the rise.

The trade association says its index reflects a lag of nine to 12 months between architecture billings and construction spending.

Still, the architecture billings index will need to show positive readings for several more months before "Mission Accomplished" banners can be hung at construction sites.

Sold: OraPharma

A Chicago private-equity firm bought OraPharma Inc., of Warminster, from Johnson & Johnson this week.

Water Street Healthcare Partners spokeswoman Kelly Zitlow would not disclose the purchase price. But she did say Water Street would commit more than $100 million in equity funding to grow the company by investing in research and development and possible acquisitions.

The firm recruited a former J&J executive, Janet Vergis, to run OraPharma, a specialty drug company focused on dental care.

J&J bought OraPharma in 2003 for $85 million. The company employs about 175 people, including about 30 in Bucks County.


Contact Mike Armstrong at 215-854-2980 or See his blog at