The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ)
Chamber is on right track to revitalize state
No one was planning for a pandemic when rumblings started in early 2020, but here we are a year and half later trying to understand what happened and where to go next.
When it comes to Pennsylvania’s economy, the answers are not as simple as going back to how things were before. Business and political experts agree the state has to do better for future generations than before this interruption.
“No one was happy with what Pennsylvania looked like in February 2020,” Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry President and CEO Gene Barr recently told reporters.
Pennsylvania perennially has poor rankings in growth and economic development, particularly in industries that attract millennials. Leaders have lamented the brain drain in the state despite its outstanding research and education centers.
The state is ranked 36th in the nation in economic outlook and 40th overall in U.S News and World Report’s ranking. Decreasing population caused loss of a congressional seat and raised concerns for the economy, chamber leaders noted.
The Giant Company President Nicholas Bertram said the pandemic was not part of the plan when the chamber crafted its vision three years ago to “create a Pennsylvania where employers are attracted to grow, where families thrive and young people receive an education that prepares them to be productive and physically engaged members of the commonwealth.”
But the pandemic quickly became an impetus for an economic resurgence initiative: “Bringing PA Back.”
The initiative was launched in May 2020 and focused on the short-term needs of employers operating during the pandemic. It set the groundwork for the chamber to take on a bigger picture post-pandemic. “… Bringing Pennsylvania back to February 2020 was simply not sufficient. There was a recognition that we couldn’t continue to do things the same way. And we should be better,” Barr said.
Pennsylvania brings “assets to the table” — natural resources, education, proximity to markets, and quality of life, Barr said. “All of these things say Pennsylvania should be doing better. Why are we not? They are tough questions to ask, and we’re going to be asking those questions.
“Pennsylvania has largely stagnated in terms of population, because truthfully, we are not attracting the kind of investment that will grow jobs and grow our population,” he said.
The economic challenge of the pandemic was a wake-up call to the state’s larger problems and the need to analyze and address those problems through the next phase of the initiative — “Rise to the Challenge.” That phase will identify benchmarks to chart how Pennsylvania ranks and where there is opportunity for improvement.
The first step, Barr said, is finding out what Pennsylvanians think about the current situation. The chamber will be launching a poll of residents.
“For young people — are they tired of having to leave Pennsylvania to go find suitable opportunities in other states? Are parents in this commonwealth tired of having to get on a plane to fly to Charlotte or Tampa or Austin to see their kids and grandkids? These are questions we have to ask ourselves and find out how we change that,” he said.
In addition, Barr said the chamber will look at what other states are doing better than Pennsylvania, taking what he called a “deep dive” into the policies those states have adopted that have moved them forward.
Barr said the chamber has identified three core focus areas — improving the state’s competitiveness, infrastructure and workforce — on which to concentrate.
Change begins when institutions better understand the current state of facts and opinions, and the chamber’s pledge to gather data and dialogue speaks to that goal. “Rise to the Challenge” is a worthwhile — and necessary — effort to improve the economy in Pennsylvania. We heartily endorse this goal and this program and encourage area residents and businesses to participate and support it.