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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States