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A Recap: The Business Issues Forum and Western Pennsylvania Legislative Reception

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In September’s On the Hill, I addressed the many benefits of attending the Legislative Reception. For those not able to attend in person, here’s a recap of this year’s exciting inaugural event:

The Manufacturer & Business Association (MBA) partnered with Washington County Chamber of Commerce and Pittsburgh Business Exchange to host the first Western Pennsylvania Legislative Reception on September 22 at CNX Resources. In total, 241 people attended of which an extraordinary number, 22, were lawmakers — four PA senators, 18 PA representatives, and four staffers of U.S. Congressmen.

A Business Issues Forum convened before the 6 p.m. reception. Thirteen roundtable discussions took place with seven businesspersons and one lawmaker at each table.

The idea behind the Forum is the creation of a venue where lawmakers can hear directly from businesses regarding their top issues.

That’s important because lawmakers often hear separately from various business interest groups. At the Forum, they heard from diverse businesses ranging from large gas and oil corporations, public utilities, to small software firms and manufacturers of cycling clothing. Discussion yielded five issues where most businesses share common ground.

Keynote speaker Representative Bryan Cutler, speaker of the PA House of Representatives, said, “We must make Pennsylvania competitive. We want people to stay here!” He asked the group for ideas to take back to Harrisburg.

Attendees discussed “What Keeps You Up at Night?” After 60 minutes of lively conversation, notes from each table were collected and compiled to determine which issues were most often discussed.

This list reflects the consensus of the data gathered. Not all are state issues but are included to show the accumulation of issues that hamper growth and competitiveness. The top five issues in order:

  1. Workforce/Labor & Employment/ Unemployment
  2. Regulations & Compliance — Needed but too much hampers growth and contributes to unpredictability.
  3. Health-Care Costs and Insurance Premiums — One of employers’ highest costs. Premiums increase every year.
  4. Predictability and Ease of Doing Business — Needed to attract businesses. Unpredictability makes it difficult for business planning.
  5. COVID-19 Compliance & Civil Liability — Issues are especially burdensome to smaller companies on several fronts from productivity to amount of resources for compliance.

Workforce/Labor & Employment/ Unemployment — Inability to hire workers and the lack of a prepared workforce hampers business growth.

Problems:

  • Senior employees are leaving the workforce; their knowledge is not passed onto younger employees.
  • Young people prefer part-time work.
  • Many potential hires do not have the mindset to work and require training.
  • Many potential hires cannot pass a drug test.
  • Many employers believe there is no pool of available workers.

Solutions:

  • Some hire based on character, behavior and aptitude, and teach required job skills.
  • Some employees can be replaced by investment in equipment.
  • The stigma of not attending college can be diffused by strongly encouraging other paths such as trade and tech schools.
  • Explore the potential for ex-offenders in the workforce.
  • Train for jobs of the future.
  • WEDnetPA is helpful to train employees.
  • Some companies seek workers in distant regions.
  • Adult literacy is needed.

Problems:

Unemployment Compensation (UC) — People are paid not to work. “How do we incentivize work and get people back to work?”

  • Workers have too much time on UC.
  • Fired employees work the UC system to receive benefits.
  • It is easy to lie to get government dollars from programs.

Solutions:

  • Government can help employers incentivize work. Workers can be rewarded for remaining employed for six months, 12 months and two years.

Read the 2021 Business Issues Forum Summary on the MBA’s Government Affairs website mbausa.org under Government Advocacy.

Broad distribution of the Summary is under way. It was sent to all lawmakers and sponsors who attended. The MBA sent the Summary to PA House and Senate Leadership and kindly requested further distribution. We expect more progress on the problems and solutions discussed in the very near future!