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The Business Issues Forum Gets to the Heart of The Matter

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Eileen Anderson is director of Government Relations at the Manufacturer & Business Association. Contact her at 412/805-5707 or eileenanderson@mbausa.org.

The third Annual Western Pennsylvania Legislative Reception was held on September 14, 2023 at CNX Resources. The Manufacturer & Business Association, Washington County Chamber of Commerce, and the Pittsburgh Business Exchange host the event and believe it is an important conduit between those who make the laws and those who bear the impact.

The heart of the event is the Business Issues Forum. There were 14 roundtable discussions, with seven businessmen/women and one lawmaker from the PA House or PA Senate at each table. The businesses ranged from large gas and oil corporations to smaller service and manufacturing firms.
The attendees were prompted with conversation starters and asked to share the issues of greatest impact on their businesses. Here’s a summary of what was distributed several weeks later to Forum attendees and PA House and Senate leadership:

Reducing regulatory requirements and improving the permitting process is critical. Regulation is needed but regulatory barriers continue to increase.

Certainty and consistency are required when beginning building projects and applying for permits. Businesses should have the ability to procure permits from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) within a reasonable time frame. Neighboring states Ohio and West Virginia are more competitive.
Increased staffing and better management at DEP are needed. There are instances where non-engineers are making the decisions and they are challenged by processing very technical permits.

What would help build the pipeline of skilled workers?” Finding skilled workers has been at the top or near the top of any list of business concerns. Among the challenges:

  • Inadequate transportation and infrastructure become a barrier when workers cannot get to and from the job. Southwest PA does not have adequate mass transit. Roads and pipeline infrastructure are underfunded. Investment is required to maintain existing infrastructure and build new.
  • A minimum wage mandate creates problems for building the workforce and does not help build the pipeline. An increase in the minimum wage is inflationary and has a ripple effect as other employee’s request increases, driving the cost of everything higher. A mandate will have an outsize impact on small businesses.
  • More education at different levels is needed. More vo-tech, career-tech, apprenticeships and training programs are needed. Areas that will help dual enrollment for high school students; more opportunities for apprenticeships in high school; scholarships for apprenticeships and tools for the trades; and build awareness of the careers in new trades associated with computers, robots and new technologies.
  • Health insurance is an important benefit, but health insurance and health-care costs hamper employers’ attraction and retention of workers. As costs increase, businesses are forced to increase the employees’ contribution and workers can be lured away by better coverage at a larger company.
  • PA’s poor demographics should be considered by lawmakers. Aging communities lack young workers. As Baby Boomers retire, there is a need for not only skilled tradesman but also for engineers and accountants, etc.
  • Steps that will help build the pipeline of skilled workers include affordable childcare; reform of the benefit system so that it incentivizes people to work; remove the barriers to housing and transportation that make it difficult to hire those with a record; and hiring the differently abled can yield some excellent workers.

Help startups grow in the region by increasing the dollars available for investment. Over the years the region has lost 30,000 alumni from the Carnegie Mellon University College of Engineering who have gone on to create businesses in a more favorable business climates such as Silicon Valley. Many businesses and start-ups receive offers and incentives to move out of state. For example, a startup that predicts parking availability and lets vehicles pay for parking with no human interaction by a mobile app, has been offered huge incentives to move to states such as Ohio, Oklahoma, Washington, D.C., Michigan and New Jersey.