As usual during budget season in Harrisburg, a deficit is projected: There is less revenue than there are obligations. (This doesn’t even account for those who would like to increase spending — or those who would like to reduce or eliminate certain taxes.)
That this year’s deficit is smaller than past years has many breathing a sigh of relief. But they are missing the bigger picture.
Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate is 4.7 percent, while the national jobless rate is 4.1 percent. For almost a year, our state’s unemployment rate has exceeded the national average.
These are real people who don’t have jobs. They’re not able to support themselves or their families, and they;re not able to start building a career. What’s more, they’re not enjoying the personal satisfaction of working for a living.
This bad news — this sad reality — is compounded by more bad news. Pennsylvania is now losing population. We are losing workers, families, college graduates — our neighbors, co-workers, classmates. We are losing our present and our future. High unemployment and a shrinking population are not “keystones” for building a world-class economy.
There is a silver lining, though, a path out of this mess. We can grow our economy to address our unemployment rate; lessen the burden on our state budget; and reverse our population decline.
Some may believe that’s either overly simplistic or much easier said than done. But as the CEO of a chamber committed to economic growth, I can assure you that growth and opportunity are very attainable.
For too long, our state has been among the weakest state economies — low in job growth, revenue growth, and population growth. But many of our business leaders are committed to reversing this course.
Our chamber has partnered with other chambers across the state — as well as numerous business leaders, entrepreneurs and thinkers — to change the way Pennsylvania approaches the economy.
The good news:
- We have abundant assets.
- We have more universities per capita than any other state — and many are national leaders in engineering, research and health care.
- We have some of the best hospitals in the nation.
- We have bio/pharma hubs across our state working on current medications, treatments and early-stage research.
- We are sitting on more energy BTUs than Saudi Arabia.
We are the Keystone state, and we have one of the most advantageous locations in the nation — with access to ports, airports, rail — sitting only hours away from almost half the nation’s population and Canada. We just need the infrastructure to make it work.
Tapping universities, researchers, hospitals, energy, startups and a first-rate location, we can turn our economy from one in the bottom 10 among states to on in the top 10 — even No. 1. There is no reason that we can’t achieve that. But there are reasons that we haven’t reached our potential.
For too long, policymakers in Harrisburg have focused on the battle of the moment, the turf war of the day, one state budget at a time. Far too often, Harrisburg has looked at the budget as a deficit problem to solve. There has been a failure to plan for the future, to harness our resources. And we have failed to put policies in place to maximize our assets and opportunities for our people.
Our chamber has joined GrowPA, an initiative to change that. The solution won’t be easy, but it will be possible. We need business and civic leaders to become engaged and join our cause. And we need your help. Sign up. Become engaged. You can find us online.
Chamber and business leaders — along with the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, Penn State University and Technical.ly — are crafting specific policy goals for review in the fall. Ultimately, they will be presented to all winning candidates — governor, state senators and state representatives — as a framework for 2019 and beyond.
This isn’t a political fight. It’s not a partisan struggle. It’s not about political victories or punishment. It’s about opportunity. We have the assets. We have the talent. And we have a growing network of business, civic and thought-leaders who have started to fight for change.
Let’s commit ourselves to making sure that our children do not grow up in a state with high unemployment — and that they see Pennsylvania as the best place in America to work, create and raise a family.
Together, let’s GrowPA.
Guy Ciarrocchi is the president and CEO of the Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry.