The Industrial Revolution changed the face of the world in the 18th and 19th centuries, affecting social, economic and cultural conditions of the times.
A lot has changed since then.
Today, a group of 24 manufacturing leaders and advocates from across Pennsylvania are working to stimulate a manufacturing renaissance. The Governor’s Manufacturing Advisory Council (GMAC) believes investment in the diverse offerings of the state’s manufacturing sector will promote job growth and innovation and strengthen its position as an economic powerhouse — the sixth largest manufacturing base in the country.
Gov. Tom Corbett directed the GMAC to examine the industry’s current and future state and implement strategies and best practices designed to promote economic development.
In its final report, the council recommended the need for:
- A highly skilled and educated workforce;
- Better access and exposure to new and existing domestic and international markets;
- Creating a new set of tools to drive innovation and product development, including making government work better for manufacturers; and,
- Improved access to capital.
“Knowing that manufacturing is the sector that can help bring us out of the recession, it’s important that we focus on those issues that will help manufacturing grow and thrive,” says Darlene Robbins, president of the Northeast Pennsylvania Manufacturers and Employers Association (MAEA), Pottsville, Schuylkill County. “A thriving manufacturing sector benefits our country, putting people to work and driving the economic growth that is necessary to bring down our nation’s debt.”
According to Robbins, the industry’s top priority is to create a qualified workforce.
“The most pressing problem now and for near-term is finding people with the education and skill to fill these high-quality manufacturing positions,” she says. “Then, of equal importance, is the need for our future manufacturing workforce to develop the leaders of tomorrow.”
The Institute for a Competitive Workforce, which recently launched a cross- country tour to discuss education reform labeled “Breaking the Monopoly of Mediocrity,” shares that belief. The tour highlights the importance of the business community to create a competitive workforce and to encourage local leaders to become catalysts for change.
MAEA has begun that process. Its YES (Your Employability Skills) Northeast Certificate program — which teaches students employability skills such as conflict resolution, teamwork, writing skills and personal development — was recognized as a model “best practice” by the GMAC.
Obtaining a skilled workforce will allow manufacturers to expand their offerings, both domestically and abroad.
“Manufacturers realize that today, global competition requires them to constantly innovate through developing new products and entering new markets,” says Robbins. “Depending on the industry and their products, the best opportunity for growth for them may be across the globe, across the state line or across the river. So before (small- and medium-sized manufacturers) can take advantage of new opportunities, many of them have to overcome barriers like lack of capacity, lack of technology and lack of internal market expertise.”
The council’s recommendations detail plans to meet those pressing needs. Those plans include reforms to the state’s regulatory environment, a process already under way.
According to Robbins, Gov. Corbett issued an executive order requiring the Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) to set established timelines for processing permit applications — an arduous process typically taking up to 18 months. Among other things, the order established performance standards for DEP staff, including provisions that make meeting these guidelines a part of their job performance evaluations.
Expediting the permitting process can allow manufacturers to expand operations — and jobs — another priority recommended by GMAC to promote growth. How can that be accomplished?
“The first part is the energy, making Pennsylvania a low-cost energy state that’s attractive to businesses all over the world, to do business in part because of the low cost of energy,” says Scott Meuser, chairman and CEO of Pride Mobility Products Corp., Exeter, Luzerne County. “Being the natural gas state, I firmly believe we have got to do it the right way, but it represents an enormous growth capacity for the state.”
That growth capacity requires reforming the state’s backward regulatory environment.
“As a businessman my thoughts are, ‘Why can’t we just get this done right away?’ says Meuser. “We can make Pennsylvania a powerhouse of a state, completely reinvent the state in the minds of the world business community. So I would hope it would happen quickly but I am not too well versed in what’s politically possible.”
What’s politically possible remains uncertain as squabbles over issues such as reducing or eliminating the corporate income tax continue.
“Pennsylvania has had one of the highest corporate business taxes in the country and that’s a deterrent,” says David Simpson, GMAC member and president and CEO of Diamond Manufacturing, Wyoming, Luzerne County. “We need to try to find a way to lower that tax to attract businesses to come into our area, not only for job creation for those companies that move into the state of Pennsylvania but also for other companies that do business within the commonwealth. If you don’t have tax reform, you are not going to encourage investment or innovation. You are not going to create jobs.”
Simpson also believes removing hurdles and creating consistent policies will help.
“If you don’t have a consistent and cost-effective energy plan then companies that want to move to Pennsylvania or companies that want to compete in Pennsylvania, that’s going to be a problem,” says Simpson. “The Marcellus Shale is a very important part of Pennsylvania and certainly northeastern Pennsylvania. We talked about doing it right, making sure that environmentally we are sound but taking advantage of the treasure of having that natural gas in the ground.”
Simpson believes the next step requires the legislature to adopt policies to promote expansion of the natural gas industry and other common-sense approaches outlined in GMAC’s recommendations to support manufacturing growth.
The GMAC team has begun the process of implementing its recommendations.
“We believe this process has to be decentralized and managed and led by many people,” says Matt Zieger, president and CEO of Team Pennsylvania Foundation, a statewide nonprofit that brings together government and business to work on economic development policies and efforts to attract more jobs and growth in the state.
Team PA continues its work with business leaders, nonprofit and academic institutions, for-profit entities and state offices from education, labor and community and economic development to oversee facilitation of the council’s recommendations.
Small work groups focused on different issues including legislative, workforce development and international and trade assistance have begun that process.
“The bottom line is that this is a decentralized process owned by a lot of people. And we are really pleased to have a number of leaders from so many different institutions help with this process, that really will make it a success,” says Zieger. “So the long story arc of all this is that we don’t own this or don’t control it but these are good ideas that came from a lot of people and are going to be implemented by a lot of people.”