By Sarah Huffman
This story first appeared in Technical.ly, with additional reporting by City & State.
For the first time in nearly two decades, Pennsylvania has a formal plan to stimulate the commonwealth’s economy, according to Gov. Josh Shapiro.
Speaking from the headquarters of a Lehigh Valley diagnostics company on Tuesday, Shapiro unveiled the $40.5 million Statewide Economic Development Strategy focused on robotics and technology, agriculture, energy, life sciences and manufacturing.
“We need to make sure it is worthwhile for more businesses in these sectors to invest in us and to invest in Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said. He stressed that the plan requires collaboration from both public and private sectors – with the goal of growing the economy, creating both jobs and opportunities for innovation.
Shapiro made his announcement at the Bethlehem headquarters of OraSure Technologies, which develops and manufactures diagnostic tests, collection devices and molecular services products for diseases such as COVID-19, HIV and hepatitis.
OraSure President and CEO Carrie Eglinton Manner spoke at the press conference in support of Shapiro’s plan.
“(The) future we envision is in part made possible through (a) very healthy regional economy,” Manner said, “and the robust relationships and collaboration with our government partners, including the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
The Statewide Economic Development Strategy has five goals:
* Invest in economic growth to make Pennsylvania more competitive for business opportunities, with Shapiro saying he intends to propose a major investment in site development across the state.
* Speed processing times for business requirements.
* Create opportunities for all Pennsylvanians including apprenticeships, internships and job training – including a proposal for a $2 million investment in a Career Connect program to connect Pennsylvanians with employers.
* Dedicate money to innovation funds to support startups and entrepreneurs, including a proposal for a $10 million investment in the Agriculture Innovation Program.
* Help regional communities grow through a $25 million investment to build up small businesses and commercial corridors. Shapiro said he will also propose a $3.5 million investment for the Pennsylvania Regional Challenge, a program incentivizing regional planning and collaboration.
Shapiro plans to propose these five investments at his annual budget address in February.
“This is the kind of work we need to do if we’re going to be a national leader,” he said, “if we’re going to be a leader in industry, in job growth, in innovation and, most importantly, if we are going to be a leader in opportunity. I believe here in Pennsylvania everyone should have the freedom to chart their own course and the opportunity to succeed. And in order to do that, we’ve got to invest.”
Economic development groups and industry organizations across the state – from the Pittsburgh Robotics Network to the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia – shared their support for the plan and their intentions to collaborate with the state government and each other to help increase economic opportunity in Pennsylvania.
“Riverside Center for Innovation is thrilled to learn that Governor Shapiro and his administration took the necessary steps to address the challenges that small diverse businesses face to compete in a global economy through the release of a Pennsylvania Statewide Economic Development Strategy,” said Juan Garrett, executive director of the Pittsburgh small business booster, in a statement. “Together, we can embark on a pathway that helps make entrepreneurs journey a more prosperous future.”
Environmental groups, conversely, called the plan “nothing more than a repackaging of the fossil fuel industry's playbook.”
“Gov. Shapiro’s roadmap represents a dead end for Pennsylvania as one of the nation’s leading energy producers because it fails to address the Commonwealth’s shortcomings in vital energy sectors like wind, solar, battery manufacturing and storage, and electric vehicle manufacturing,” PennFuture and the Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania said in a statement. “No effective energy strategy for Pennsylvania’s future can afford to exclude renewable energy as a top priority.”
Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.