When the Pennsylvania Chamber was officially formed in December 1916, its founders stood ready to lead the state’s business community in overcoming barriers to economic growth and job creation and building a better tomorrow. Fast forward more than 100 years, and our organization’s mission continues to center around advocating for smart public policies that encourage investment in the Commonwealth while touting the many ways in which Pennsylvania naturally stands apart as an ideal place in the world for businesses to locate and grow. Sometimes this mission has been more easily achievable than at other times. During times of economic prosperity, the PA Chamber’s goal to advance the Pennsylvania’s standing in the global marketplace is geared toward showcasing our prime location, our many natural assets and our second-to-none workforce. However, during more challenging periods we have focused our vision more narrowly, offering support to employers in communities across the state and asking if we’re doing all we can to help them withstand a difficult economic time. This has been true throughout the Chamber’s history. Through our organizational strength – which is based on the voices of our broad-based membership – we have guided employers through some serious economic challenges – World Wars, the Great Depression, economic recessions, and of course, this current situation, as we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic the likes of which we have not seen in a century.
Indeed, the COVID -19 pandemic is an extraordinary situation and it will take extraordinary action to come back from it. When the first case of the virus was reported in Pennsylvania in March, it was necessary that swift action be taken to mitigate its spread – including implementing safety and cleanliness protocols and even closing businesses’ physical locations, with the stated goal being to flatten the curve in the growth of new cases and prevent the Commonwealth’s hospitals and health systems from being overwhelmed. Almost overnight, employers had to innovate to keep their operations going, including arranging for their employees to telework if possible; applying for waivers to the state in hopes of getting their business to be recognized as “essential” and able to remain open through the pandemic; and if they were ultimately told to close down, their focus shifted on how to prepare for a safe re-opening and apply for aid to financially withstand the closure. The PA Chamber worked tirelessly to help our members through this period by engaging daily with the administration about the waiver process, communicating with businesses on the steps they needed to take to either donate or begin producing personal protective equipment, and more. As the weeks went on with the economy in freefall and the daily conversation being almost entirely focused on the virus’s devastation, our organization again showed our economic leadership by taking up the mantle in favor of a much needed but not widely discussed goal – how to restore hope and economic success back to Pennsylvania.
It was from this need to change the conversation that our new initiative, “Bringing PA Back,” was born. Fortunately, the regular conversations we’d been hosting with our members, statewide associations and local chambers of commerce gave us the insight we needed to provide answers to employers’ pressing questions, including: What steps did they need to take to safely re-open their facilities? How should they be communicating new protocols to employees and customers? Did a set of guidelines exist that pertained to their specific industry? After gathering this information from trusted, factual resources – including the state, the Centers for Disease Control and our partners in the business community– we hosted this information on a new website, www.BringingPABack.com, that is constantly updated and includes an interactive map of the county-by-county, phased re-opening plan that the Wolf Administration has since administered. We continue to drive employers throughout the Commonwealth to this page as a one-stop-shop for all the information they need to re-open, with the health and safety of their workers and customers in mind.
A major part of the initiative also includes a robust set of public policy recommendations. As the Statewide Voice of Business™, the PA Chamber has always relied on the valued feedback of our member companies to set the groundwork for our legislative agenda – and “Bringing PA Back” is no exception. At the forefront of our priority list is ensuring that temporary, targeted liability protections are in place for the entire medical community as they combat the spread of the virus and we are honored to represent the best interests of the brave men and women who are putting themselves in harm’s way to save lives. This includes protections for companies that have re-tooled their production processes to make the PPE and ventilators that are needed to win the battle against this invisible enemy as well as all essential businesses that have continued to operate and those who are starting back up– at the very least, they should be focused on those efforts and not the looming threat of lawsuits.
The Bringing PA Back website includes a quote from PA Chamber President and CEO Gene Barr, who says that Pennsylvanians are a people who can rise to any challenge, and that “our organization stands ready to work with elected officials, public health experts and employers on implementing a workable process to get back to business in a responsible way.” It is in the spirit of collaboration that this new initiative was developed, and it is in that spirit that we will continue our efforts to propel Pennsylvania forward. In addition to continuing our efforts to enact the many pieces of legislation that will help our state’s private sector emerge from this time, we are simultaneously developing our vision for the next phase of Pennsylvania’s re-opening. As the PA Chamber’s rich history has shown, our organization – driven by our diverse membership – will lead the state through these trying times and into an era that once again showcases how our resolve, innovation and strength paves the way toward a brighter future.