Pa. Senate confirms Shapiro nominee for Community and Economic Development

Rick Siger, Gov. Josh Shapiro’s nominee for Secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), was unanimously confirmed Wednesday by the Pennsylvania Senate. 

The role will see Siger lead the state’s efforts to grow the economy, strengthen communities, and seek to build a better future for residents. 

“Governor Josh Shapiro has a plan to make Pennsylvania a leader in innovation, job creation, and economic development,” Siger said in a statement. “I am thrilled to continue working hard in close collaboration with Pennsylvania’s businesses, communities, and my colleagues at DCED to move his vision for our commonwealth forward.” 

Siger added that under Shapiro’s leadership, Pennsylvania is “open for business.” 

Since his nomination in January, Siger has been involved in the following: 

  • Oversaw expansion projects through the Governor’s Action Team for EMD Electronics, Prysmian Group North America, and Re:Build Manufacturing that will collectively generate $403.5 million in investments, create at least 615 new jobs (including 220 related construction jobs), and retain 696 existing jobs statewide. 
  • Oversaw the approval of more than $24 million in loans through the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority to spur business growth in 12 counties, create and retain more than 830 total jobs. 
  • Approved the exits of Franklin Borough, Johnstown, and Mahanoy City from distressed status. 
  • Announced $2.1 million in grants to 31 student research projects through the Manufacturing PA initiative to help advance innovation in manufacturing. 
  • Announced the new Airport Land Development Zone Program and the first airports to receive designations. 
  • Announced $3.5 million in new funding through the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority for Pennsylvania start-up tech companies.  
  • Awarded more than $1 million in investments to increase apprentices in the electrical worker, industrial paint, iron worker, and welding trades through the Pre-Apprentice and Apprenticeship Grant Program. 
  • Announced $300,000 in grants through the Manufacturing PA Training-to-Career program to support a student run manufacturing program in Clarion County and Junior Achievement of South Central PA manufacturing program for students in grades 5-12 in York County. 

 Siger served as Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to the President at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, setting the management agenda for CMU executives and advising the president on a variety of issues, including economic and community development. 

 The Pennsylvania Senate also confirmed on Wednesday two more of Shapiro’s cabinet nominations – Department of Transportation Secretary Mike Carroll and Department of Aging Secretary Jason Kavulich. 

 Carroll served as Chairman of the House Transportation Committee from 2018 to 2022. Under his direction, the Department of Transportation fixed more than 270 miles of roads, put out more than 201 bridge repair projects to bid, and made over 20 driver licensing and motor vehicle forms available for electronic submission to provide faster and more efficient customer service to residents. 

Kavulich has led Pennsylvania’s Department of Aging (PDA) in developing user-friendly materials to help seniors navigate the end of the public health emergency. PDA has helped older residents maintain access to food and health insurance resources. 

Wolf leaves complicated, conflicting legacy for Pa. businesses

Governor Josh Shapiro was just minutes into his inaugural speech on Tuesday, Jan. 17, when he turned to address the outgoing chief executive, Gov. Tom Wolf. 

“Thanks to his leadership,” Shapiro stated, “we now find ourselves in the strongest financial shape in the history of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, allowing us to make critical investments for tomorrow.” 

Supporters of Wolf likely found Shapiro’s praise for his predecessor providing a moment of warmth on a day otherwise chilled by wintry wind and leaden skies. The President & CEO of Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp., Don Cunningham, believed Wolf’s greatest contribution to the state’s businesses and economy to be the reduction of the corporate net income tax from 9.99% to 4.99% by 2031. 

“It’s very significant for those of us to do economic development,” Cunningham said. “He proposed it in his budgets and finally got agreement from Senate Republicans. That’s what leaders do.” 

Not everyone on that gray inaugural day shared Shapiro’s sunny sentiments for Wolf’s impact on Pennsylvania’s businesses. State Senator Scott Martin (R-Berks/Lancaster) said there was “a lot of frustration” the past eight years. The reason being that many of Wolf’s policies were, said Martin, “counterproductive to Pennsylvania tapping into its full economic potential.” 

David N. Taylor, president & CEO of the Pennsylvania Manufacturer’s Association, cites the “deeply disturbing” practices of the Wolf Administration that he says have destroyed an untold number of businesses in Pennsylvania. 

“Governor Wolf, during his tenure, was markedly unhelpful to Pennsylvania’s business competitiveness,” Taylor said. “At every turn, he was pushing for more government, higher spending, and he did a number of specific things that were especially damaging to the economy.” 

One such thing, said Taylor, was the 2017 Tax Cuts and Job Act (TCJA), which changed the depreciation, deductions, tax credits, and tax items that affect business. 

“When the tax policy was changed at the federal level, that was the starting gun for the process of American companies considering where to bring those overseas earnings to reinvest in America,” Taylor said. “Pennsylvania was the only state to say ‘no’.”  

Another point of contention was the additional tax on the production of natural gas in Pennsylvania that Taylor said Wolf called for in his annual budget addresses. 

“Even though he was never going to get that, the fact that you had the sitting governor calling for it rendered our investment environment uncertain,” Taylor said. “If you want to go back and look at when the rigs stopped coming in or when did they start leaving, 2015 was that turning point.” 

Jon Anzur, vice president of public affairs for the PA Chamber, called Wolf’s record on working with the business community “a mixed bag.” 

At the beginning of Wolf’s first term, he had what Anzur said was “a very adversarial” relationship with the business community. The issue at the heart of the impasse were business-related, a tax-and-spend approach not in line with the business community. 

“As Wolf went along,” said Anzur, “rather than treat the business community as an adversary, he treated it as a partner.” 

Supporters of the Wolf Administration point to what they see as life-changing investments in the people of Pennsylvania and the building of a business-friendly climate via the following actions: 

  • Collaborated with 430 companies to create and retain close to 194,000 jobs. 
  • Diversified state contracting so that diverse, small, and veteran businesses comprise 20% of Pennsylvania’s contractors. 
  • Eliminated the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax. 
  • Launched Manufacturing PA to link job training to career pathways. 
  • Partnered with the private sector to address the worker shortage. 
  • Placed Pennsylvania on track to a Corporate Net Income Tax rate of 4.99%. 
  • Reformed Occupational licensure to cut red tape, help workers, and strengthen the workforce. 
  • Distributed grants to help more than 10,000 small businesses and the hospitality industry survive the pandemic. 

“He did some things that were very focused on what we need to do to grow the economy,” Cunningham said. 

At the same time, Wolf’s handling of COVID-19 came under criticism. A state audit called the business waiver program confusing and inconsistent, declaring that it created for Pennsylvania companies an unfair playing field. 

Martin agreed. “Direct competitors, even in my own district, one would get a waiver to stay open and their direct competitor would not,” he said. 

Taylor recalled Wolf’s shutting down of businesses being done without the okay of those whose livelihoods were affected by the decision. 

“There was no outreach to say, ‘How will this play out in the real world?’” Taylor said. “You would think any leader would want to have the most comprehensive overview information as to how will this play out… Governor Wolf didn’t reach out to anyone.” 

Like many politicians, Wolf leaves behind a legacy that is complicated and conflicting. Supporters say it abounds with innovative programs, people-driven policies, and investments aimed at creating a more prosperous Pennsylvania. The Rainy Day Fund, dangerously low when Wolf took office, now stands at an historic $5 billion, and his administration secured a $5.3 billion budget surplus, albeit aided with federal funding. Still, Wolf is the first governor since 1987 to hand his successor a surplus. 

Critics call Wolf’s business policies catastrophic and see the former governor, in Taylor’s words, “hurling down thunderbolts from on high” during the pandemic, preventing citizens and their enterprises from adapting to the circumstances, forcing them to “sit back, do nothing, and watch their business die.” 

Martin likewise believed Wolf’s policies made the pandemic worse, and that Pennsylvania’s businesses have not fully recovered. 

“Businesses continue to struggle and some no longer exist because of the policies he put in place,” said Martin. “It had a lasting impact.” 

Cunningham noted that Wolf was operating in real time and trying to find the balance between keeping people safe and keeping businesses open. 

Good and bad, Wolf’s two terms provided what Anzur termed “an evolution in office,” the former governor finding “common ground to move the ball forward for Pennsylvania.” 

State grant to expand training program at Thaddeus Stevens

Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology is receiving a state grant of $195,000 to expand its short-term training programs for adults.

The money comes from a program designed to help the state’s unemployed or under employed residents find careers in manufacturing.

Thaddeus Stevens plans to use the grant to grow its Skill Up Fast program, which offers short-term training in metal casting, production welding and facilities maintenance.

“This will have a positive impact on the lives of many deserving individuals and families and will advance efforts to close the job skills gap for Pennsylvania manufacturers,” said William Griscom, president of Thaddeus Stevens in Lancaster.

The college expects the funding will allow it to open new sessions of the courses it offers as well as add new training programs in heating, ventilation and air conditioning technology; compute- numeric controlled machining; machinery maintenance and repair; and general maintenance and repair.

Across all of its new and old training programs, the college expects to train 100 adults in the next two years.

“We are glad to support Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology and their new and expanded workforce training programs,” Wolf said in a statement. “Thaddeus Stevens College is a key contributor of workforce development in the Lancaster region and we are grateful for the work they have done to strengthen the local workforce and put Pennsylvanians on good-paying career paths.”

The grant is part of the governor’s Manufacturing PA initiative, which includes three programs tasked with getting Pennsylvanians careers in manufacturing.