CANONSBURG – Local business owners and industry experts weighed in on the continued recovery of western Pennsylvania’s economy during a workshop discussion with the Senate Majority Policy Committee today in Canonsburg.
The workshop was requested by Senator Camera Bartolotta (R-46).
“When this crisis first started, the goal was to flatten the curve, slow the spread, and keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed. Now that we have flattened the curve, we need to flatten the fear,” Bartolotta said. “So many businesses and employers have been lost forever, and many more are holding on by a thread. Our duty as legislators is to find a way to save what’s left.”
“Rather than work with employees, employers, legislators and local governments, the governor continues to argue that he alone should be calling all of the shots. Two days ago, a federal judge declared that approach unconstitutional,” said Senate Majority Policy Committee Chairman David G. Argall (R-29). “The goal remains clear: we must help our employers reopen and operate their businesses under strict CDC recommendations. We keep hearing from employers that it’s possible to protect their health and the livelihoods at the same time. It doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition.”
During his testimony, Congressman Guy Reschenthaler (PA-14) warned that the threat of additional business shutdowns and new business restrictions could have a devastating impact on Pennsylvania employers.
“Another long-term, one-size fits all shutdown is not sustainable or effective,” Reschenthaler said. “With a balanced approach, we can get our communities back to work and we can keep our citizens safe and healthy.”
Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry President and CEO Gene Barr noted that Pennsylvania has the fifth-worst unemployment rate in the country due to having among the strictest business shutdowns in the country. He suggested that lawmakers take steps to strengthen infrastructure, make better use of existing natural resources, provide liability protection for Pennsylvania companies, and give business owners the ability to find innovative solutions to keep consumers safe.
Ameri-Precision Metals owner Ajay Goel detailed the challenges of operating his business due to the financial difficulties created by COVID-19. He urged lawmakers to make it easier to apply for financial assistance programs.
“In March, the shutdowns had the effect of reducing cash flow and disrupting our supply lines. There was no construction, but we still had to pay all the employees we just hired,” Goel said. “We have also found it difficult for lenders to give us money. I am really afraid that trying to get through COVID-19 without changes in assistance programs will make it very difficult for businesses like ours to get through.”
Washington Crown Center General Manager Civil Knox said that the shutdown resulted in staff losing their jobs for three months, numerous events being cancelled, and reduced hours and customer traffic after reopening.
“We did what we were asked to do, and we shut our doors. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do,” Knox said. “We have some exciting things coming up, so it’s not all doom and gloom. But the rope is thinning.”
Greene County Historical Society Executive Director Matthew Cumberledge highlighted the importance of giving local officials a stronger say in the decision-making process on health and safety measures.
“Local governments and elected officials know what’s going on and what’s best for their regions – not a governor who is not accessible to the people,” Cumberledge said. “Focusing on one specific part of the problem doesn’t solve the problem. It just leaves us with a lot of loose ends to tie up.”
PA Manufacturers’ Association President and CEO David Taylor urged lawmakers to focus on protecting and relying on the energy industry to aid in the state’s economic recovery, including fighting back on the governor’s efforts to unilaterally impose a carbon tax by participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
“Energy is the workhorse that is powerful enough to get Pennsylvania out of the ditch,” Taylor said. “Many of our energy facilities spent up to a billion dollars to upgrade their facilities to comply with Obama-era restrictions. It is not fair that they are now threatened with going out of business because of RGGI.”
Washington Wild Things Vice President Christine Blaine said that clear guidance from the state is also essential.
“We presented a plan to begin playing again to the Department of Health, and the letter we got in response was so vague that we didn’t know what we were allowed to do,” Blaine said. “For the first few weeks, nobody knew we were playing. We were afraid to advertise.”
David Sunstein of Lincoln Bus Group detailed the negative impacts of school shutdowns on the school bus industry and noted that many school districts are not meeting their contracts and obligations.
“On March 20, the school bus industry was effectively put out of business,” Sunstein said.
Many testifiers cited the need for legislators and local officials to play a larger role in addressing the health and safety needs of the community.
“I have never in my 40 years in business seen a playing field so tilted,” said David Magill, owner of Mogie’s Irish Pub. “There is far too much power in the hands of one person, and it is up to the legislature to rein in this power.”
“We are a prideful bunch. We want to get back up. We want to work,” said Redford Photography General Manager Jeff King. “We feel like the people at the top of the state are pushing us back down.”
Video and additional testimony from the hearing is available at https://policy.pasenategop.com/.
CONTACT: Joshua J. Paul (717) 787-2637 (Senator Argall)
Colleen Greer (717) 787-1463 (Senator Bartolotta)