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Gov. Josh Shapiro’s first moves got him kudos from Pennsylvania business leaders

In his first two months, Shapiro has created a new office focused on business development in the state, and proposed funding for workforce development, the space tech industry and STEM education.

Josh Shapiro in 2018. (Photo by Flickr user Governor Tom Wolf, used via a Creative Commons license)

Pennsylvania got a handful of new statewide leaders at the start of the year, and most prominently a new governor: Josh Shapiro, whose campaign included prioritizing business investment and the stance that PA should be a place where new industries can grow.

Shapiro took office on Jan. 17. In the two months since, he’s made a series of business-related moves. His business policy proposals were of top note for researchers and business groups in Pennsylvania, and will likely impact at least the next four years of Pennsylvania’s innovation economy.

Here’s what’s happened so far:

Early signs of priorities

A Brookings Institute report released during the 2022 campaign season assessed Pennsylvania’s current innovation landscape, and identified its weak spots. The authors made suggestions on solutions to grow its strengths, but said that for those tactics to work, the next set of state leaders needs to wholeheartedly endorse and support the innovation economy.

Shapiro took office on Jan. 17, the same week that the Allegheny Conference on Community Development co-hosted a discussion panel with Brookings and the Hillman Foundation centered on the report’s findings. There, Allegheny Conference CEO Stefani Pashman said she felt encouraged by Shapiro’s business plan.

“We have the opportunity to work with them to design a new model of economic development, run an increase of state investment to drive economic growth, implement policies that support innovation clusters, and foster overall and open for business mindset at all levels of government,” she said at the conference.

Executive orders

Further indication of biz support as a priority came on Jan. 24, when Shapiro signed an executive order establishing the Pennsylvania Office of Transformation and Opportunity and the Economic Development Strategy Group.

This newly created office is meant to be a “one-stop-shop” for businesses that are looking to grow and “will work to aggressively reignite Pennsylvania’s economy — fostering innovation, supporting transformational economic development, and creating real opportunity for businesses and workers alike in our Commonwealth, particularly in communities that have too often been left behind,” Shapiro said at the time.

The governor named Ben Kirshner to the role of chief transformation and opportunity officer, and charged him with building out the Economic Development Strategy Group. The group will be chaired by Shapiro, and consist of the secretaries of labor and industry, community and economic development, transportation, agriculture, education, and environmental protection. They will advise Shapiro on the state’s economic development projects, job creation, attraction and retention of employers, and the like.

At the end of January, Shapiro also signed an executive order to streamline the Commonwealth’s licensing, permitting, and certification processes. The goal of the order is to make the process for Pennsylvania workers who have professional licenses, permits or certificates quicker and more efficient by assigning a “date-certain” for applications. If they don’t receive a response within that time frame, the agency will refund the cost of their application.

The actions are designed to bring together existing state agencies more comprehensively to improve the economic climate, attract companies to relocate or expand here, and make the state more attractive for talent.

First budget proposal

Earlier this week, Shapiro delivered his first budget address, a $44.4 billion proposal, which touched on issues of education, workforce development and small business operations, among non-business related spending. The same day, he also signed in support for a hydrogen manufacturing and distribution project in the Pittsburgh area. In his address, Shapiro called out this project and others like it in the energy space as ways Pennsylvania could propel its economy forward.

Notably, Shapiro proposed raising Pennsylvania’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour, a campaign promise he and many other Democrats discussed in the 2022 midterm elections.

The budget proposal also included:

  • A $24.7 million tax credit, translating to $2,500 a year over three years for residents who earn a teaching, nursing, or law enforcement certification as of January 2023, or anyone who moves to Pennsylvania with those degrees
  • A 50% increase in funding for the Manufacturing Innovation Program, which “connects Pennsylvania’s universities with our businesses to find new solutions and spur innovation”
  • A 25% increase in funding for the PA Smart Program, a STEM education and tech training program started under former Gov. Tom Wolf

During the address, Shapiro called out the new Office of Transformation and Opportunity and the Economic Development Strategy Group, saying that Kirshner had met with business leaders to identify bottlenecks companies face when they want to work with the state.

“Whether folks in this room like me or not, the one thing I hope you can all agree on is that I’m competitive as hell — and I’m sick and tired of losing out to other states,” the governor said.

The budget also directs state funding to the Historically Disadvantaged Business Program to support women and minority-owned businesses, and proposes $66.7 million to Child Care Works to increase access to stable child care.

Support for new industries

In February, Shapiro attended attended Spark Therapeutics’s groundbreaking event, where the cell and gene therapy company would be building 500,000 square feet of lab space in Philly’s University City. There, he predicted: “Philadelphia is going to be the gene therapy capital of the world.”

At the start of this month, he toured Astrobotic, the North Side, Pittsburgh-based space tech company sending its Peregrine lunar lander to the moon this spring. During the visit, he also said the federal Appalachian Regional Commission with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development was awarding $400,000 to the Keystone Space Collaborative, with a focus on growing the region’s space tech workforce.

“Astrobotic is an excellent example of the enormous potential we have here in Pennsylvania to innovate and lead, and we’re proud that the first commercial spacecraft to land on the moon is from Pittsburgh,” Shapiro said.

Praise from the business community

A handful of business-related groups in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh noted their thoughts about the address and proposed budget, mostly favorably.

Leaders for the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce said in a statement they are pleased to see the call for investments in education and workforce development, public safety and energy development. The organization shares Shapiro’s “vision” for the state, and is looking forward to policies around innovation, job creation, and economic development taking shape.

“The Chamber thanks Governor Shapiro for his comments emphasizing an innovative, inclusive economy which provides opportunity to all Pennsylvanians,” said Chellie Cameron, president and CEO of the Chamber. “I look forward to working with the Governor to grow businesses and create jobs throughout the Greater Philadelphia region and the Commonwealth.”

Similar sentiments came from Southwestern Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Conference leadership, who commended Shapiro on the address, saying they felt an “intense focus” on economic development opportunities.

“Through continued partnership with the governor and his administration, we will work to achieve an economically competitive environment that is laser-focused on demonstrating that Pennsylvania is open for the business investment and the people we need to thrive,” the organization said in a statement.

Companies: Allegheny Conference on Community Development / Spark Therapeutics / Astrobotic / Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia / State of Pennsylvania
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