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US Senate candidate John Fetterman pledges to make PA a place where tech and innovation ‘can thrive’

Responding to a Technical.ly survey sent to all candidates, the Democratic nominee said increased access to capital and broadband internet would make Pennsylvania a more startup-friendly state.

John Fetterman.

(Courtesy photo)

Update: A link to US Senate candidate Mehmet Oz's responses has been added. (10/25/22, 8:40 a.m.)
As the 2022 midterm elections draw nearer, national attention has been focused on a competitive US Senate seat in Pennsylvania.

When Republican Sen. Pat Toomey announced in 2020 that he wouldn’t be seeking reelection, the field of candidates for his seat crowded quickly. Many Democrats saw the open seat as a chance to gain representation in the Senate, and pull Pennsylvania out of its swing state status.

The fifth-most populated state has long bounced between political affiliations, and has been represented by the same two senators — Toomey and Democrat Bob Casey Jr. — since 2011. The candidate that wins the seat next month will be the first fresh face representing the state in more than a decade.

And Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is aiming to be that fresh face. The 6-foot-8-inch, tattooed, shorts-wearing democratic candidate got his start in politics as the mayor of Braddock in 2006, a job he held until serving with Gov. Tom Wolf in 2019. Some of his key issues include manufacturing more in the US, cutting taxes for middle-income people, cutting healthcare costs, banning Congress from stock trading, reforming criminal justice systems, women’s reproductive freedom, legalizing cannabis and raising the minimum wage.

Fetterman is running against Republican Mehmet Oz, and the pair has gained the spotlight for their social media sparring.

As the tech, STEM and innovation industries hold pivotal roles across regions in Pennsylvania, Technical.ly contacted the two candidates running for each the US Senate seat and the Pennsylvania governor’s race with a survey about their proposed policies. In the survey, we asked how the candidates will address issues of internet access, education, business resources, startup growth and technology regulation.

Both candidates for the US Senate seat were contacted. Read Oz’s responses here.

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Fetterman told Technical.ly that if elected, he’d invest in workforce development programs, seek more funding to expand broadband internet access across the state and make Pennsylvania a place where STEM organizations and startups “can thrive” with better access to capital. Read more about his plans below. (Links added by Technical.ly for context.)

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Technical.ly: What are your plans to bring resources (education funding, programs, etc.) to Pennsylvania for workforce development, and how do technology and STEM jobs fit into this plan?

John Fetterman: Whether we are supporting manufacturing, research and development, administrative work, or the hospitality industry, we have to help develop a workforce that has the knowledge, skills, and abilities to fill those jobs. This means making more investments in workforce development programs and enhancing the relationships between education institutions and the public and private sectors to prepare workers for new technologies and jobs.

I strongly supported the CHIPS and Science Act, which will provide billions of dollars for research, development, and workforce development in semiconductor technologies. This is exactly the kind of legislation we need to prepare our workers for the good-paying jobs in emerging technologies. If America wants to compete with countries like China and continue to be a leader in technology, we have to invest in innovation, research, and development. And that means building up our STEM workforce to fill the jobs that will be created from those investments.

Resources to increase access to broadband internet were deployed to Pennsylvania. Will you continue seeking resources, and can you speak to what you’d do with the existing funding?

Yes, I strongly supported the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill that will bring at least $100 million to Pennsylvania to expand broadband access, and I will absolutely continue to fight for additional funding as a US Senator. Everyone in Pennsylvania should have high speed broadband, no exceptions. At an event I held earlier this year in rural McKean County, a member of the crowd told me that people park outside of the local library just to use the internet or get phone reception, because they don’t get it anywhere else. This is unacceptable and shows the disparity in internet access across the commonwealth. We need to enact universal broadband for all people, in rural and urban areas, so that everyone has access to stable high-speed internet at home.

For seniors and people with disabilities, expanding broadband access allows for more frequent visits with doctors through telehealth appointments. With high-quality internet, people can work from home in a rural community instead of a city, keeping jobs and money in rural towns and lowering unemployment. For farmers, many pieces of modern farm equipment require access to broadband for tools and software. Finally, in education, this impacts students’ abilities to work on schoolwork at home, especially with increasingly remote learning options.

What do you consider the role of the government to support broadband and other digitally enabling infrastructure?

As an elected official, it would be my job to advocate for additional infrastructure investments that can improve the quality of life for Pennsylvanians. We have a huge broadband issue here. I’d continue to fight for more broadband and infrastructure investments.

How will you address “brain drain” from higher education hubs in Pennsylvania, and incentivize skilled workers to stay?

The best way to fight brain drain and keep talent in Pennsylvania is by making it worthwhile. And that requires us to improve the quality of living for residents, by expanding investments and resources available right here at home. We need to increase the accessibility of high-paying jobs, expand affordable housing and affordable health care options, foster environments that allow industries to thrive, and enact fair social reforms.

What specific plans do you have to support entrepreneurs and small businesses setting up shop in Pennsylvania?

I know how to support small businesses and entrepreneurs because I’ve already done it. As Mayor of Braddock, a former steel town, I worked tirelessly to bring new investments and funding. During my tenure, we had small tech startups open shop in Braddock or relocate here, like Meter Feeder and Unicentric.

My wife Gisele founded a nonprofit to help support small businesses in the area as well. The Hollander Project, which she created, is a business incubator and coworking space dedicated to supporting local women entrepreneurs that has helped launch more than a dozen small businesses since 2018, including 13 Black woman-owned businesses.

The number one reason that startups and small businesses fail is because they either run out of cash or because they cannot raise new capital, and are not given the resources to succeed. We need to invest in and provide businesses with the capital they need to get off the ground. We also need to invest in programs that teach startup business owners best practice in planning, such as where to locate a business, when to scale, how to differentiate from competitors, and how to lead.

What would you do to make Pennsylvania a friendly place for high-growth tech and STEM startups?

To make Pennsylvania a tech and STEM friendly state will require us to create an atmosphere where these organizations can thrive. That means investing in higher education institutions’ STEM programs to make them hubs for innovation and job creation, fostering diverse tech communities that attract talent, and building the infrastructure to ensure industry growth and workplace retention. As we have seen in the past few years, Pittsburgh has become an emerging city for tech and STEM jobs, due to its low cost of living and high-quality STEM higher education programs. We need to keep attracting this talent.

What do you consider the role of policymakers for emerging technologies like AI, cryptocurrencies and quantum computing?

The role of policymakers is to create an economic and scientific atmosphere that fosters innovation and creativity. Proper investment is the only way to ensure America remains a world leader in technological advancements and innovation. We need to continue to invest in research and development to make sure these new technologies are thriving here at home and creating jobs here, not overseas.

We must also make sure that we are regulating new and emerging industries in an effective manner that doesn’t stunt their growth, but rather puts safeguards in place for consumers. We need to balance consumer protection and supporting innovation. That means properly regulating assets and managing risks there, as well as making sure that the regulations we do have are actually relevant to the new technologies.

What do you consider the role of policymakers for capturing the obstacles and opportunities of rising remote work?

Policymakers must strive to fully fund broadband and make sure everyone, in every area, can work remotely. If we fully fund and expand high-speed internet in rural areas, people won’t need to live in cities and can remotely work from anywhere, boosting the local economies in rural areas. With high-quality internet, people can work from home in a rural community instead of a city, keeping jobs and money in rural towns and lowering unemployment.

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