Gov. Josh Shapiro and Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) Secretary Rick Siger announced the state’s new 10-year economic development strategy at OraSure Technologies in Bethlehem, Pa. Jan. 30, 2024 (Commonwealth Media Services photo)
Gov. Josh Shapiro said Tuesday he wants singer Billy Joel to pen a new song about Allentown, one that more closely reflects the city’s rebirth than his 1982 tune that laments its downturn. “I’m sick and tired of hearing that old song,” Shapiro said at an appearance in neighboring Bethlehem (which also gets a mention in the old song). “He owes us a new one, given what is happening in Allentown and across the Lehigh Valley.”
Shapiro made the remarks at OraSure Technologies as he officially unveiled a new economic development plan for Pennsylvania that he says will help the state better compete with neighbors like New York and Ohio. The ten-year Pennsylvania Economic Development Strategy will focus on five sectors: agriculture, energy, life sciences, manufacturing, and robotics and technology, and include several new initiatives.
“Ohio, which has a million and a half fewer people than Pennsylvania, invests seven times the amount of economic development that we do here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I am sick and tired of losing to Ohio, New York, New Jersey or anyone else. We’ve got to win again here in Pennsylvania. And to do that we are going to invest.”
Shapiro said the plan will focus on five key goals: investing in economic growth to compete, continuing to make government work at the speed of business, opening doors of opportunity to all Pennsylvanians, innovating to win, and building vibrant and resilient regions.
The 2024-25 budget proposal Shapiro will present in Harrisburg on Feb. 6 will call for investments tied to this ten-year strategy, and will include a call for support from partners across all sectors, according to the statement from Shapiro’s office.
“Next week. I’ll be asking my colleagues in the Capitol, Republicans and Democrats alike, to buy into this plan to believe in it and to appropriate dollars to fulfill it,” Shapiro said Tuesday. “All of the foundational pieces are here in Pennsylvania ready for us to build something new. We just need to come together to the table to make this happen.”
Shapiro’s office provided a glimpse of some parts of the plan ahead of the announcement in a news release; it will include a “major investment” in site development that Shapiro says will bring more commercial and industrial sites online.
The news release notes that after the launch of the PA SITES program last September, which aimed to provide $10 million in grants to conduct site assessments and prepare them for remediation, the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) received 102 applications seeking more than $236 million in funding. “The demand for investment is clearly there,” according to the release.
Shapiro will seek $2 million for a “Career Connect” program to match employers and workers, help create internships, and “keep young people in Pennsylvania.” He’ll also propose an additional $10 million for the Agriculture Innovation Program, along with “significant” new innovation funding to support startups and entrepreneurs.
The budget proposal will also include $3.5 million to launch the new Pennsylvania Regional Challenge, described as being inspired by the federal Build Back Better Regional Challenge. That grant competition created by the American Rescue Plan sought “interconnected investments” in a given region that had the potential to boost the local economy, expand economic opportunity and create jobs.
The Pennsylvania version will include a Regional Hubs Challenge, to provide different geographic regions with state resources to plan and implement local strategies for economic development.
The governor will also ask for $25 million for the new Main Street Matters program, which will build upon and expand the Keystone Communities Program, a DCED program that provides grants for local revitalization programs.
“We, over the years have forgotten about economic development, in fact, we have cut from economic development programs over a history of maybe 30 years since I’ve been in Harrisburg,” said state Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton). “When you talk about trying to compete regionally when you have your competitive regional strategy here, we are ready in the Lehigh Valley to compete.”
Update: This article was updated Jan. 30, 2024 at 1:27 p.m. with new details from Shapiro’s appearance in Bethlehem.
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