Pennsylvania needs investment for economic growth

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Pennsylvania is among the top states in the nation for receiving research dollars, but 48th in converting these funds into new business.

“Per capita, the Dakotas are beating us,” Jen Gilburg, deputy secretary of Technology and Entrepreneurship for the state Department of Community and Economic Development, told members of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce Thursday morning.

“The only two that aren’t beating us are West Virginia and Arkansas,” she said.

To do better, Gilburg suggested that higher education research institutions are doing should shift from publishing papers to start-up companies.

“We need leaders who take ideas and raise capital to create great companies,” she said.

Gilburg, who said it’s been 20 years since the state had a formal economic development plan, told the group of about 60 local business owners and community leaders that the economic numbers are “low.”

“We have to do better,” she said.

Gilburg, who works under DCED Secretary Rick Siger, said the goals of Pennsylvania’s Economic Development Strategy are to invest in economic growth, innovate to win, make government run at the speed of business and open up more doors of opportunity.

“If we’re going to have growth, we have to invest,” she said, adding that industries like life sciences, renewables and AI are where the state needs to focus to attract and retain new workers.

To help grow sectors identified by the Shapiro Administration, Gilburg said Ben Kirschner, chief transformation and opportunity officer, has already reduced the time it takes to obtain a new business permit from seven weeks to about three days.

“And he’s working to get it down to one day,” she said. “He’s working to make things more frictionless and work at the speed of business.”

Like Lancaster County, Gilburg said the state’s 10-year economic plan identifies five areas as real opportunities for growth. They are agriculture, energy, life sciences, manufacturing and robotics and technology.

“In his budget, Gov. Josh Shapiro proposed $600 million in new investments,” she said. “These are critical investments.”

Investments include fixing education and 500 million areas across the state.

Ezra Rothman, president of EDC Lancaster County, who said he is excited by the governor’s new plan, said Lancaster County has very few industrial sites available and many of them have “significant” problems.

Companies looking to grow or locate in the area are hit with added costs when dealing with contaminated soil, he said.

“In 2022, Lancaster County saw economic growth of 36.4%,” he said, with the highest growth in manufacturing, professional and business services, and health care and social assistance.

While health care and social assistance employed the most people in the county in 2022 at 17.3%, Rothman said manufacturing came in a close second at 16.7% and growing.

With this growth comes the need for land, he said. Lancaster County is zoned 70% agricultural and 3% industrial, so remediation is necessary to prepare the sites to continue attracting business.

Manufacturing GDP for 2022 was 17% while health care and social assistance was 9.9%, he said.

In addition to needing land, Rothman said, the county needs to attract and retain younger workers as the population ages, particularly in the manufacturing sector.

“The proportion of Lancaster’s population aged 55+ increased by 9.7% from 2000 to 2020,” he said.

In fact, 26% of full-time workers are 55+ and older.

“We’re going to see a lot of experience become obsolete, especially in manufacturing,” he said. “We need new tech jobs to get people excited to come here so we can grow.”

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