Coalition outlines plans to boost regional economy

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By Rick Shrum | Observer-Reporter

The coronavirus, and all of its dynamics, dominate the minds of many – and should. But on Tuesday morning, at the midpoint of 2020, a newly formed coalition shifted focus on building a sturdier, sustainable Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Pittsburgh Works Together, an alliance of labor, business and civic leaders, held a video news conference to unveil an agenda that, in the words of executive director Jeff Nobers, “would get not just our economy back to where it was, but to make it an even stronger economy.”

Bringing back manufacturing, not only from a diminished domestic role, but back from foreign countries, was a commonly expressed mantra. But the session also focused on economic fallout from the COVID-19 outbreak, discrepancies in pay and a need for more skilled trades workers.

Nobers moderated the discussion that also featured Pittsburgh Works Together co-chairs Morgan O’Brien and Tom Melcher, and Steve Malnight, chief executive officer of Duquesne Light. The group presented a five-part policy agenda for the region, with a goal of making it a center of the nation’s economic recovery.

“One of the cures we want to provide to people is hope,” O’Brien said. “A lot of people have lost hope during the pandemic. We want to provide hope with training for jobs with good salaries and benefits. We have to build trades here. We have to have training facilities.”

Those five parts:

  • Full development of the energy sector, focusing on natural gas resources;
  • Vocational and technical education for those who do not attend college;
  • Concentrate on rebuilding the region’s infrastructure, including transportation, power grid, water treatment and broadband capacity;
  • Fresh investment by cutting regulatory and excessive tax-burdens on job creators;
  • A Pennsylvania-first policy of tax credits and other incentives for publicly underwritten projects.

“One of the things that’s missing is a commitment to rebuild manufacturing. We have to bring manufacturing back to the United States, and especially to Western Pennsylvania,” Melcher said.

Malnight endorsed the development of jobs “that also improves the sustainability of our environment.”

The Duquesne Light executive touted production of electric vehicles, “which could be 100% domestically produced that creates more job and gives us a cleaner environment. We have the energy sources here.”

Pittsburgh Works Together was forged out of meetings of the Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania, which serves local construction unions and contractor associations; the Pittsburgh Regional Building Trades Council; local companies; and civic leaders. The alliance launched in mid-March, just before the local COVID-19 invasion.

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