Post-Gazette Op-ed: Tom Melcher and Morgan O'Brien: Finding common cause

Pennsylvania is edging toward the reopening of an economy slammed shut by the coronavirus pandemic and it’s time to think about bold, new ways to ensure that our recovery is robust and complete.

We can begin by acting on the painful lessons taught by the shutdown.

The pandemic revealed the weakness in our supply chains and the consequences of relying too heavily on a global economy to supply us with critical goods — respirators and medical equipment, ingredients for making critical drugs, even components for military equipment.

But through this darkness, we see a different and brighter future for the Pittsburgh region and the entire nation as we come together to reshore our country’s supply chain and train and re-employ the greatest force of skilled workers in the world.

We need to make things in America.

It is not just a nice slogan — it is a matter of national security, economic vibrancy, sustainable employment and environmental stewardship.

Western Pennsylvania should commit to be the epicenter of this movement.

Pennsylvania, and the Pittsburgh region especially, can lead America to this new future if we are smart, nimble, strategic and, above all, bold enough to prepare for this new reality. Our strategy should be grounded in the unique advantages we enjoy: a highly skilled labor force, abundant and inexpensive energy, a storied history of manufacturing expertise and innovation, and cutting-edge technology and innovation fueled by our universities and our incomparable health care system.

Pittsburgh Works Together is a recently formed business-labor alliance which believes a diverse economy that includes traditional industry alongside our emerging technology industries is the surest path to sustainable prosperity for everyone.

This cannot be a partisan agenda. Everyone can rally around the common cause of recovery and revitalization to aggressively unlock virtually unlimited growth across the state, and that starts right here in Western Pennsylvania.

Invest in infrastructure: We should strategically invest now in transportation, power-grid resiliency, water and wastewater treatment, broadband expansion and other physical projects that put people to work today and lead to economic growth and job creation when completed.

Make Pennsylvania attractive for private investment: We need an overall business climate that is favorable and attractive for advanced manufacturing and other private investment. Companies want to go where they are welcome.

Every growing economy needs affordable energy: Pennsylvania needs to embrace measures that drive electricity costs down for homes and businesses by leveraging the world’s second-largest natural gas supply, while continuing to advance technology and innovation on a broad assortment of energy assets that improve the environment. Pennsylvania has cut its greenhouse gas emissions by nearly a quarter since 2005 through growing use of natural gas.

Embrace vocational education: We need to create a new respect for people who use their hands to keep the physical world working, from how we treat vocational subjects in high school to the financial support we offer to those starting to build a career. High school graduates, college students reassessing their options after being sent home from campus and service workers who have watched their jobs and the businesses they worked for disappear will need a new path forward.

Our “Get to Work-Build It Here” agenda will drive true sustainability: a robust economy, a strong society and a healthy environment. We cannot watch this generational opportunity pass us by.

In the days ahead, we will be sharing a policy agenda addressing these and other initiatives that we believe will deliver a brighter future to our region than we might have imagined three months ago. The choice, quite frankly, is ours.

Ask yourself, why not here and why not now?

Tom Melcher and Morgan O’Brien are co-chairs of Pittsburgh Works Together, a business-labor alliance formed to promote the expansion of industry in the region.

First Published May 29, 2020, 4:45am

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