Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Rick Siger was the keynote speaker at Friday’s 2023 Legislation Education & Advocacy Day (LEAD) — held at Mohegan Pennsylvania.
                                 Bill O’Boyle | Times Leader

Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Rick Siger was the keynote speaker at Friday’s 2023 Legislation Education & Advocacy Day (LEAD) — held at Mohegan Pennsylvania.

Bill O’Boyle | Times Leader

DCED Secretary Siger keynote speaker at 2023 LEAD conference

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PLAINS TWP. — Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development Rick Siger on Friday said these are exciting days for the future of economic and community development in Pennsylvania.

Siger was the keynote speaker at the 2023 Legislation Education & Advocacy Day (LEAD) — held at Mohegan Pennsylvania.

Lindsay Griffin-Boylan, President/CEO of the Greater Wyoming Valley Chamber of Commerce, said LEAD “is an exciting event that gives attendees an opportunity to learn about advocacy on the local and state level.”

Griffin-Boylan added, “Presented in partnership with our regional Chambers, LEAD is designed to further attendees’ knowledge of the legislative process, grassroots advocacy, and major current statewide and national policy initiatives.”

The event was co-chaired by Alana Roberts of PPL Electric Utilities, and Camaryn Lokuta of Coal Creative.

Siger talked about the Commonwealth’s efforts to grow the economy and build a better future for Pennsylvanians. He said he is committed to helping small businesses thrive, spurring innovation, and increasing opportunities in communities to make Pennsylvania a national leader in growth and innovation.

Siger said great communities attract great companies and great workers.

“We will work to revitalize and address challenges facing Pennsylvania’s downtowns, Main streets and Elm streets,” Siger said. “A regional grant model can encourage regional alignment and collaboration on identifying and maximizing their strengths.”

During his presentation, Siger said the Shapiro Administration’s goal is to cultivate and economy where all Pennsylvanians have access to family-sustaining jobs, strong and vibrant communities and a high quality of life.

“We want to increase Pennsylvania’s economic competitiveness to become a leader amongst peers in job creation and innovation,” Siger said.

Griffin-Boylan said the LEAD conference offered a day filled with in formation, discussion and exchanging of ideas.

“Days like today are very important for the community to come together to talk about these legislative topics that affect our region’s future,”Griffin-Boylan said. “It’s so important to bring together our students, our businesses, our residents, our nonprofits, and our elected officials to collaboratively discuss and problem-solve our region’s most pressing issues.”

Griffin-Boylan thanked Secretary Siger and all the legislators and community leaders who took the time to speak at the conference, and everyone who attended and supported the event.

“I would also like to thank all our regional Chamber partners, our committee members, and our event co-chairs, who made this day possible,” she said.

Siger also discussed the new pilot program called PA SITES (Pennsylvania Strategic Investments to Enhance Sites) that will provide $10 million in grant funding to conduct site assessments and prepare them for remediation.

The pilot PA SITES program was created by Gov. Josh Shapiro thanks to an additional $13 million in PA First funding the governor fought for — and secured — in the 2023-24 bipartisan budget.

Starting next week, Siger said the Shapiro Administration will hold listening sessions with business and economic development leaders across Pennsylvania to ensure their feedback is heard and incorporated into the creation of the strategy.

State Rep. Rep. Jim Haddock, D-Pittston Township, participated in a roundtable discussion on improving barriers to the work force. Also participating were John Blake of U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright’s office; Teri Ooms, Executive Director of The Institute; and Laurinda Guarriello, Regional Director at Community Services for Children, Inc.

Haddock said the 2023-2024 state budget calls for:

• $14 million increase (13.3%) for Career and Technical Education.

• $9.45 mgillion increase (170.3%) for Career and Technical Education Equipment grants.

• $10 million for new Student Teacher Stipend program to support students who are doing their student teaching.

• Agricultural Business and Workforce Investment — $300,000 increase (6.7%); agriculture is PA’s #1 industry.

• $3 million increase (60%) for workforce development in DCED.

• Increases for child care programs, which are important because many people have a hard time finding work because of the need for child care.

Earlier this year, Haddock said Gov. Shapiro eliminated the college education requirement for many state jobs.

Ooms, Executive Director of The Institute, presented on “Institute Insights on the Region.” Participating were Mayor Paige Cognetti of Scranton, Mayor Michael Lombardo of Pittston, and Mayor Jeff Cusat of Hazleton. The panel was moderated by Don Brominski, UGI Utilities, Inc. & GWVC Public Affairs Committee.

“The tight labor market underscores the need to focus on preparing a strong, innovative, and diverse workforce to meet current and future demand,” Ooms said. “The region’s schools and higher education institutions are strong, but challenges remain including closing disparities between wealthier and less affluent school districts and anticipating the skills that will be needed in a rapidly changing economy.”

Ooms said for the region to be its strongest, collaboration must be fostered across lines that divide the region — geographic, political, and between sectors.

“It also means creating strong connections between organizations and the communities they serve to boost volunteerism, civic engagement, participation in local decision making, and hometown pride,” Ooms said. “A strong region requires thoughtful investment in the physical infrastructure, amenities, and overall quality of life that makes a place attractive to live, work, visit, or do business.”

While the region’s environmental qualities and safe communities are assets, Ooms said further investment in infrastructure as well as arts and culture will serve to enhance the regional standard of living.

Ooms said inequities can be rooted in societal, structural, and situational dynamics, which can all carry impact in our communities and make access to opportunities uneven.

“Addressing these underlying inequities first requires recognizing the barriers that exist,” Ooms said. “Mitigating these experiences and improving equity by linking community members to the resources they need will, in turn, foster resilience.”

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.