‘Together we can grow Pennsylvania’

For as long as I can remember, I have had a passion for the citizens of our Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

I have had the real pleasure of spending time in every part of our state and have met and listened to the stories of countless Pennsylvanians. Through these conversations, this much became clear: the opportunities for our commonwealth in this century truly lie within its people.

Yet, between 2010 and 2015, in Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, population declined in 42 of them.

Overall, Pennsylvania’s population increased just 0.7 percent — not surprisingly, mostly in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. If we are to attract people to Pennsylvania, we must start by growing our economy and providing the jobs needed to keep them here.

I firmly believe we have a unique opportunity to build an agenda for growth and prosperity for Pennsylvania now. This agenda is not rocket science, rather a collective effort to galvanize and mobilize an array of players focused on a pro-growth agenda.

They included transforming our higher education system so that it will serve as a magnet to retain and attract a growing number of citizens to our commonwealth.

As chair of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Post-Secondary Education in 2012, I had the opportunity to work with many thoughtful and innovative academics, business people and civic leaders to develop a roadmap for higher ed in the 21st century.

Some of the ideas we supported include:

A passport for lifelong learning that takes advantage of next-generation apps and opportunities to continually re-engage citizens who will need to refresh and update their skill sets for an ever-changing technology-driven world. Others include:

– A 21st-century innovation agenda for our commonwealth to serve as a magnet for entrepreneurs from around the globe.

– Capital investments in our Tier I research institutions.

– Public state colleges and universities becoming the go-to source for continuing education for lifelong learning.

Modernizing all aspects of our infrastructure, from our roads and bridges to our water and wastewater systems and the pipelines that transport it, to our digital network that is so vital for our continued prosperity, including:

– Public and private partnerships that transform our roadways to improve mobility and encourage transit options.

– Expand compressed natural gas refueling stations and related infrastructure to build demand for shale gas and cleaner burning vehicles.

– Modernize our ports for inter-coastal shipping of liquefied natural gas and exports abroad.

– Upgrade our wastewater and treatment systems with specific emphasis on solving combined sewer overflow issues.

Encouraging innovation in Pennsylvania’s health care delivery system so that our commonwealth leads the nation in consumer-driven quality healthcare to include:

– Addressing the challenge of long-term care for an aging population.

– Bolstering Medicaid expansion in the face of federal funding reductions.

– Modernizing e-records and shared data between healthcare entities to drive innovation and collaboration.

The time to act is now.

In an age of hyper-ideology, micro-special interests and social media segmentation, I believe it is time to think broadly about our commonwealth and its people and develop and enact a pro-growth plan for prosperity that will stave off population decline, increase personal income and create jobs for current and future Pennsylvanians.

Over the past two years, the Chamber has been working with a myriad of economic interests, local chambers of commerce, organized labor and various professional associations, on what is emerging as a modern approach to agenda setting for our Commonwealth.

Specifically, we are seeking to build an agenda around the future of Pennsylvania’s economic growth to engage candidates of the 2018 gubernatorial and legislative elections.

Grow PA is a statewide initiative to convene people and organizations throughout Pennsylvania to establish a modern economic growth agenda for the 21st century that transforms post-secondary education, modernizes all facets of our infrastructure and accelerates the development of innovation in healthcare technology and delivery.

Visit us here or email me to learn more. Let’s get to work.

Robert C. Wonderling, a former Republican state senator from the Lehigh Valley based 24th District, is president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia and chairman of the CEO Council for Growth. He writes from Philadelphia.