Address Pa.’s declining population

The facts are undeniable.

Over the past 50 years, we’ve witnessed a decline in population and a decline in overall economic growth. Today, Pennsylvania’s problems are masked by a strong national economy and seemingly positive employment numbers.

Sadly, Pennsylvanians are leaving the workforce in record numbers through retirement, relocation or by simply stopping to look for full time employment.

While Philadelphia has seen an increase in population, almost every local economy across the commonwealth suffers from similar challenges — namely, slow growth and population retention. In fact, without the five counties in southeastern Pennsylvania, the commonwealth would be second to last in population growth behind Mississippi.

How can we have a Pennsyl­vania without Pennsylvanians whose efforts and initiative create jobs, individual pros­perity and community? Who will create our commonwealth?

I believe that, together, we all can. I am just one of a growing number of Pennsylvanians who are committed to building an overarching growth agenda for our commonwealth that will stem the tide of decline and result in population, income and job growth.

Since 2016, a hearty band of economic interests, local chambers of commerce, organized labor and various professional associations have been working on what is emerging as a modern approach to agenda setting for our Commonwealth: Grow PA.

Specifically, we are seeking to build an agenda around the future of Pennsylvania’s economic growth under three pillars: higher education, health care innovation and modernizing all facets of our infrastructure.

To date, approximately 3,000 Pennsylvanians representing dozens of organizations from all across our commonwealth have joined the Grow Pennsylvania movement. We are working locally, regionally and statewide to develop an ever-growing list of “Big Ideas” that will result in the emerging Grow Pennsyl­vania Agenda.

This “open source” agenda will drive the future of our commonwealth’s economy. It will be a magnate for people from around the world to come to Pennsylvania. It will create jobs.

Most importantly, it will provide a reason for our young citizens to once again believe that they have a future in our Pennsylvania.

Recently, we’ve met with groups in State College, Hershey and Blue Bell. We talked about infrastructure, healthcare innovation, and higher ed. These are some of the highlights from those discussions:

– Infrastructure

People from all facets of infrastructure came together at Penn State to talk about the obvious — roads, bridges and transit, but also energy, water, trails, ports and crossing the digital divide.

Participants liked the idea of issuing an infrastructure bond to make huge investments in transportation and our research institutions at Tier I universities.

They supported ideas to ensure internet access for all and preparing for 5G. And they liked investing in clean energy infrastructure.

– Healthcare innovation

Health care leaders from a broad spectrum of professionals actively engaged in a conversa­tion about growing and im­proving digital health care services.

From checking your heart rate on your watch to online doctor consultations from your home, participants want to see growth in better and more personal precision medicine.

– Higher education

This group focused upon making better connections between community colleges, businesses and training kids for jobs that haven’t been created yet. One interesting conversation focused on identifying high demand industries and developing a student-loan forgiveness program for students within those industries to encourage recent grads to stay in Pa.

Over the coming weeks, Grow PA stakeholders will be gathering throughout the Commonwealth to discuss the ideas collected over the past two years.

The intent is to prioritize this list into an agenda for economic growth that will be presented to the governor’s office and general assembly in Harrisburg for the 2019 legislative session. Together, we will Grow Pennsylvania.

Rob Wonderling, a former Repub­lican state senator, is president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia and chairman of the CEO Council for Growth.

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