Businesses face challenges under new gov’t lineup

Businesses will face challenges under the new Congress.

That was the message Thursday from Kevin Courtois, congressional and public affairs manager of the Great Lakes Region of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who addressed the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Club.

Democrats taking control of the House of Re­presentatives and Re­publicans maintaining control of the Senate is not all bad news, Courtois said.

“A divided government does not mean gridlock. There are opportunities for next year. Democrats and Republicans at the end of the last session showed they can work together on important issues,” Courtois said.

Courtois said he was not surprised that Democrats won control of the House.

“The last 38 midterm elections when we had a new president with control of both houses, only three times did the party hold onto that. The odds were stacked against Republicans,” Courtois said.

Courtois said the next election starts now.

“For the U.S. Chamber, the next election starts right away. Our priorities don’t change as a business community. We are trying to determine what can get done. We have a divided government; that doesn’t mean there will be a standoff and nothing will get done. We see opportunities for policies to benefit the business community. Some have a better chance to get through with a divided government,” Courtois said.

Immigration is an important issue.

“We need to see reform to the legal immigration system to meet our workforce needs. Both parties agree that the workforce is the No. 1 issue. We will encourage them to work together to address the workforce shortage of skilled workers. We need to bring American workers back into the workforce who have been sidelined,” Courtois said. “We are looking for a comprehensive plan to secure the borders.”

Workforce development is a big issue in the area, said President/CEO Joe Hurd of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce.

“Workforce development is the elephant in the room of every decision everybody has regarding the future of our local economy. Last year was the first time when our public policy committee put together its priorities that immigration was a point of discussion. That is something we need to take into consideration. No one is advocating illegal immigration,” Hurd said. “We are starting to see indications that businesses are struggling to find qualified workers. It is a situation that will get worse before it gets better.”

Infrastructure is another key issue.

“President Trump was the first president to talk about an infrastructure plan in his inauguration address. There may be more of a chance to get an infrastructure package through. The problem is deciding how to pay for it,” Courtois said.

But challenges lie ahead.

“We have good opportunities to get things done and also opportunities to get bad policies through. Another challenge is uncertainty; people hate uncertainty. We will have to work with more uncertainty as a result of a divided government,” Courtois said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is 946-7467.