Pa. receives $500M investment from Australia company

Gov. Josh Shapiro and Pratt Industries announced a commitment Monday to invest $500 million and create hundreds of jobs in Pennsylvania over the next 10 years. 

Pratt Industries Executive Global Chairman Anthony Pratt joined with Shapiro and Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) Secretary Rick Siger to announce the investment at the corrugated packaging company’s plant in Carlisle. 

“I want to plant a flag and make it clear to companies across the country and around the world that Pennsylvania is open for business,” Shapiro said in a statement. “Having Pratt Industries invest a total of $1 billion in Pennsylvania and create hundreds of new jobs is a clear sign that the commonwealth is a place where global businesses can grow and succeed.

“Whether they’re based in Australia or Allegheny County, we are showing the private sector that an investment in our Commonwealth is a worthwhile one – and companies that commit to moving and growing here know that the Commonwealth will be an active partner, and that we’ll work as hard for them as they work for their customers and employees.”

As part of its new commitment, Pratt Industries will invest in recycling, remanufacturing, and clean energy infrastructure. The company has invested $500 million in Pennsylvania and employs more than 800 total workers at its facilities in Carlisle (Cumberland County), Reading (Berks County), East Greenville (Montgomery County) and Macungie and Emmaus (both in Lehigh County).

“Pratt Industries is proud to employ more than 800 Pennsylvanians across the state in high-paying, green collar, advanced manufacturing jobs, and our total culminative investment in Pennsylvania now exceeds $500 million,” said Anthony Pratt.

“As part of that commitment, and as a result of Governor Shapiro’s leadership, I’m honored today to pledge a further investment of $500 million in recycling, remanufacturing and clean energy infrastructure over the next ten years, to create hundreds of new jobs in the great state of Pennsylvania. Our investments will allow the company to grow for years to come, supporting our customers, employees, and the community.”

Through the DCED, Pennsylvania in 2011 provided Pratt Industries with a more than $1.3 million funding offer to locate a box manufacturing plant in Macungie that helped create 125 jobs. 

“We compete every day with other states and countries for global business investments like this one,” Siger said. “Under Governor Shapiro’s leadership, Pennsylvania is working aggressively to keep companies here and attract businesses from around the world looking to grow and succeed in our commonwealth. We’re moving at the speed of business to ensure more companies like Pratt Industries choose to grow here in Pennsylvania.”

Originating in Australia, Pratt Industries is America’s fifth largest corrugated packaging company and the world’s largest, privately held producer of 100% recycled containerboard. The company operates manufacturing facilities in more than 25 states.

Pratt Industries has received assistance from DCED’s Office of International Business Development, which offers customized services to help international companies seeking to expand in Pennsylvania.

Pa. rating outlook upgraded by Moody’s agency

Pennsylvania’s rating outlook has been upgraded to positive and its Aa3 issuer rating reaffirmed, according to the credit rating agency Moody’s. 

Gov. Josh Shapiro said the rating reaffirms that the state is on sound financial footing and that Pennsylvania is on a path for continued economic growth. 

“Together with leaders in both parties, we passed a bipartisan, commonsense budget that makes historic investments in Pennsylvania schools and businesses, supports our law enforcement and first responders, and makes our families healthier,” Shapiro said in a statement. 

“I’m proud that Pennsylvania has been recognized for our sound financial management – and my administration will keep working to grow our economy and ensure the commonwealth’s fiscal outlook remains strong.” 

As Pennsylvania’s previous rating had been “Stable”, the governor’s office issued a release stating the upgrade to “Positive” affirms that the state’s economy and budgeting practices are solid. Pennsylvania’s positive outlook is based on what Moody’s described as “the significant increase in budget reserves over the past three fiscal years to levels consistent with higher rated peers. We expect that core rainy day reserves will remain near current levels due to sound budget management and continued steady revenue growth.”  

The assessment is one of several metrics of the state’s economy and fiscal stability, but according to Moody’s, it’s an important measurement of Pennsylvania’s financial outlook. 

State Senator Scott Martin, R-Lancaster, credited the upgrade to Senate Republicans resisting calls for billions in new spending and taxes and fought for more responsible and sustainable approaches to budgeting. 

“We made it a top priority over the past three years to build up our Rainy Day Fund and avoid recklessly draining fund balances and budgetary reserves,” said Martin. “We also avoided dangerous pitfalls like spending one-time emergency funds on recurring expenses. It is encouraging to know that all these responsible decisions are making a real difference. 

“We have done everything in our power to protect taxpayer dollars and put our commonwealth on better financial footing, and this announcement shows that we are on the right track. This news confirms that Pennsylvania is stronger today because of the tough choices we have made over the past several years. It also serves as a valuable reminder that we shouldn’t deviate from that path in the years ahead.”

Secretary of the Budget Uri Monson said sound financial management makes a difference in the lives of Pennsylvanians every day, adding that the rating and upgraded outlook “affirm that the Shapiro Administration is making responsible decisions to ensure fiscal stability for our commonwealth.”

Shapiro also announced that Pennsylvania has received the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for the Annual Budget for fiscal year 2023-24 and the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association. According to a press release from the governor’s office, the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting is the highest form of recognition in governmental accounting and financial reporting.

Survey ranks Pa. among state’s top employers

A new survey conducted by Forbes Magazine and Statista ranks Pennsylvania among the leading employers in the state. 

On the list of 97 state employers, Pennsylvania is one of four government entities to be named, Gov. Josh Shapiro announced. 

“The commonwealth offers Pennsylvanians a chance to serve one another every day,” Shapiro said in a statement. “We’re emphasizing skills and experience in hiring for government jobs and state troopers, investing in mental health resources for our employees and their families, and expanding internship and apprenticeship programs to bring more people into state government to create new pipelines for talent.”

Secretary of Administration Neil Weaver said state agencies need qualified employees to help deliver services relied on by residents.

“I believe the opportunity to have a rewarding career and make a positive impact through public service makes us stand apart from most employers,” said Weaver. “Our recruiters are attending hundreds of job fairs each year in schools and communities across the state to raise awareness about all that we have to offer.”

Skills and experience are emphasized in state hiring, along with the following:

  • Expanding internship opportunities for high school and college students to raise awareness of public service and create new pipelines for talent. 
  • Creating internships and apprenticeships for non-degree students pursuing careers in a variety of fields. 
  • Offering the William and Hannah Penn Fellowship for job seekers with advanced degrees. 
  • Establishing a Commonwealth Chief Diversity Officer to lead diversity, equity, belonging, and inclusion initiatives across Commonwealth agencies.

Another recent survey by Forbes and Statista had Pennsylvania ranked nationally as a leading employer by recent college graduates.

Forbes partnered with market research firm Statista to survey 70,000 employees across the U.S. Participants were asked if they would recommend their employer to family and friends, and to evaluate their employer on company image, compensation packages, diversity, potential for development, and working conditions.

Shapiro executive order seeks to increase opportunities for small diverse businesses

Opening new business opportunities for Pennsylvania’s small businesses and small diverse businesses and improving procurement practices are the aims of Executive Order 2023-18, signed Tuesday by Gov. Josh Shapiro. 

“We need to do more to help our small and small diverse businesses compete for state dollars,” Shapiro said in a statement. “That will require policies like those I’m announcing today, but most importantly, it will require a governor who gives a damn and makes sure these businesses are part of our collective progress. It’s not just the right thing to do – it’s the smart thing to do. 

“By supporting our small diverse businesses, we’ll not only grow our economy and strengthen our communities – we’ll also create more competition for commonwealth business and secure higher quality products and better results for all Pennsylvanians.” 

Lieutenant Gov. Austin Davis said he has seen firsthand that small businesses owned by women and Black and brown Pennsylvanians are vital to communities. 

 “We must support small-business owners by cutting red tape and putting resources into economic development and innovation,” said Davis. “That’s why today’s executive order is so important. We’re going to go out and actively encourage small businesses and small diverse business owners to compete for government contracts and become commonwealth vendors.” 

Shapiro’s executive order directs the Department of General Services (DGS) to coordinate efforts with agencies to increase their participation in the state’s Small Business Reserve (SBR) program, foster greater competitive procurement, and increase the amount of money directed to small and small diverse businesses.  

The order also establishes the Pennsylvania Advisory Council for Inclusive Procurement (PACIP) to advise agencies on ways to make state contracting opportunities more inclusive.

“Actions like this will continue changing the narrative around doing business with the commonwealth and build up Pennsylvania’s small business community – and we are moving at the speed of business,” DGS Secretary Reggie McNeil said.

DGS and PennDOT will partner to improve Pennsylvania’s contracting environment to increase its small business and small diverse business spending as a percentage of all dollars paid for goods and services by the agencies for their respective programs.

Under the new order, both agencies will also conduct outreach to the small diverse business community and provide technical support to qualifying small businesses interested in competing for state contracts. DGS and PennDOT will also designate employees to serve on an interagency working group that will assist the PACIP.

Della Clark, president and CEO of The Enterprise Center, said lifting up small and diverse businesses requires institutional buy-in at all levels.

“We view this executive order as the first step to combining contracts, capital, and expertise to intentionally grow small and diverse led businesses across the commonwealth,” said Clark.

Shapiro Administration launches Office of Outdoor Recreation

Gov. Josh Shapiro on Thursday launched Pennsylvania’s Office of Outdoor Recreation, highlighting the 2023-24 budget’s $112 million budget investment in state parks and forests – the largest in decades. 

“Our state parks and outdoor recreation industry are key to Pennsylvania’s economy – hosting nearly 40 million visitors each year and boosting local businesses and the local economy in and around our parks,” Shapiro said. “When we invest real money to make our natural resources more accessible for Pennsylvanians, it helps communities and businesses grow and thrive.” 

The focus of the Pennsylvania Office of Outdoor Recreation will be on growing an outdoor sector that contributes $14 billion to the state’s economy and accounts for 152,000 jobs. 

To create a strategy for the growth and expansion of the outdoor sector, the Office of Outdoor Recreation will coordinate with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), the departments of Community and Economic Development and Health, PennDOT, and others. 

“The budget that I recently signed delivers on the promise of a new Pennsylvania Office of Outdoor Recreation to strengthen our communities and grow the commonwealth’s outdoor economy,” Shapiro said.

Record-setting PUC chair/commissioner ends tenure; commission confirms replacements

Gladys Brown Dutrieuille retired recently as Public Utilities Commission Chairman and Commissioner, ending a record-setting tenure that lasted more than a decade.

The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) on Wednesday recognized Gov. Josh Shapiro’s appointment of Commissioner Stephen DeFrank as the new chairman and welcomed Kim Barrow as commissioner.

Dutrieuille’s retirement capped her extensive career in public service. Appointed as PUC chairman in 2015 by Gov. Tom Corbett and then reappointed under Govs. Tom Wolf and Shapiro, she became the longest-serving female commissioner and chair, the longest-serving Black commissioner and chair, and the longest-serving chair in close to half a century. Her tenure on the commission marked two of only three periods in state history when two women have served together on the PUC.

Dutrieuille said in a statement that her advice to others is to prepare themselves for the opportunity that will come their way.

Being open to opportunity encompasses the length and breadth of my professional career with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” said Dutrieuille. “That path has never been a straight line from point A to point B. However, it has been a path where I have been challenged to grow professionally.”

Dutrieuille said every opportunity prepared her for the next.  Serving as legal counsel in the Senate Democratic Caucus, where she worked on a variety of issues, prepared her for an appointment as a commissioner with the Commission, and the role of chairman.

DeFrank spoke to the importance of energy issues and to PUC’s mission of providing reliable public utility services at reasonable rates.

“We are in the midst of the largest and most substantial changes in our energy landscape ever witnessed, impacting families and businesses across the commonwealth along with the public utilities that serve our communities,” said DeFrank. “The reliability, availability, and affordability of energy is vital for us all – as is the need to address the ongoing evolution in how we generate, distribute, use, and value power.”

DeFrank, who recently served as PUC vice chairman, joined the commission in September 2022 following a nomination by Wolf. He was confirmed by the Pennsylvania Senate in October.

Prior to joining the PUC, DeFrank worked as government relations professional at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney. He spent 24 years in state government, including serving as chief of staff/executive director to Senator Lisa Boscola, D-Lehigh.

Barrow, who has been involved in the utility regulation industry for more than two decades, was approved unanimously Wednesday by the Pennsylvania Senate, following unanimous recommendations by the Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee.

“The mission of the PUC is to balance the needs of consumers and utilities,” Barrow wrote in her testimony to the Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee.

“Achieving that balance between the needs of consumers and utilities is difficult, but as a veteran PUC employee, as an attorney and as a mother, I am up to that challenge of balancing important competing interests.”

Barrow served as Chief of Staff for Dutrieuille since 2013. From 2008 to 2013, Barrow served as Chief of Staff in the Office of Commissioner Wayne Gardner.

Business leaders, legislators address hot-button issue of permitting reform

Business and labor agreeing can be a rare thing, as PA Chamber President and CEO Luke Bernstein has stated. 

So, too, is the sight of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents joining together on bipartisan legislation. 

Yet both are becoming commonplace when the topic is permitting reform, a hot-button issue at the forefront of Pennsylvania’s drive to improve its competitiveness and expand economic opportunities for business and workforce. 

“I think the bottom line is that Pennsylvania needs to be more competitive,” Bernstein said Tuesday in a press conference addressing permitting reform in the state. “We’ve lost 40,000 residents to other states in the last year alone. We rank in the bottom five for businesses leaving. 

“But here’s the good news: There’s bipartisan consensus in Harrisburg to get generational opportunity for reform across the finish line fast. That will lead to more jobs, that will lead to a stronger Pennsylvania economy. Everyone agrees this is a bipartisan issue, and everyone agrees that cutting the permitting process in terms of streamlining it, we can be more effective. Pennsylvania loses out in critical investments if we have an antiquated, outdated permitting structure.” 

Bernstein pointed to recent examples of Pennsylvania losing businesses and workers because of its permitting system. U.S. Steel built a $3 billion investment, encompassing 900 jobs with average salaries of more than $100,000, in Arkansas. The state’s governor at the time, Asa Hutchinson, remarked that the next generation steel mills would be built faster in Arkansas than Pennsylvania could permit them. 

Bernstein also cited a company in Pittsburgh, Astrobiotic Technology, that he said is creating a Lunar Lander that’s going to hit the moon’s surface. 

“It was apparent to me that it’s easier to get a permit to go to the moon than it is to build a new project in Moon Township, Pennsylvania,” he said. 

Advocates of permitting reform see it as crucial to building a modernized public infrastructure, continuing to provide energy, goods, and services required in an economy grown increasingly diverse, and establishing advanced manufacturing hubs in innovative industries. Bernstein said reforms can be made in the permitting process without removing environmental restrictions. 

The state’s permitting process as it stands now is considered costly, time consuming, and a sizeable detractor to job growth and investment. The PA Chamber supports the following reforms to aid in new projects being permitted and built: 

  • Third-party review of permits – With state agencies reporting workforce challenges, the PA Chamber recommends providing permitting agencies be given the option to contract with qualified third parties to assist with the technical review of permits. 
  • Codify the governor’s one-stop shop – The PA Chamber stood with the Shapiro Administration and leaders from business and organized labor for the signing of an executive order to establish a one-stop shop to streamline permits for key projects. The chamber recommends codifying this office into statute to provide long-term durability to the approach. 
  • Streamlined permit appeals – Once a permit is issued, it is possible the decision could be challenged in court. The PA Chamber recommends limiting review for permit challenges going before the Environmental Hearing Board to issues raised during public comment. 
  • Stop draining agency resources – Permit review times are protracted in part because of DEP, should it lose a permit appeal, potentially being on the hook for attorney’s fees. The PA Chamber supports state government having the resources to do its job by limiting awarding of legal fees only in cases of bad faith. 
  • Shot clocks and deemed approved – As timely permit decisions are necessary to get projects financed and built, the PA Chamber recommends a timeframe for permits to be reviewed and issued and deemed approved if the agency does not make a decision in the time defined in statute. 

The PA Chamber fronted a group of 68 business associations and local chambers of commerce in sending a letter on May 8 to Gov. Josh Shapiro and members of the state legislature. The letter urged decisive action in reforming a permitting system the group deemed “dysfunctional and unpredictable.” 

Two days later, the Pennsylvania Senate approved permitting reforms aimed at streamlining and expediting the permitting process. Senate Bill 350 was sponsored by Sens. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) and Greg Rothman (R-Cumberland/Dauphin/Perry) and it built on executive orders Shapiro signed earlier this year that are designed to reduce permitting delays and government red tape. The bill was referred on May 18 to the State Senate, which reconvenes in September. 

“Permitting delays affect everyone,” said Phillips-Hill, an experienced small business owner who noted that government red tape got its name from the red tape that was manufactured in York. “People can’t wait for days to get an answer from their state government. What is going on with government if you have to wait because the state can’t issue you that certificate? 

“I think it’s why we have so much bipartisan support for such an initiative.” 

Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh/Northampton) said increased accountability and transparency are needed in the permitting process. 

“One place where government can relay stymie the job creation process is the permitting process,” said Boscola. “It seems one of my No. 1 jobs now, rather than legislating, is navigating this permitting process.” 

Boscola said delays can make or break projects, be it broadband, construction of roads and homes, pipelines, etc. 

“The Lehigh Valley is a very growing area,” she said. “But a lot of times it’s the permitting process that’s holding up future development.” 

Boscola said it’s encouraging to see business and labor, Democrats and Republicans come together on the common goal of finding what needs to be done to have government working for people and not against them. 

“By speeding up the permitting process, we can get these projects moving faster and get working,” Boscola said.

Help may be on the way to alleviate Pa. nursing crisis

Pennsylvania is moving to implement the Nurse Licensure Compact by allowing nurses with multistate licenses issued by 40 other states and territories to practice in Pennsylvania, Secretary of the Commonwealth Al Schmidt announced Tuesday. 

The Shapiro Administration said in a press release it expects this step to address Pennsylvania’s nursing shortage and increase and improve health care access across the state. 

“By implementing this first phase of Pennsylvania’s engagement in the NLC, we are expanding opportunities for patients and providing hospitals and health systems with access to an approved, vetted group of licensed RNs and LPN,” Schmidt said.

Registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) who hold a multistate license through the interstate Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) will be permitted to practice in Pennsylvania beginning Sept. 5. The NLC is administered by the National Council for State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and serves as an agreement among 41 states and territories to recognize nurses licensed by compact members. Act 68 of 2021 authorized Pennsylvania to join the NLC, which increases patients’ access to in-person and telehealth care.

In his first month in office, Gov. Josh Shapiro signed an executive order that catalogued each of the 2,400 permits, certificates, and licenses Pennsylvania issues and set timelines for each of them.

According to a survey conducted in November 2022by The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP), vacancy rates for RNs providing direct care have reached 30%. Allowing qualified RNs and LPNs to practice in Pennsylvania will expand the pool of recruits for hospitals and health care facilities and should help alleviate burdens on overworked nursing staffs.

“This is a critical first step in the full implementation of the Nurse Licensure Compact,” said Schmidt. “The Department of State continues to work diligently with its state and federal partners to satisfy the preconditions necessary to fully implement the NLC. Once that occurs, Pennsylvania’s State Board of Nursing will be able to issue NLC multistate licenses to Pennsylvania nurses, allowing them to practice in compact member states and territories.”

Preconditions for implementing the NLC include certifying to other compact states that Pennsylvania’s State Board of Nursing has performed FBI criminal background checks on Pennsylvania applicants. The process requires FBI authorization, and the Department of State is awaiting a response.

Schmidt said Pennsylvania is also ensuring that other technical and regulatory requirements can be met so that the commonwealth can fully implement the NLC as quickly as possible once FBI approval is received.

Sen. Lisa Boscola served as the prime sponsor of the legislation that became Act 68.

“Our hospitals and health care systems need nurses now,” said Boscola. “Allowing nurses who have a compact license from another state to start work without unnecessary bureaucratic hoops to jump through is a great first step. I will continue to work to ensure this compact is fully implemented in Pennsylvania because our nurses deserve the full benefits of being a compact state.”

Rep. Bridget Kosierowski is a registered nurse who sponsored the House bill that led to Act 68.

“While there is still work to do to get to full implementation of the compact, as a nearly 30-year registered nurse, I am very clear about the critical need for increasing the number of nurses in our Commonwealth,” she said. “I am grateful and excited that the Department of State has taken this positive action that hopefully will not only increase the availability of nurses but will also help to lessen the incredible burden of paperwork the Department has to process.”

Nicole Stallings, president and CEO of The Hospital and HAP, said Tuesday’s announcement is an important step to bringing more nurses to the bedside to care for Pennsylvanians.

“HAP thanks the Shapiro Administration for its action on this initiative and its ongoing efforts to finalize Pennsylvania’s implementation of this compact,” said Stallings.

Maureen May, an R.N. and president of PASNAP, the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, called it “critically important” to alleviate the hospital staffing crisis.

“By drawing more nurses to PA, the Nurse Licensure Compact will help ensure that, at this very critical time, our hospitals are amply staffed and that our nurses are able to give the care they want and have been trained to give,” said May.