Workforce challenges in rural communities subject of public hearing

Workforce challenges faced by employers in rural communities were voiced by PA Chamber Director of Government Affairs Kevin Sunday this week in a public hearing hosted by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. 

Held at Penn College, the hearing included participants from PA Chamber members, UPMC, University of Pittsburgh, Penn State, Coterra Energy, Shippensburg University, and Penn College. Leaders from Pennsylvania’s energy and healthcare sectors along with agency officials, educators, and nonprofit associations were also on hand. 

Sunday testified on workforce challenges in rural communities, highlighting the importance of improving Pennsylvania’s economic competitiveness through favorable tax and regulatory policies. He said the PA Chamber’s goal is to make Pennsylvania the most economically competitive state in the country. 

“This requires a tax and regulatory environment that encourages investment into the state,” Sunday said in a release. 

Sunday emphasized the need to support economic growth across Pennsylvania through modernized infrastructure. 

“We need modernized infrastructure across the state – from a safe and efficient system of roads and bridges to world-class airports and ports, to reliable gas, electric, and water infrastructure, and, just as important, access to high-speed broadband,” he said.

Sunday restated the chamber’s support for efforts to improve Pennsylvania’s workforce by addressing key issues such as affordable childcare, occupational licensing requirements, re-entry into the workforce following incarceration, and childcare for working families.

Noting Pennsylvania’s population decline, Sunday called for policymakers to focus on creating an environment in the state promotes population growth and attracts investment. Citing IRS data showing that businesses and citizens are leaving Pennsylvania for states with better economic climates, he urged a close look at regional economic needs and population migration trends.

“Reforms to the state’s tax and regulatory structure help everywhere,” said Sunday, “but it is certainly the case that each region of the state has its own key industries.”

Sunday reiterated the PA Chamber’s commitment to working with the Shapiro Administration, state legislature, local communities, and other key stakeholders to deal with Pennsylvania’s workforce challenges.

Pennsylvania’s skill video games legislation could generate $300m in tax revenue

An estimated $300 million in immediate tax revenue could be the result of new legislation aimed at establishing a taxing structure and regulatory framework for skill video games in Pennsylvania. 

Small business owners, lawmakers, members of the Pennsylvania Taverns and Players Association (PA TAP) and veterans expressed their support at the State Capitol last week for legislation for skill video games in the state. 

Sponsored by State Senator Gene Yaw, R-Bradford/Lycoming/Sullivan, the legislation could bring millions in tax revenue and would help eliminate from the market illegal and unlicensed games. 

Yaw said if anyone wanted to know the importance of skill games, they should visit a family-owned market in Lebanon County, a VFW in Bucks County, or a neighborhood market in western Pennsylvania. 

“Skill games are a piece of the small business economy in our state, and we heard from supporters from all walks of life on the importance of the revenue they provide,” Yaw said in a statement. “It is time we recognize the benefits of this emerging industry and offer regulatory support, so we can ensure it flourishes safely and responsibly.” 

LaVar Arrington, former Penn State and NFL player and proponent of skill games community support and charitable giving, was among those promoting the proposal at the Capitol on April 25. 

Nicole Miele, owner of Miele Manufacturing, a Lycoming-based manufacturer of skill game terminals located in Yaw’s senate district, said skill games are built in Pennsylvania and 90% of the revenue from the finished products stay in the state and help support their communities. 

“Skill games mean good-paying, family sustaining jobs across the board,” Miele said. “As the legal skill game business grows, so does the small business community.” 

The proposed legislation incudes a valid I.D. requirement to play and a limit on the number of machines in each establishment. All games will be required to be connected to a terminal collection and control system that allows the state to monitor transactions and ensure that taxes are accrued and paid. 

In addition, the legislation will strengthen penalties for illegal and unlicensed games and gambling devices.

Penn State study looks at Pennsylvania’s iGaming industry

With Pennsylvania being one of only six states in the country with the full gamut of interacting gaming, Penn State University has conducted its second annual study of iGaming habits to help combat problem gambling. 

Looking at the 2021-2022 fiscal year, the study showed there were 19 statewide iGaming operators and 14 online sports betting locations. 

During the year operators generated $1.2 billion in revenue from iGaming, $267 million from online sports betting, and $27million from fantasy sports 

The report produced a profile for the ‘typical online gambler,’ which it determined to be a white married male, mid-to-late 30s, with a college degree, employed and making more than $50,000 annually 

The report also found that 11% of Pennsylvanians participate in online gamblingcompared to 67.5% of PA adults that engaged in offline gambling during the previous year 

The study also reported a comprehensive breakdown of online gamblers, including gender, race, education, employment, and income 

The data from this study will likely be used to create more effective programs to address problem gambling. 

Penn State football’s Clifford Bros. help amateur athletes navigate NIL world

Brothers Sean Clifford, left, and Liam make for a potent combination on and off the field. PHOTO/PENN STATE ATHLETICS –

Brothers Sean and Liam Clifford made for quite a pass-catch combination for Penn State football. 

Off the field, the Nittany Lions quarterback and wide receiver, respectively, have been making for just as potent a combo when it comes to aiding amateur athletes. 

Sean finalized the sale of Limitless NIL (name, image, likeness) to TEAM Group Holdings, Inc. Limitless NIL was founded by Sean and Liam in 2022. The company looks to help student-athletes develop brands and business relationships designed for NIL. Limitless began with seven athletes and now lists more than 50 athletes under agreements. 

 Limitless NIL, LLC, announced Monday that it has joined the newly formed TEAM Group Holdings, Inc., a Pennsylvania corporation. TEAM’s branded house includes Limitless, Strategic Sports Marketing, and Sports Vault. 

Sean returned to the Nittany Lions for the 2022 season, his sixth year with the team. The Most Valuable Player of the 2023 Rose Bowl and PSU’s career passing leader said in a statement he returned to Penn State to play one more year and to work with Liam to help young athletes through Limitless NIL. 

“When I made the decision to come back to Penn State, I knew that I wanted to do something in a big way to affect college sports across all landscapes.” Sean said. “That is where Limitless NIL really came from. 

“When we first sat down to talk about our mission statement, breeding extreme ownership is indispensable to us because we see that it worked. I created a company with my brother, with a team, that had my back and still has my back to this day. And I have been so happy with the results.” 

Sean said the main point of Limitless NIL is to be “for the players by the players.” What the company seeks to do is give ownership to the players, he added, “so they can make sound decisions for themselves starting in high school.” 

Companies ranging in size from State College businesses to national brands to billion-dollar organizations have secured deals with Limitless athletes. As amateur athletes are able to build a foundation for current and future earnings at a younger age than before, Sean and his Limitless team work to aid amateur athletes as they navigate the new NIL landscape. 

TEAM President and CEO Pat Waters said before NIL was officially approved, his company planned to be a major player in NIL. 

After meeting with Sean and Liam Clifford last year, we knew our future had to include them,” said Waters. “They had multiple pieces of the puzzle already in place, including a dynamic group of entrepreneurs driving the business. I am thrilled with our newly consolidated NIL platform and eager to continue our rapid growth in 2023.” 

A wholly owned subsidiary of TEAM, Limitless continues to operate as a stand-alone brand. Its merger with TEAM will provide Limitless with the resources and tools to continue its growth. The merger enables Limitless to help athletes navigate the industry, make informed decisions, and achieve success. 

Peter Luukko, chairman of TEAM, said his company has successfully monetized professional athletes for nearly 20 years. 

“We are proud to match our values with the Limitless team,” said Luukko, “and strategically expand our reach in the NIL category.” 

COVID-era waivers expanding telehealth reimbursements set to end this year

Health care providers supercharged their telemedicine offerings as a result of the pandemic—however, how those providers will be reimbursed for virtual care moving forward is in question.  

Prior to the pandemic, most providers did not receive enough reimbursements from insurance companies to justify expanding their telehealth coverage.  

That changed when the Centers for Medicare & Medical Services, a federal agency that oversees Medicare and Medicaid programs across the country, introduced leniencies on HIPPA requirements on video software and broadened access to Medicare telehealth services.   

Third party payers followed suit by expanding their telehealth service coverage, offering advanced payments to independent health care providers and waiving fees for members using virtual care.  

Coverage that was previously based on the discretion of insurance companies, has become common across insurers, said Andy Carter, president and CEO of the Hospital Association of Pennsylvania (HAP). 

“The number one impediment to telehealth expansion was that there was no payment model that you could get return on your investment because a lot of insurers wouldn’t pay for telehealth consults or appointments,” said Carter. “COVID changed that dramatically, where immediately public payers and private payers were paying for it across the board.”  

In a 2022 report on national survey trends in telehealth use, researchers with the US Office of Health Policy noted that from March to April 2020, telehealth use skyrocketed across the country from 1% to 80% in “places where the pandemic prevalence was high.”  

Today, patient usage of telehealth is significantly down from the days of quarantine, with the report finding that percentage had dropped to around 20% among adult respondents to a survey given between Sept. 29 and Oct. 11, 2021.  

Providers see telehealth usage remaining much higher than pre-pandemic levels with the focus now turning to how providers and insurers can work together to standardize telehealth.  

Standardizing telehealth  

HAP has spent years trying to standardize telehealth protocols and practices, particularly when it comes to reimbursing providers for telehealth services.  

Their most recent effort on that front has been backing Senate Bill 705, legislation that would require insurers to pay providers no matter if that provider is in that insurers’ network.  

Carter said that in the past, the association supported bills that would provide parity between in-person and virtual care, meaning that payers would need to reimburse providers equally for either service, but the association has now agreed to leave pricing to individual payers and providers.  

“We argue that standardization is hugely important,” said Carter. “Insurance is already complicated enough and a patient’s access to care through telehealth should not be a lottery. Parity was a nonstarter for our friends in the insurance community. We agreed to new language as an alternative.”  

HAP is also currently in support of House Bill 2419, which would allow for more flexibility for the state to allow providers to offer mental health services through telehealth permanently.  

House Bill 2419 has been passed in the House and is currently awaiting consideration in the Senate.  

Pennsylvania’s COVID-era waivers that explicitly authorized telehealth services to expand during the pandemic will expire this October. 

The waivers were set to expire at the End of June and were extended by the General Assembly on June 30.  

The waivers expand access to telehealth services, increase vaccine access, allow hospitals to quickly adapt to emergencies by altering space as needed for influxes of patients, and ease regulatory barriers to clinician licensing. 

Pennsylvania does not have any statutes that will prohibit the practice of telemedicine after the waivers expire but payers will be able to stop reimbursing for telehealth.  

“Absent the current COVID driven waivers and flexibilities, we won’t sustain telehealth the way we did before COVID,” said Carter. “It’s not supposed to go away. People got used to it.”  

Providing care in the virtual space  

In the two years since providers have embraced telehealth, virtual care has had a massive impact on how the industry cares for patients.  

Providers are now looking at how things like wearable technology and remote patient monitoring can keep tabs on patient health between visits, said Christopher LaCoe, vice president of virtual health at Penn State Health.  

“We’ve moved to the point where we have all these opportunities to do checkups for diabetes. We might be able to do that stuff here and then send (the diabetic patient) to the eye doctor and not make them drive to our office,” said LaCoe, adding that educators are now taking telehealth services into consideration when they teach incoming providers. “Medical schools are putting this in their curriculum. They used to say you need to see diabetic (patients) every three months and now they say once a year.”  

LaCoe, credited the waivers, calling the changes that happened to telehealth the pandemic’s “silver lining.”  

Pittsburgh-based Highmark Health was early to the market on allowing telehealth for its providers, but prior to the pandemic, providers had little guidance on what that should look like, said Dr. Tim Law, vice president and executive medical director at Highmark.  

“Highmark said you can do telehealth, but we won’t tell you how to do it—it wasn’t front and center,” said Law, noting that changed quickly during the pandemic. “We put together a virtual care playbook. Five years ago, I don’t think anyone would have thought of doing this. It includes where to find supplies, how to access Bluetooth technology so you can do remote patient monitoring and we show them what states allow providers to work across state borders.”  

Highmark provides parity for its covered providers using telehealth with some of the states the payer operates in mandating it.  

However, even though some insurers are ahead of the curve with how they support and pay for telehealth with their covered providers, providers outside of a network may find themselves without telehealth reimbursements, said Carter.  

“Some insurers will say we provide telehealth to our covered lives. It’s only to the telehealth providers they’ve enrolled in their network,” said Carter. “That’s a model that leaves a lot of people without access to their preferred provider. Someone they know and trust.” 

West Shore Home announces NIL sponsorship with Penn State running back

Earlier this month, West Shore Home announced a multi-year endorsement deal with Penn State’s incoming freshman running back Nick Singleton.

The graduate of Governor Mifflin High School in Shillington is the first Nittany Lions player to sign a multi-year NIL contract.

Singleton’s partnership with West Shore Home – a Mechanicsburg-based, technology-enabled home remodeler with an expanding national footprint – is possible through new NCAA rules allowing college players to obtain name, image and likeness sponsorships as amateur athletes.

A 9-0 landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court last year paved the way for NIL sponsorship deals.

In an emailed statement, West Shore Home’s public relations director, Kirsten Page, said the collaboration with Singleton, a five-star recruit, was a natural fit.

“Just like us, he is from Pennsylvania and embodies so many of the core values that we strive for … . He is driven to succeed and is a well-rounded athlete who recognizes the foundation of success is built on many factors. His community service and focus on academics were prime factors for him being chosen as the Gatorade Player of the Year.”

She said the company’s core values “are incorporated into what we do each and every day. Nick aligns with so many of them, including … ‘Do the Right Thing Always,’ which he has demonstrated both on and off the field.”

Page noted that West Shore Home CEO B.J. Werzyn is a Penn State alumnus, and “supporting the university and the football program in this new era of NIL is important” to him.

“We are thrilled to be a part of Nick’s career as a Nittany Lion and can’t wait to see where the next four years takes him,” Page said.

A release announcing the sponsorship drew comparisons between the speed and efficiency of West Shore Home’s remodeling process and Singleton’s speed on the gridiron, calling the partnership “a perfect fit.” Since its founding in 2006, West Shore Home has expanded across the country, and now operates 32 branches in 15 states.

In his senior season this past fall, Singleton rushed for 2,043 yards and 41 touchdowns on 165 carries and was selected to play in the 2022 All-American Bowl. He was ranked as the nation’s top running back in the Class of 2022 by at least one recruiting service.

Singleton, who maintained a 3.51 grade-point average, also volunteers as a coach for local football camps and practices, participates in an elementary school literacy outreach program and has donated time for community cleanup initiatives.

“I’m honored to not only be a part of the Nittany Lion nation, but a teammate of West Shore Home,” he said in the release. “… As a Pennsylvania native, I am thrilled to partner with a company from my home state and I look forward (to) starting the season.”

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer.

Penn State Lehigh Valley adds accounting option to business major

Penn State Lehigh Valley in Upper Saucon Township is expanding its business program to include an accounting concentration.

Maung Min, director of business programs, said the accounting option will provide 18 credits worth of accounting classes, a project management course and a six-credit accounting internship.

The program will give students the education and number of credits needed to sit for the CPA exam and is designed to prepare them for job prospects in the accounting field.

“We’re doing well as far as enrollment goes and there’s been a lot of interest in the business program,” Min said. “We’ve seen predictions that there is going to be a significant growth in the need for accountants in coming years.”

Currently, students who wish to become CPAs have to transfer to other Penn State campuses or schools to obtain the proper credits.

In addition to the accounting concentration, which will be offered beginning in the fall, Penn State Lehigh Valley’s business degree program also offers a marketing and management option, as well as an individualized option, so students have the opportunity to tailor their education to their specific interests.

“The importance of professional accountants in ensuring sound financial reporting cannot be stressed enough. Accountants contribute to the stability and progress of society,” said Mark Gruskin, associate professor of finance and accounting, Penn State Lehigh Valley. “Our accounting option prepares students for careers as a Certified Public Accountant, Corporate Controller, Treasurer, Budget Director and consultant.”

Few cancer patients join clinical trials, Penn State study finds

A majority of cancer patients do not seek out clinical trials as their first course of treatment, according to a new study by researchers at the Hershey-based Penn State Cancer Institute.

Penn State researchers analyzed data of more than 12 million patients with 46 types of cancer, and found that only a tenth of a percent of newly diagnosed cancer patients enrolled in clinical trials as their first course of therapy from 2004 to 2015.

The study, published in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, also showed that the 0.1% of patients who sought out clinical trials early in their therapy were more likely to be white males with private insurances and advanced stages of cancer.

Despite the low number of participants in clinical trials, patients who sought them out as their first course of therapy lived a median of seven and a half months longer than patients who sought other therapies first, according to the study.

Clinical trials are also vital to the research process and low numbers of participants in them can slow advances in the fight against the disease, said Dr. Niraj Gusani, professor of surgery at Penn State College of Medicine and a senior author of the study.

“Major advances in cancer treatment have been supported by clinical trials,” Gusani said. “By volunteering to participate in a trial, patients may help further the field of research and gain access to new treatments.”

The biggest barrier to convincing more patients to participate in clinical trials is the perception they would receive poorer care, Gusani said. The trials are regulated by institutional review boards with an emphasis on patient safety, but potential participants could be driven away by the idea that they are ‘guinea pigs’ in experiments, he said.

The study also showed that the pool of participants in clinical trials weren’t diverse, with a majority of the patients skewing towards white males with private insurances, advanced stages of cancer, no other chronic medical conditions and treated at academic medical centers.

“If clinical trials are going to be used to determine standards of care for the general population, then the study participants need to be representative of the general population — and this study shows that often this isn’t the case,” Gusani said.

Housing Finance Agency picks ‘inaugural fellow’ for research project

The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) named a Penn State graduate student as its inaugural housing policy fellow.

Rachel Fawcett (Photo: Submitted)

Rachel Fawcett will receive a financial stipend of up to $12,000 during 2020 from the Harrisburg-based nonprofit to conduct research into the affordable housing industry. She has a degree in architecture from Penn State and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in professional studies, focusing on community and economic development.

“Rachel was chosen from a group of highly qualified applicants,” said Brian A. Hudson Sr., PHFA’s executive director and CEO. “She has an excellent background preparing her to undertake this research. It’s our hope that her studies as our fellow will provide important insights to help better inform our housing initiatives and will give her experience to advance her own leadership development – a true win-win.”

Fawcett’s fellowship project will focus on research into community land trusts across the country to determine their viability as a housing model to use in Pennsylvania. Community land trusts have been developed to help meet the demand for affordable housing.

The stipend provided through PHFA’s Policy Fellowship can be used for various activities supporting Fawcett’s research, including interviews with experts, securing resources and study materials and travel expenses to related conferences. At the end of the fellowship, Fawcett’s findings will be published by PHFA and made available to policymakers in the housing industry.

Fawcett currently serve as the budgets and publications coordinator at the Pennsylvania Housing Research Center at Penn State. Previously, she was the executive director of the Centre County Housing & Land Trust.

This is the first year of PHFA’s housing policy fellowship with the expectation that another fellow will be chosen in 2021 to conduct additional housing research.

The PHFA works to provide affordable home ownership and rental housing options for older adults, low- and moderate-income families, and people with special housing needs. The agency is governed by a 14-member board.

LaunchBox helps Santa and other startups

Christmas City Santa is a startup business with real-beard Santas. It is one of five new businesses being helped by LaunchBox. (Photo submitted) –

Five new early stage startup businesses have been accepted into the Lehigh Valley LaunchBox program at Penn State Lehigh Valley, where they will receive micro-grants, business development support and workspace to help them get established.

And one of the recipients might look a bit familiar – Santa Claus. Tom Dubreuil and his natural white beard are pursuing a business, Christmas City Santa LLC, that provides real-beard Santas and other Christmas related services for businesses, organizations and families.

Other microbusinesses receiving assistance include Local Food Market LV, which is a local food hub that provides online ordering and delivery of food from local farms and small businesses.

The PhoneKings Inc., which is an online seller of phone accessories.

The Soleman, which is a reseller of highly sought-after sneakers and clothing.

TroubleMaker LLC, which is the creator of ZYX Sticks, wooden building toys that promote collaboration.

Terry Haddad, business development manager at Penn State Lehigh Valley, said each of the startups received microloans ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 dollars, based on their requests. They will also be able to use space at the Velocity incubator in downtown Allentown and receive services ranging from mentoring to legal support.

“We’re proud to be part of their entrepreneurial process,” Haddad said. “We look forward to helping them access a number of resources that we have through the larger university system.”

The five new businesses bring the LaunchBox program to a total portfolio of 55 companies that it is helping.