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.

Millions allotted to attract major sporting events to Pa.

Seeking to bring nationally known sporting events to Pennsylvania, $5 million in grants are being awarded through the Department of Community and Economic Deveopment’s Sports Marketing and Tourism Program. 

Funding was announced Thursday by the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) Secretary Rick Siger. 

The Ironman Triathlon, U.S. Open women’s and men’s golf, and World Cup, scheduled to take place in Pennsylvania this year and over the next three years, are all expected to greatly impact the state’s economy. 

“Pennsylvania is hosting a series of incredibly exciting events in the coming years, and I’m thrilled that we can support some of them through this program,” Siger said in a statement.

The Sports Marketing and Tourism Program was established to attract high-quality, amateur, and professional sporting and e-sports events to Pennsylvania. Investment in the program is geared to capitalizing on increased tourism that accompanies the hosting of major national or international sporting events.

Program grants have been awarded to the following organizations:

  • Happy Valley Adventure Bureau was awarded $70,000 for the 2023 Ironman 70.3 Triathlon in State College.  
  • The United States Golf Association (USGA) was awarded a total of $2.43 million; $1.215 million for the 2025 United States Men’s Open at Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont and $1.215 for the 2024 United States Women’s Open at the Lancaster Country Club in Lancaster. 
  • Philadelphia Soccer was awarded $2.5 million for the 2026 World Cup, with matches to be held at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

“The commonwealth will be at the center of the sports world at events like the 2026 World Cup, where it’s estimated at least 450,000 people will visit our state from around the world, providing a tremendous boost to the economy,” said Siger.

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.

Fine art gallery joins The Shops in Allentown

The Laura Brady Gallery has completed a transaction to lease space in The Shops in Allentown from Berger-Epstein Associates, Inc. 

The Shops are located at 3900 Hamilton Center, 3900 Hamilton Boulevard in Allentown.

The gallery’s grand opening is scheduled for Sept. 23, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 1 p.m. and a reception at 6:30 p.m.

“I am delighted to join the shops at 3900 Hamilton Center,” Brady, artist and owner of her gallery, said in a statement. “This community of shops brings a unique value to the area, and a variety of offerings for the customers it serves. This is a perfect fit for my new gallery, that will also operate as a working studio and host art-inspired workshops.”

Brady’s paintings have been exhibited and sold at galleries and fine art shows domestically and internationally. Information about her gallery can be found online at LauraBradyGallery.com.

“We are very pleased to welcome the Laura Brady Gallery to The Shops at 3900 Hamilton. Her stunning pieces will bring beauty to our center all year round,” said Jonathan Epstein of Berger-Epstein Associates, Inc., the property owner and managing agency.

Micki Tapper of Sunflower Realty Company represented the Laura Brady Gallery in the transaction and Brian Bailey of The James Balliet Property Group represented the landlord.

Pa. awarded $500k for new small business export growth

Pennsylvania’s Department of Community & Economic Development’s Office of International Business Development has received $500,000 as part of the Small Business Administration’s State Trade Expansion Program (STEP). 

Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman announced the award Wednesday. 

“For over ten years, the SBA’s State Trade Expansion Program has been an important federal and state partnership to get funding directly to small businesses seeking to grow their businesses and our economy with international trade opportunities,” Guzman said in a statement. “And with these funds, small businesses can get trade-ready, attend trade shows in foreign markets, and grow through global e-commerce.”

Guzman added that the award ensures U.S. small businesses can promote their products and services to over 95% of the world’s consumers who live abroad.

The STEP award will assist Pennsylvania’s entrepreneurs to compete globally by offsetting costs incurred by export related activities, including participating in foreign trade missions and export trade show exhibits, designing international marketing campaigns, and taking part in training workshops.

Awardees were selected following an application process. Individual STEP awards are managed at the local level by state government organizations and nonprofit entities.

Acting Associate Administrator for International Trade Claire Ehmann said STEP’s impact is testament to the SBA’s support of U.S. small businesses looking to grow their international footprint.

“As STEP matures beyond its first decade, the SBA will continue modernizing and marketing this signature program that helps small businesses enter and expand into the international marketplace,” said Ehmann.

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 appoints diverse leaders to Pa. Workforce Board

Revamping the Pennsylvania Workforce Development Board, Gov. Josh Shapiro has appointed a diverse group of more than 40 members to help guide his Administration’s goal of creating opportunities for workers and businesses. 

Housed under the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (L&I), the Workforce Development Board serves as the Governor’s private-sector policy advisory board. Shapiro said in a statement that Pennsylvania needs to invest in and expand its workforce to meet the demands of today and tomorrow.  

“This diverse group of experienced leaders representing labor and business across every Pennsylvania industry will help us make smart investments to produce the results that we all want – a thriving economy where workers have access to stable careers with family-sustaining wages and employers have the talent they need to continue growing their businesses while supporting communities across the commonwealth,” said Shapiro. 

L&I Secretary Nancy Walker said workforce development is about solving the challenges of today while seeking to figure out the solutions that might work tomorrow.

“I look forward to working with the governor’s appointees to the Workforce Development Board on all the smart, innovative ways we can invest in the workers of Pennsylvania to overcome our challenges and achieve a people-driven, dynamic economy,” said Walker.

Individuals appointed to the Pennsylvania Workforce Development Board include the following:

Among those representing labor are Robert Bair, PA Building & Construction Trades, president (Dauphin County); Angela Ferritto, Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, president (Dauphin County) and Matthew Yarnell, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, president (Dauphin County).

Individuals representing business include Brian Funkhouser, Buchart Horn, CEO (York County); Shea Zwerver, Flagger Force, workforce relations manager (Dauphin County); Marguerite A. Kline, County of Berks, human resources manager (Berks County); Kait Gillis, Nour Coffee Shop, owner (Cumberland County); and Michael Shirk, The High Companies, CEO (Lancaster County).

Among those representing local government and community organizations are Don Cunningham, Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, president and CEO (Northampton County) and John J. Sygielski Ed.D, H.A.C.C., president (Dauphin County).

Representing the Shapiro Administration are Walker; Jason Kavulich, secretary of aging; Russell Redding, secretary of agriculture; Laurel Harry, secretary of corrections; Frederick Siger, secretary of community and economic development; Khalid Mumin Ed.D, secretary of education; Akbar Hossain, secretary of policy and planning; Valerie Arkoosh, MD, MPH, secretary of human services; and Ryan Hyde, director, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.

Pa. General Fund revenue for August below expectations

Pennsylvania’s General Fund revenue collection in August was below estimate. 

Revenue Secretary Pat Browne reported that the state collected $2.9 billion, a total that was $27.1 million below estimate. Fiscal year-to-date General Fund collections total $5.8 billion, which is $27.2 million less than anticipated. 

August’s sales tax receipts were $1.3 billion, $53.1 million less than expected. Sales tax collections for the year total $2.5 billion, $53.1 million below estimate. 

Personal income tax (PIT) revenue for the month was $1.2 billion, $23.3 million below estimate. PI year-to-date collections are $2.2 billion, which is $23.2 million less than anticipated.

Corporation tax revenue for August was $138.6 million, $34.6 million above estimate. Year-to-date corporation tax collections total $326.8 million, $34.5 million more than anticipated.

August’s inheritance tax revenue was $128.7 million, which was $7.6 million more than expected, and brings the year-to-date total to $256.6 million, which is $7.6 million above estimate.

The month’s realty transfer tax revenue was $60.6 million, $10.9 million less than anticipated. It brings the fiscal-year total to $61.7 million, $10.9 million, below estimate.

August’s other General Fund tax revenue, including cigarette, malt beverage, liquor and gaming taxes, totaled $149.9 million, $8.9 million below estimate. The year-to-date total is $242.4 million, $8.8 million below estimate.

Non-tax revenue for August totaled $86.5 million, $26.8 million more than anticipated, bringing the year-to-date total to $185.2 million, which is $26.7 million above estimate. 

Along with General Fund collections, the Motor License Fund was $8.6 million below estimate at $282.9 million for the month. Fiscal year-to-date collections for the fund, including gas and diesel taxes together with other license, fine and fee revenues, were $554.9 million, $10.2 million less than anticipated.

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.

Small businesses seek to benefit from Shapiro Administration’s new prompt pay policy

A prompt pay policy requiring prime contractors to pay small diverse and veteran-owned business subcontractors faster on state contracts has been implemented by the Shapiro Administration.

Pennsylvania Department of General Services (DGS) Secretary Reggie McNeil announced the policy implementation Thursday. The new prompt pay policy requires non-construction prime contractors to pay their small diverse business (SBD) and veteran-owned business enterprise (VBE) subcontractors within 10 days of receipt of payment from the commonwealth. 

The policy will not affect the payment rate for construction programs which is statutorily mandated at 14 days.

McNeil said the policy will ensure small diverse businesses and veteran-owned businesses providing goods and services to the commonwealth are paid quickly to improve their experience in the state contracting system.

“We all know the important role access to capital plays in the sustainability of our small business community, and the sooner these businesses are paid for their goods and services, the sooner they can invest it in the next opportunity that will strengthen and grow their business,” McNeil said in a statement.

In addition to the prompt pay policy, the following improvements have been implemented:

  • Reducing the time it takes to certify a small business with DGS by 33%. 
  • Conducting frequent Supplier Search workshops aimed at educating small minority-, women- and veteran-owned businesses on the available contracting opportunities within DGS’s construction and commodities bureaus. 
  • Monthly notifications of upcoming contracting opportunities to allow for better resource planning and statewide outreach efforts to grow the pool of registered SBs/SDBs/VBEs. 

“By helping our small diverse and veteran-owned businesses succeed, we’re growing our economy and supporting good-paying jobs across Pennsylvania,” McNeil 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.

Amusement company agrees to change admission policies after complaint at Pa. location

Pennsylvania’s Attorney General’s office secured an agreement recently with a global amusement company to provide equal access to residents with severe disabilities. 

The agreement was announced Wednesday by Attorney General Michelle Henry. 

The attorney general’s office stated that in March, global indoor game and amusement company Round One Entertainment’s Lancaster location refused a request from a guest with severe disabilities for a reasonable modification to the company’s admission policy. The request was to waive admission fees for two personal care aides.

The guest was a young man with autism who uses a wheelchair and is unable to participate in the activities offered without the assistance of his care aides.

“Providing people with disabilities equal access to public accommodations is not just the right thing to do — it is the law,” Henry said in a statement. “In response to our action, Round One cooperated and acted to address the matter by entering this agreement.”

In the Assurance of Voluntary Compliance (AVC), Round One commits to making modifications to its admission policies. The agreement covers each of the company’s four Pennsylvania locations.

State and federal disability laws require public accommodations to make reasonable modifications to allow people with disabilities to experience the full and equal enjoyment of goods and services unless the accommodation would impose an undue burden, directly threaten health or safety, or fundamentally alter the nature of the offered goods or services.