As a new Pennsylvania state legislator, I’ve spent the last few months since getting elected gaining insight into our government’s inner workings. It’s been an interesting journey thus far to be sure, including getting to know many people whose livelihoods are associated with state government: lobbyists, consultants, bureaucrats and executive branch officials. While most, if not all, of these individuals that I’ve met are hard-working, well-meaning and kind, the system around them is uninspiring, old, stodgy and frankly, in need of reform.
This week, however, I was inspired by business owners and economic development leaders in southwestern Pennsylvania. At a tour and hearing hosted by another new legislator, Rep. Carrie Lewis DelRosso, and the House Majority Policy Committee, these private sector folks spoke of the power of the private sector to drive the Commonwealth’s comeback while reviving communities.
One gentleman, Michael Malcanas, brought 14 businesses to New Kensington since 2012 by providing free rent that slowly ramps up to market price over the course of a couple of years. He’s provided low-income residents opportunities by building spaces and partnering with Penn State to offer the entrepreneurs classes and support. Excitement has rolled through the community as minority- and female-owned businesses gained momentum. His secret ingredient is trust in the hidden hand of capitalism, sometimes phrased in popular culture as “if you build it, they will come.”
Because of his vision and dedication, New Kensington is on its way to restoration to the decades-old memory of a bustling downtown. Malcanas is also breathing life into the Johnstown area, proving that the private sector is skilled at stimulating economic growth and making areas more attractive to live.
In fact, most of the time, the private sector simply needs the government to get out of its way. During our march back toward recovery, as policymakers and private citizens, let’s not forget that essential American idea.
To support the private sector driving the economy to success, government needs to streamline regulations and lessen or, ideally, eliminate restrictions – particularly those limiting business operations that Gov. Tom Wolf enacted because of the pandemic. Businesses have shown that they can operate safely, in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. They shouldn’t be forced to struggle with limited capacities forever, especially as case counts decrease.
And yet, that’s what is still happening because of the governor’s restrictions. President and Co-Owner of the Oakmont Tavern David Vivino described the avoidable challenges he faced in the past year. Specifically, the timing of the governor’s shutdown orders created more financial loss than necessary because they were issued late in the day on Fridays or just days before the busy Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, well after restaurants have to place their food and beverage orders for the weekend. Gov. Wolf’s lack of planning and understanding of the industry caused thousands of dollars of loss, worsening the impact of Vivino’s 50% loss of annual sales. This was all while he spent thousands on materials, such as Plexiglass dividers, to keep his customers safe – even as costs were rising. He was unable to get certain products, and the products he can get are extremely expensive. Prices for beef, produce and poultry went up almost 50%. Costs for chemicals to clean rose by more than 100%.
Undoubtedly, there were legitimate safety concerns that need to be addressed. However, the way restrictions were implemented exacerbated an already very challenging situation.
And yet, in spite of the tough times businesses faced in the last year, testifiers expressed hope for the future, and I feel it too. We are ready for a true comeback in Pennsylvania, led by the private sector – not by government stimulus.
Jon Nehlsen, associate dean at Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz College, said that government doesn’t need to fix everything. He said the private sector can invest with their own capital and with their own hard work if government focuses on providing tools and removing barriers. He explained that Pennsylvanians don’t want an old four cylinder. They want the brand new HEMI that will drive our economy forward for decades to come.
The indomitable American spirit is alive and well in so many people across the Commonwealth and our country. Now we just need to awaken it within our government.
Rep. Rob Mercuri
28th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Alison Evans