Indiana, PA - Indiana County

AS I SEE IT: Economic growth key to future

by Christine Toretti on April 13, 2017 10:29 AM
Indiana, PA

There isn’t much agreement in Harrisburg when it comes to Pennsylvania’s budget. The last cycle yielded an epic battle that dragged on nine months past the deadline, and this year, the dispute is how big the gap will be between what we want to spend and how much revenue we can generate. That has led to discussion about reorganizing our state government and proposals to consolidate agencies and services to gain efficiencies. It’s a start, but it hardly seems possible that those measures will measure up to filling the expected deficit hole.

Separate but related news shows the commonwealth is going to be losing representation in Congress due to nearly nonexistent population growth, which is matched with economic, job and wage growth that could be called tepid at best. And the loss of manufacturing jobs here has been devastating to many communities.

The relationship between our budget and these realities is that cutting government cost is just one part of the solution. The other is growth.

Grow our economy, our population and, as a result, the revenues flowing to Harrisburg. It’s time we took all the time and effort we put into battling over the budget and channel it to economic growth. Time to stop fighting each other and start fighting for the commonwealth — and increasing its wealth.

As a woman who ran an oil and gas drilling company, and who fought for respect and business every step of the way, I see a ready opportunity to rally: energy. For a decade now, we’ve heard lots of discussion about the tremendous potential for our Marcellus and Utica natural gas reserves — which are larger than almost any in the world. Our state’s economic growth did start to feel the benefits of gas development, but then prices weakened, development slowed, and the infrastructure needed to move it to market has taken time to develop.

Right beneath our feet is a clean energy answer to our economic performance, population and workforce retention, manufacturing growth and budget issues. How can we take full advantage of the natural gas resources that today’s technologies have made accessible?

Amazing work has been done by a team of regional and state leaders to make possible Shell’s investment of $6 billion to build a petrochemical plant in western Pennsylvania. That will help increase demand for both dry and wet gas, and Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection just approved permits for the Mariner East 2 pipeline so that exports can flow faster. But much more can be — needs to be — done. If we wait, or don’t accelerate our efforts, we risk missing out on an energy and economic development opportunity that others in the United States and around the world are racing to capture.

What we need now is a plan, a set of economic development strategies that can lead us to a growing economy that has energy as an innovative, tech-based force running through it. With so many resources, from our strengths in manufacturing, technology and materials to our research and innovation institutions — and the stream of talent they produce — we have an unparalleled opportunity to follow a focused path to energy-enabled growth.

I think Pennsylvania’s businesses and workers are ready to get behind a growth agenda, and I know they are ready to compete for and build our state’s future. I’d love to see our state stop grinding through another budget battle and start making a plan to win. There’s no question we have the energy to do it.

Christine Toretti, of White Township, currently serves as the vice chairman of S&T Bancorp and a director of EQT Corporation. This piece was reprinted with permission from the April 2017 Manufacturer & Business Association Business Magazine, www.mbabizmag.com.

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