Much of the last two years has focused on lockdowns that were too long and too broad, over-regulation of business and our lives, closed schools and a broken and dysfunctional unemployment system. But, imagine what Pennsylvania could be.

Imagine if our unemployment rate was better than the national average. Imagine new businesses wanting to be here, where we had thriving economies of small and large businesses, traditional and new economies. Imagine if we had top-level K-12 schools of every kind, ensuring that every child had the opportunity to succeed. Imagine if we had a growing population: Pennsylvania is 44th in the nation in population growth. 

Despite these challenges, we can look to some regions for inspiration and hope. Chester County, located in the Southeastern part of Pennsylvania, is a shining city on the hill and an example of what the state can be. For decades, Chester County’s unemployment rate has been lower than the nation’s. However, for most of the last decade, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate has been higher than the nation’s. The national rate is 5.9%; PA’s is 6.9%; Chester County’s is just 3.9%.

In a county filled with brand names like Vanguard, QVC and Herr’s, our largest economic sector is Agribusiness—mushrooms, milk, wine, beer and horse-breeding. Along Route 202, you can find one of our state’s bio-pharma hubs. We manufacture steel and helicopters. We are home to internet search-engine DuckDuckGo, and small and family run businesses that support these brand names—and thousands of families.

Imagine if our unemployment rate was better than the national average. Imagine new businesses wanting to be here, where we had thriving economies of small and large businesses, traditional and new economies. Imagine if we had top-level K-12 schools—of every kind, ensuring that every child had the opportunity to succeed.

Chester is also home to some of the highest rated schools, including nationally recognized STEM programs, technical schools that all-but guarantee their graduates careers, parochial schools that are among the best in the state, and charter schools—cyber and “brick & mortar”—that educate thousands of students from our area, region and state.

All of this is here, with a population that continues to grow; and, an economy that is almost back to where it was in January 2020—our employers just need more employees.

The reality is that Chester County is both a snapshot of what Pennsylvania is and of what Pennsylvania could be. Even though our economies are interconnected, we are going in opposite directions. Chester County’s economy is among the nation’s leaders, while PA as a whole is among the bottom 10 state economies according to US News & World Report.

Pennsylvania has done nothing to encourage job growth or opportunity; in fact, state policies actually discourage them. We should make this a place where people want to live, work and raise a family, so our children are not forced to leave to chase their dreams.

Pennsylvania has countless assets—over 500 colleges and technical schools, attracting students from across America, and beyond. We are home to several bio/pharma hubs, and Communication technology giants, Comcast and Verizon. Pennsylvania sits on more BTUs of energy than any nation on earth, with the possible exception of Saudi Arabia. We are a national leader in agriculture. Our Keystone State is positioned for trade and transit across the nation, Canada and beyond. Plus, we have thousands of small businesses who support our families, towns and companies across the nation, and beyond.

The only piece we are missing is a business plan based on common-sense, competitiveness and a focus on people—and, the commitment to get it done.

First, fix our broken unemployment system and get rid of the rules that discourage work. Able-bodied Pennsylvanians seeking unemployment should truly be seeking work. And, we should stop paying the $300-bonus that encourages people to stay at home.

Second, we must reduce our punitive corporate taxes—the second highest in the nation. We should set a multi-year plan to cut our corporate taxes to allow us to compete with other states, and other nations. 

Third, our education system needs to be reformed and reimagined. Let’s empower parents, reward success and require the best for our children.

Many public schools are succeeding, but too many are not. Those succeeding should be supported—and emulated. Those that are failing ought to be reformed or closed. Pennsylvania has allowed too many independent and parochial schools to close. These schools were successfully serving our students – often students of color and/or in lower income-homes. This past year, Cyber Charter schools welcomed thousands of students—offering them an education and hope. Stunningly, some are trying to take money away from these educational life rafts.

The only piece we are missing is a business plan based on common-sense, competitiveness and a focus on people—and, the commitment to get it done.

Fourth, Pennsylvania has too many out-dated barriers to success. Our state still regulates barbers. And if someone had been convicted of a non-violent crime, they could be prohibited from getting a barber’s license. From barbers to Uber and Lyft, we ought to change our thinking to support those looking to do “gig-work,” make money in a side business or to launch a new business.

Every application, license and tax form ought to be available for filing online, with payments accepted in various electronic formats. And, every business that closed due to the lockdowns and regulations ought to be allowed to reopen without reapplying and paying for licenses.

We ought to remove barriers: we need less licenses, less fees and less rules.

The covid-era showed all of us the harms of an all-powerful, ever-growing, out of touch  government. This brought to light many of the challenges that small businesses and aspiring business owners—even employees—had always faced in our state.

Every Pennsylvanian deserves the opportunity to hope and to succeed. The time is now to move beyond mediocrity. We need a government that empowers, is customer-focused and results oriented.  The time is now.


Guy Ciarrocchi is the CEO of the Chester County Chamber. Learn more at JoinChescoChamber.org

One thought on “Guy Ciarrocchi: A roadmap to reforming Pennsylvania”

  1. This article points to the potential of Pennsylvania which has not been unleashed for the past several decades despite the party in power in Harrisburg. What does this say about the leaders that each party has produced? To me it says that the leadership of both parties work to feather the interests of themselves and their close allies. Such an approach to governance sub optimizes the potential that is here. The state LCB throttles commerce in that commercial segment. The PA turnpike commission has been run as a separate fiefdom dedicated to enriching its political patrons at the expense of the public that needs and uses the road. Take a look at PennDot – next time you have to use its services tell me if you feel anything it does is done efficiently.

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