Imagine high school guidance counselors proudly announcing that they had helped place their high school graduates in colleges out of state, so that they had hope to find careers after graduation. Imagine sitting in the audience listening to this as a younger sibling, parent or grandparent.
Some people in the audience may not have even flinched, accepting it as true. Some of the audience, however, must have felt heartsick knowing that this was the mindset in their community: The only hope is to get away, to get out.
Sadly, this was a real event. It happened right here in Pennsylvania. During a recent conversation with a state representative in the northern tier of Pennsylvania, he relayed this story to me. It occurred in his community.
His response to the message at the high school was immediate. He was dismayed and decided that the message must change. He agreed that we cannot have such a defeatist message sent to our future high school students or their families.
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Don’t accept defeat. Don’t accept a bad economy. Don’t accept that things will always be bad. In a region known for dairy farms and manufacturing, and one that sits on enough natural gas to run the state for decades, no student should ever be told to find his or her future out of state.
Those of us in southeastern Pennsylvania know a similar phenomenon. It’s when young couples in Philadelphia start having kids and suddenly look to the suburbs or south Jersey as their life raft, a way to rescue their children from failing schools.
The more one looks across the commonwealth, the more one realizes that we aren’t as different as the media tells us. Our surroundings may look different, but Pennsylvanians in every area of our state have been affected by this feeling of resignation or managed decline. Philadelphians looking for good schools or safer neighborhoods run to the suburbs in Pennsylvania or New Jersey. Rural Pennsylvanians looking for opportunity go to New York, North Carolina, Arizona, Florida, Texas or Massachusetts — even Utah.
Like the state representative in upstate Pennsylvania, Step One for all of us is to make the decision that the status quo is unacceptable. The next step is to recognize all of our assets, from energy to agriculture, from life sciences and medicine to communications. The third step is for us to develop a business plan, a path forward.
That plan has to be built on recognizing all of our assets, recognizing the strong work ethic of our workforce, and recognizing what has worked in other, growing states. Less regulation. Less barriers to entering the workforce. Lowering tax rates so that Pennsylvania isn’t the second- highest taxed state in the nation. And learning from the changing economy of the last few years, especially during the COVID era.
It also requires a belief that things should and can be better. Our elected leaders must restore hope, lift our spirits, and expect the best — never, ever accepting failure.
Our elected leaders must restore hope, lift out spirit, and expect the best — never, ever accepting failure.
Years ago, when Philadelphia was at a low point (though, sadly better than today) then-mayor Ed Rendell created a team in City Hall that had a new focus for government. The focus was to help businesses comply with regulations and licenses in order to get them open. Imagine that!
Rather than using red tape, regulations and taxes as a series of landmines that could end one’s dreams of starting a business, Rendell told this team to help both new businesses and businesses looking to expand. The goal was to help them open and grow. This helped business and, just as important, it sent a message that Philadelphia wanted new business.
A new Pennsylvania is within our reach. A Pennsylvania where you don’t have to abandon your home, your community or our state to find opportunity.
If we commit to this vision, if we create a plan for growth and opportunity, one day high school counselors in Texas may inform parents that their high school graduates have been successfully placed at colleges in Pennsylvania, so that the students have a chance to reach their dreams.
Guy Ciarrocchi is the CEO of the Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry. Contact him at guy.Ciarrocchi@verizon.net