Hershey, Pa. – Thursday night, Pennsylvania’s business and political leaders gathered at the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry’s Annual Dinner in Hershey. Themed “A Celebration of Pennsylvania,” the event showcased a unity of purpose among speakers, emphasizing a shared vision for enhancing the state’s business environment and investing in retaining and attracting residents to the state.

The event, attended by over 120 members of the Pennsylvania state legislature, along with a number of Governor Josh Shapiro’s cabinet members, was not only a showcase of policy initiatives but also a celebration of Pennsylvania’s spirit, featuring a musical performance by country artist and Pittsburgh native Gabby Barrett, and a keynote address by actor Bradley Cooper, a Montgomery County native.

In his remarks, Luke Bernstein, President and CEO of the PA Chamber, outlined an ambitious goal to make Pennsylvania the most competitive state in the country. He highlighted the Chamber’s bipartisan efforts collaborating with state policymakers to halve the corporate net income tax (CNI), and discussed plans to accelerate the implementation of those reductions. Bernstein stressed the importance of modernizing the state’s permitting and licensing processes and expanding technical education to broaden the workforce.

“We believe we have a real opportunity working with the people in this room, to turn PA into the most competitive state in the country to do business,” he said, underscoring the need for a diverse educational system to retain young talent.

Governor Shapiro, addressing the crowd in pre-recorded remarks, echoed Bernstein’s call for competitiveness and regulatory reform. Shapiro touted that, as of his first day in office, 92 percent of state jobs no longer require a college degree. Aligning with the evening’s consensus on the need for an efficient permitting process, he proudly noted the reduction in business license processing time from eight weeks to just three days. “We are showing PA is open for business,” Shapiro declared.

The legislative panel discussion featured insightful dialogues, featuring state Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward and state House Speaker Joanna McClinton, moderated by abc27 (Harrisburg) news anchor Dennis Owens. McClinton and Ward shared updates on the state budget, which had been completed the night prior, emphasizing bipartisan successes including a breast cancer screening bill. “This is what you get when you have women who work together well,” said Ward.

Both leaders agreed on the necessity of investing in education and infrastructure to encourage residents to establish long-term roots in Pennsylvania. McClinton stated, “live here, work here, grow here,” highlighting the House Democrats’ commitment to public school investment, while Ward emphasized the Senate Republicans’ focus on reducing business-inhibiting regulations in order to retain younger residents through family-sustaining jobs. “Regulations are like putting weed killer around the economy in Pennsylvania,” Ward noted.

In their remarks, McClinton and Ward addressed the contentious issue of school vouchers and trust in Harrisburg, with McClinton affirming, “there aren’t any dead issues in our chamber whatsoever,” and “there has never been a loss of trust between Kim and I.” Ward spoke of the efforts to rebuild trust with the governor post-voucher debate, emphasizing the importance of seeing beyond political ideologies. “I don’t think that when you look at someone that you should see an ideology or a party, you should see a person,” said Ward.

Overall, the PA Chamber Annual Dinner highlighted a unified commitment among Pennsylvania’s private and public sector leaders to bolster the state’s competitiveness, streamline regulatory processes, and invest in education and infrastructure, all aimed at fostering a thriving future for the Keystone State.

Olivia DeMarco is an Editorial Associate for Broad + Liberty. She previously served as a legislative aide in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. She holds a Masters in Public Policy from Temple University.

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