Shapiro’s economic plan envisions a ‘new Allentown’ and beyond

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(The Center Square) — Gov. Josh Shapiro pitched his statewide economic development plan on Tuesday to make Pennsylvania a national leader in growth and innovation.

“I think Billy Joel owes us a new Allentown song: Allentown 2.0,” Shapiro said during a news conference in nearby Bethlehem. “I’m sick and tired of hearing that old song — he owes us a new one given what is happening in Allentown and across the Lehigh Valley.”

The governor touted the valley’s economic growth, calling it a region on the rise and “a model for how to do economic development all across this commonwealth.”

His strategy calls for a decade-long focus on five key industries: agriculture, energy, life sciences, manufacturing, and robotics and technology.

“If we focus on these five key industries, that’s gonna allow us to build on that legacy of leadership that we hold in Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said.

To do so, the governor wants more state spending on economic development and innovation. Though he shrugged off giving more details until his budget address next week, he called for $3.5 million to incentivize regional planning, a $25 million investment in main streets across Pennsylvania and a $10 million agricultural innovation fund.

“It’s time for Pennsylvania to catch up to other states,” he said.

The gap between Pennsylvania and its neighbors was particularly galling.

“Ohio, which has a million and a half fewer people than Pennsylvania, invests seven times the amount in economic development than we do,” Shapiro said. “I am sick and tired of losing to Ohio, New York, New Jersey, or anyone else. We’ve gotta win again in Pennsylvania and, to do that, we are going to invest.”

Getting there, though, isn’t only a question of spending more. It’s a question, to a certain extent, of vision and reform.

“We need to use our tax dollars far more strategically than we ever have before,” Shapiro said.

To become a national leader, the administration cited five goals.

The governor called for improving the state’s economic competitiveness by making more sites “shovel ready” for development. He advocated to speed up processing times in state agencies so approvals come faster. And he spoke of growing internships, apprenticeships, and connecting workers to jobs.

Beyond worker training, he also plans to propose more investments in entrepreneurs with targeted innovation funds to grow certain sectors of the economy.

Shapiro then argued for more action to make communities vibrant and resilient.

“We are going to invest in our main streets again in Pennsylvania and ensure that there is enough affordable housing for all employees we’re going to bring,” Shapiro said. “To do that, we’ve gotta rethink how we’re funneling investments to our local economies and to our local main streets. You can often define the well-being of a community based on the health of that main street — so we’re going to invest there.”

He explained the plan as a game changer for a state that’s faced population loss and below-average economic growth in recent years.

“It’s time we get back to our winning spirit and think of ourselves as that national leader, not just a regional participant,” Shapiro said. “We can do big things again in Pennsylvania.”

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