“Ask the Governor” Comments Spark Firestorm

While discussing the state’s 7.9% unemployment rate on Radio PA’s “Ask the Governor” program, Governor Tom Corbett expressed concern that many employers can’t find qualified employees who can pass a drug test.  The comments went viral in a matter of hours, with the Pennsylvania Democratic Party asserting that it’s just the latest example of Corbett blaming Pennsylvanians for the state of the economy. 

Out-of-touch and insulting were just two of the words Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord used to describe the comments in a statement released on Tuesday.  “I talk with hundreds of business owners and business leaders every year and this has not been brought up to me,” McCord later told Radio PA of the drug test issue.  “So I’m not sure that that’s a real issue, and it sounds like it’s a blame-the-victim distraction game.” 

But Labor & Industry Secretary Julia Hearthway says employers across the state are sharing drug test concerns with her too.  “It’s very difficult to quantify, but it’s certainly an issue that identifies one employment barrier that exists out there,” she explains. 

For safety and insurance reasons zero-tolerance drug policies are often imposed in various industries, including manufacturing.  “This issue is very real.  The governor is absolutely right, and if anything I hope that this is a teachable moment for the public,” says Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association executive director David N. Taylor, “because I don’t think a lot of people – especially younger people – realize that by being recreational drug users they, in many instances, are rendering themselves unemployable.”

Taylor says there are 6,000 – 7,000 good manufacturing jobs for which employers can’t find qualified employees.  While there are numerous factors driving that figure, he contends that failure to pass a drug test is absolutely one of them.

Consortium Envisions ‘Tech Belt’ in PA, OH and WV

Pennsylvania is part of the pilot program for a proposed national network of manufacturing institutes.  The National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMMII) is a public-private partnership that spans PA, Ohio and West Virginia.  The Department of Defense is putting up $30-million dollars to help fund the institute; another $40-million dollars is coming from a broad base of consortium members.

Additive manufacturing is a high-tech process that produces items directly from a 3D digital model.  “Rather than the traditional way of taking a block of material and subtracting material away where you don’t want it, additive manufacturing is a layered process that puts the material where you do want it,” says acting NAMMII director Ralph Resnick.

Eight Pennsylvania universities and community colleges are a part of the consortium, including Penn State.  “The concept is to try to utilize universities and industry together to try to advance technical issues and barriers that are impeding manufacturing from being competitive in this marketplace,” says Wayne Figurelle, director of industrial innovation programs for the College of Engineering at Penn State.

Resnick and Figurelle tell Radio PA that the Department of Defense is especially interested in additive manufacturing because it’s cost-effective, mobile, and allows for production in limited quantities.

Resnick expects big things if they can harness the energy of the 40-companies, 9-research universities, 5-community colleges and 11-nonprofits who are participating in the pilot project.  “We not only hope to create jobs, but we hope to create region that is similar to the Silicon Valley for electronics or the Research Triangle in North Carolina.”

NAMMII is the first of what President Barack Obama has proposed as a billion dollar network of 15-manufacturing institutes.  Expansion of the program would require congressional approval.

RadioPA Roundtable

Radio PA Roundtable 08.24.12

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Brad Christman and Matt Paul preview Penn State’s attempt to shift focus from off-the-field disasters to the team that will take the field next Saturday for the 2012 season opener against Ohio University. You’ll also get an update on a select committee on property taxes and hear details about the report generated by the governor’s Advisory Committee on Manufacturing.

Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting on the top news stories of the week.

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:


Report Provides Roadmap to Grow Manufacturing Jobs

The manufacturing sector has actually posted employment gains in two consecutive years.  It currently employs 574,000 Pennsylvanians, but Governor Tom Corbett says we can do better.  Corbett and key members of his administration unveiled the Governor’s Manufacturing Advisory Council report at four, statewide events Tuesday afternoon.

The 24-member panel decided upon 15-recommendations that range from better career and technical education, to a statewide energy plan and tax policy changes.  “We have a cross-agency, public-private team of folks working on implementation going forward,” says Team Pennsylvania Foundation president & CEO Matt Zieger.  “So those [recommendations] that are not underway, will be underway very soon.”

Team PA has been funding and facilitating the council since Governor Corbett created it late last year.  Zieger says the report is unique because many of the recommendations aren’t just about how the state can help the manufacturers, but how the manufacturers can help themselves.

One of the key issues raised in the report is the “skills gap” that was reported by 82% of Pennsylvania’s 15,000 manufacturers.

“My goal is straight forward; a healthy economy and a job for every Pennsylvanian that wants one,” Governor Corbett said.  “This report provides a solid roadmap for us to work together and achieve that goal.”

The statewide jobless rate now stands at 7.9%, according to the latest data from the Department of Labor & Industry.