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Don Cunningham: This is Not a One-Size-Fits-All America

By Colin McEvoy on February 1, 2017

This column, written by LVEDC President and CEO Don Cunningham, originally appeared on The Morning Call website on January 18, 2017. (Click here to read Cunningham’s previous columns.)

Don Cunningham

Don Cunningham

It was Tip O’Neill, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and Democratic ward-style Congressman from Boston, who said, “All politics is local.”

What he meant is that, regardless of what’s going on in Washington or the nation, it’s what happens at home that gets someone elected or unelected. But, back in Tip’s bygone era of politics, which wasn’t long ago, Democrats and Republicans competed every 24 months in most of the nation’s 435 congressional districts.

Therefore, it mattered what happened at home. That’s what you campaigned on or against.

Today, partisanship and loyalty to political tribe have relegated competitive legislative elections to the quaint old days of democracy. Congressional districts, along with those for state House and Senate seats, are gerrymandered to assure party control. There is little regard for logical geography or regional identities, which is why Bethlehem now shares a district with Hershey, and Easton with Scranton. Legislative boundaries look like a Rorschach inkblot aching and straining to link Republicans or Democrats together in “safe seats.”

In the Lehigh Valley, there were no competitive legislative races during the last election. Most incumbents had no opponent. And, this was the same election as the longest, most competitive and covered presidential race since 2000.

In today’s America, all politics are national. Allegiance to party, ideology and tribe are the rallying cries and one-size-fits all solutions and policies are handed down from the on-air and online squawkers, the national parties and presidential candidates.

The problem is that it’s not a one-size fits all America.

As I argued in this space last time, American media, pundits and politicians want us see the presidency as a type of new omnipotent monarchy that governs all aspects of our lives. In this view, the president is responsible for everything from the economy to foreign wars to terrorism and to whether we have a job, where it’s located and how much it pays. Of course it ignores the reality of a free market, capitalist Republic that stands upon a federalist system of local, state and national governance of three equal branches and a powerful and innovative private sector.

The bigger danger, however, is the loss of debate about whether a particular one-size fits all policy or solution makes sense everywhere.  What may motivate voters and make sense in parts of the country struggling with economic decline may not make sense here.

The Lehigh Valley is growing. Our $37 billion in GDP is the largest it’s ever been. Our companies logged record exports last year. Manufacturing is once again our largest sector with 680 companies and 36,000 workers. Ten million square feet of new industrial space was built during the last two years, another five million is under construction. All three of our cities have roared back with new offices, restaurants, nightlife, entertainment and residents.

While more can always be done, as I look across the Lehigh Valley, I see more of Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America” than the “American carnage” of President Trump’s inaugural address.  It’s a big America. I’m sure there are pockets of carnage but I sure don’t see us as part of it. We’ve turned most of our old factories and industries into new job centers – and we did it locally. More is on the way.

Today, our biggest economic challenge is workforce. We are in an age of transition and we need workers with the right skills and qualifications. That takes training and retraining. It means more capacity at our vocational and technical schools and community colleges. In some cases, we just need workers. We are fortunate industry and manufacturing is here and keeps coming. They need the right workforce. We are near full employment in the lower skilled sectors. Amazon reduced the size of its last facility because of concern for finding 1,000 new workers. We face the same challenge with other large industrial prospects.

We may need a new round of immigration, which has fueled the American workforce and way of life for generations.  A labor shortage will reward workers in the short term with higher wages due to supply and demand but it will cause problems in the long run for companies and the region.

Many of our manufacturers rely upon trade, as do consumers. Just last year, 42 percent of our new development projects came from overseas. Bimbo Bakery from Mexico built a $100 million plant here. Fuling Plastics built the only Chinese manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania employing Americans. Norac of France is building its American plant here to enter the U.S. pastry market. These are some of today’s Lehigh Valley manufacturers.

Lower taxes and sensible regulatory reform certainly could generate new corporate investment and growth. We hope for that. The wrong trade and immigration barriers could be counter productive to our local needs.

The American economy is large and complex. One size never fits all. Since politics now appears to be national, we have to make sure that Washington doesn’t send us the wrong size shirt and pants.

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Effective this year, as an additional investor benefit, there will be no attendance costs for investors to any events organized by the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corpo[...]

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