Northampton, Lehigh County Executive Candidates Speak At LVEDC Forum
By Colin McEvoy on October 17, 2017
All four candidates for county executive in Lehigh and Northampton counties gathered together today for a forum on economic development at the Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, organized by the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC).
Moderated by Muhlenberg College‘s Christopher Borick, this marked the first and only event bringing together all four candidates: John Brown (R) and Lamont McClure (D) in the Northampton County race, and Phillips Armstrong (D) and Brad Osborne (R) in the Lehigh County race.
Armstrong is the current president of the Whitehall Township Board of Commissioners, having served on the board since 2014. He had a 40-year career as a social studies teacher and coach in the Whitehall-Coplay School District, and chaired the high school’s social studies department prior to his retirement.
Brown is seeking re-election to a second term as Northampton County Executive, a post he has held since 2014. During his tenure, Brown previously said, the county has identified $40 million in budgetary savings and tripled reserve funds. Brown also previously served as the mayor of Bangor.
McClure, a Bethlehem Township resident, is an attorney with the Bethlehem-based Law Offices of Peter Angelos. He previously served on Northampton County Council from 2006 to 2015, where he was an outspoken advocate for keeping the Gracedale Nursing Home under county ownership.
Osborne is currently serving his second term on the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners, to which he was elected in 2012. He previously served on the South Whitehall Township Board of Commissioners from 2005 to 2012. He works as the plant manager for GEO Specialty Chemicals.
Armstrong said he’d would have a regional approach to governance and would like to bring together business leaders, government officials, school districts, and various other stakeholders for economic development and supporting business growth in the Lehigh Valley.
Noting that most job creation within the Lehigh Valley comes from existing employers, Armstrong said he would focus on discussions with current employers to learn their needs, and work with the region’s technical schools, workforce organizations, and union apprenticeship programs to fill those skills gaps.
“My goal is to market the Lehigh Valley as the key to the world,” Armstrong said. He also noted his track record of attracting new businesses to Whitehall Township as a commissioner, and the township’s support for tax incentives to redevelop the blighted Lehigh County Dairy property.
Brown said cooperation is crucial when it comes to economic development, and that he would help ensure the coordination of public officials when it comes to attracting businesses. He said he work to marshal the resources the county has available, and work with groups like LVEDC and the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.
“The most important part, especially in this area, is to be on the same page; having that coordination of everyone, in both Northampton and Lehigh counties, and across the business community,” Brown said. “I think that has really been the benefit over the last decade or two in this region that’s really allowed us to accelerate.”
Brown said during his tenure, the county created a program that will improve 33 bridges in four years, paid for from cash flows within the county, without raising taxes. He also said he would ensure smaller communities with limited resources receive help when it comes to attracting business and job growth.
McClure said he seeks to balance economic development and job creation with maintaining a high quality of life. He supports a multi-tiered plan to ensure the region has a smart approach to development, avoiding too much traffic congestion and the strain created by rapid growth.
McClure emphasized his desire to preserve farmland and open space, noting he was active in doing so during his time as a county commissioner. He also said he would focus particular attention on improving economic development and reducing unemployment rates in the Slate Belt region.
“We have challenges going forward into the future, and that’s why I have been running on my prosperity, preservation, and protection agenda,” he said. “We will protect senior citizens, and we will preserve our open and green spaces, because this improves everyone’s quality of life.”
Osborne said he would allocate resources and give clear direction to groups like LVEDC and the Lehigh Valley Workforce Development Board on job creation. He would also help plan and build infrastructure to support quality economic development, and work with individual township and boroughs on their strategies.
“I believe our goals for economic development should be to help create more and better jobs for the people of our community and help produce reasonable tax revenue for our school districts, county, and host communities so our local government can provide the services that our citizens want and need,” he said.
Osborne also said he would encourage more high school students to enroll in technical schools, continue to maintain the county’s bridges, and consider tax incentives for development projects on a case-by-case basis, evaluating community impact, willingness to use local labor, and terms to roll back the incentives if terms are not met.
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