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LVEDC and LV Partnership host county executive’s forum on economic development and regionalism

By LVEDC Staff on May 14, 2013

By John McGran

Job creation, the economy and regionalism topped the agenda at the first-ever county executive candidate’s forum hosted by Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation and the Lehigh Valley Partnership Monday night (5/13) at the new Gambet Center at DeSales University.

The event featured all four candidates for executive of Northampton County and the three men vying for the executive position in Lehigh County that will appear on the May 21st Republican and Democratic ballots.

LVEDC President and CEO Don Cunningham offered opening remarks before turning the two-segment event over to moderator Chris Borick, a nationally recognized professor of political science at Muhlenberg College.

“LVEDC is a public private partner ownership, focused on marketing the Lehigh Valley for business development,” Cunningham said to a crowd of about 75 people. “The Lehigh Valley partnership is a consortium of our largest employers and is also a public private organization. This forum is a chance for you gentlemen to express your visions, your ideas, your platforms related to regionalism, job creation, and economic development.”

The three Democratic candidates for executive of Northampton County – Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan, Northampton County Councilman Lamont McClure, and former Northampton County Executive Glenn Reibman, along with Republican Bangor Mayor John Brown, went first.

The second forum featured the two Republican candidates – former Lehigh County Commissioner Dean Browning and current Lehigh County Commissioner Scott Ott – and Democratic candidate Tom Muller, the current Lehigh County Director of Administration.

LVEDC Board members, investors and staff, along with members of the LV Partnership filled the new lecture hall to listen to a far-reaching and thorough discussion of how the counties can help to advance economic growth and job-creation. News reporters for The Morning Call, The Express-Times, Lehigh Valley Business, Lehigh Valley Ramblings and WFMZ-TV covered the forums. Their reports on the forum can be found on-line.

Below is a sampling of comments from each candidate during their opening or closing statements and answers to questions. A transcript will appear soon on lehighvalley.org.

Northampton County

On regionalism

John Brown: We all have common needs. Unless, we find a way to reduce the costs for these services and eliminate redundancies, we won’t have enough money to reinvest into our communities.

John Callahan: I think the easiest way to define regionalism is that a rising tide lifts all boats. If you understand that and you believe that, then you’ll be the beneficiary of a thriving and growing region.

Lamont McClure: As our population grows, we will become the second largest metropolitan region in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. We will necessarily need to have our regional act in order to continue to thrive and grow.

Glenn Reibman: When I think of regionalism in the Lehigh Valley, I think of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation. What I want to do when elected is to move two new regional issues: a regional health department and regional rail service.

On using tax money to support private development

Callahan: I’m very familiar with those programs and I’m an advocate for those programs. I’ve worked hard with these programs in place and used them wisely and I would look for more opportunities to do that in Northampton County.

McClure: We need to get stronger on analysis of how these projects work. The one issue is job creation but the other is: are the projects working the way they were intended to work?

Reibman: We provided real money to East Allen Township. That investment produced the Arcadia Industrial Park with two major companies. The private sector invested over $60 million dollars into the project.

Brown:  What is a return on investment for the taxpayer? We have to take a look at how often and when they are being used.

Concluding remarks

Reibman: Economic development is at the very foundation of a very healthy and sustainable county. It takes times, patience and money. We will recreate this important environment under my administration because I have the experience, achieved the results, and I have the vision to do so.

McClure: I propose we don’t raise the property taxes in the next four years in order to strengthen and widen our tax base. I will use all the tools in the bag but I will be judicious when using them in order to ensure that the taxpayer is benefitting from these programs and there is a return investment available for the community.

Callahan: I plan on continuing to create this environment that I have been able to uphold for the past nine years because, if we don’t have a safe environment, no developers will want to invest if they feel they cannot be safe. I look forward to taking my experience and using it to help the city of Bethlehem move forward at the county level.

Brown:  I think that the county executive should have great leadership skills in order to have an effective impact. It has been proven that leadership is the one quality that can make or break any organization. If things do not start at the top effectively, it will not make its way through the entire system. I have extensive program and experience in this field.

Lehigh County

Opening remarks

Dean Browning: We need to truly balance the county’s budget, eliminate the deficit, and we need to do that without raising taxes. Over the past 10 years, there have two tax increases and three tax decreases. Not quite the model of stabilities. Government must live within its means and that applies to Lehigh County.

Tom Muller: The county plays an essential role in economic development but government needs to start being more involved than before. First, we are an important table setter in where we make the public safe and, second, provide a good quality of life. To me that goes to recreational facilities and cultural facilities and venues.

Scott Ott: First let’s make sure we are not doing anything to positively interfere with a robust dynamic free-market economy. Secondly, public safety is important to create in the environment. Lastly, we need to create an affordable place to live.

On regionalism

Browning: To me regionalization is the application of an economic concept where you have a concentration of resources, and an economy scaled to receive a better result. We need to break down the parochial approach normally taken and take a more concentrated and more effective way of dealing with our problems.

Muller: Regionalization in my mind is working together and doing things that collectively we can do more efficiently for the good of the counties. The one I would push for is the regionalization of law enforcement. Criminals don’t know any borders.

Ott: Cooperation between municipalities needs to be in place in order to get things in order but you cannot force things from the top down. We have to be respectful of everyone.

On TIFs (tax increment financing)

Browning: It is my understanding that future tax money will be used for projects such as the Hamilton Crossing project – and not current taxpayers’ monies to fund these projects. We look at the alternatives first and establish our options, then choose accordingly.  I am in favor of TIFs.

Muller: I am very supportive. Hamilton Crossing is a prospective area we are looking at for a TIF. We’re trying to find ways to use the tax money now to create jobs for the area.

Ott: There are more complicating factors than just saying that something is a good project so we should use a TIF. We need to be judicious about using TIFs because, unfortunately, we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.

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