The LVEDC Interview: Pennsylvania Senator Pat Browne

By LVEDC Staff on May 20, 2014

EDITOR’S NOTE: Pennsylvania Senator Patrick Browne was first elected to the Senate following a special election in April of 2005 and re-elected in the fall of 2006. Prior to joining the Senate, Senator Browne represented the 131st District for 10 years as a member of the state House of Representatives. He was re-elected in November 2010 to his second full term as state Senator for the 16th District, representing constituents in parts of Lehigh County. The senator was elected by his colleagues in the Senate Republican Caucus to serve as Senate Majority Whip for the 2013-14 Legislative Session. He serves as the Vice Chairman of the Senate Rules and Executive Nominations Committee and serves on various other committees. In advance of LVEDC’s May 29 Conversation & Cocktails event featuring him, the senator sat down with us to discuss where he views the progress of the Neighborhood Improvement Zone, other initiatives related to economic development he wants to accomplish, why the Lehigh Valley’s economic development progress has been so robust and where we are falling short, and why he finds the Lehigh Valley so fetching.

"From its cities to its villages, from its theaters to its parks, from its schools to its places of worship, the Lehigh Valley is second to none."

“From its cities to its villages, from its theaters to its parks, from its schools to its places of worship, the Lehigh Valley is second to none. “

LVEDC: The Neighborhood Improvement Zone is attracting a lot of well-deserved attention to Allentown. How rewarding is it to see the progress tied to this great initiative that you fathered?

Sen. Browne: Allentown, similar to cities throughout the Commonwealth, has experienced a significant decline in commercial activity and investment over the last 30 years. This combined with a decline in average personal wealth as compared to surrounding communities has placed a tremendous strain on the long term financial sustainability of the city and its corresponding school district.

A healthy, vibrant productive urban center is one where multiple business segments interact to maximize commercial cash flow individually and collectively. The Neighborhood Improvement Zone was structured to leverage the macro dynamics of the urban commercial landscape by allowing developers and investors to dedicate the broadest and most diverse state and local public revenue portfolio available to development opportunities. With this foundation, the city is once again provided a competitive platform for multiple business segment investment at the same time.

I am pleased that the state revenue authorities working with NIZ authority officials and private developers have worked in collaboration to make the first phase of this 30 year development tool a success.

LVEDC: What other initiatives have you been able to push through to help the 16th district with new jobs and economic development?

Sen. Browne: First and foremost, it is important that the state offer a competitive cost structure in which promote overall commercial investment and opportunity. During my 20 years in office, I have worked to promote a positive business climate by changes to our tax structure which lower corporate rates, eliminate taxes on valuation and equity and expand the ability of small and middle market enterprise to raise private capital without exposure to higher corporate rates.

Upon this foundation of an overall more competitive business climate, I have focused my attention on public financial incentives which target high growth, high value industries and commercial redevelopment of challenged economic areas. My work along with my colleagues includes:

1)      Initial creation, designation and expansion of Keystone Opportunity Zones throughout the region.

2)      Creation of the Keystone Special Development Zones (KSDZ) which will provide job creation tax credits to investors in our state’s most challenged brownfield sites. The initial KSDZ approved by the state is in the Bethlehem Steel brownfield site.

3)      The Lehigh Valley Gaming Revenue Sharing Acts which has provided millions in public community and economic development resources to all three cities and many boroughs and townships throughout the region

4)      The creation of the Community Revitalization Improvement Zone Act, modeled after the NIZ, which will provide significant commercial investment growth and opportunity in the remaining challenged parcels in Bethlehem

5)      The recent passage of the Pennsylvania Transportation Funding Law which will provide billions in critical funds to rebuild existing local and state transportation capacity, provide for new capacity including the future widening of Route 22 and funds for economic development opportunities

6)      The New “Innovate PA” program which will leverage future Pennsylvania revenue capacity to invest in our national leading Ben Franklin Partnership and their mission to support and capitalize high value early stage enterprise.

7)      Updates to the Neighborhood Assistance Program to allow small and middle market companies to invest in local community, housing and economic development projects. A significant investment of this program was made to the Arts Quest project in Bethlehem

8)      A new tax credit program for commercial investment in alternative fuel technologies as part of Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Investment platform

9)      Updates to the Pennsylvania’s Bank Shares Tax to ensure that our local federal and state chartered banking institutions do not experience escalating tax exposure due to additional capital requirements mandated from Washington.

10)  Millions in investment from the state’s Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program which has supported private commercial investment, hospitals, museums, housing projects, arts venues and public safety facilities in all three cities and many communities throughout the region

11)  Millions in investment from the Monroe/Northampton Local Share Act which has supported community and economic development opportunities throughout Northampton county

12)  Partnered with local authorities and developers to provide millions in investment from Pennsylvania’s various infrastructure programs to various significant private development opportunities throughout the region.

LVEDC: Lehigh Valley is considered the nation’s 68th largest metro area for GDP – and No. 2 among for the number of 2013 economic development projects for metro areas our size (200,000-1,000,000). Why do you think we’re experiencing such regional growth?

Sen. Browne: Officials of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development report that 40 percent of all economic development leads which come to the department are inquiring about investment in the Lehigh Valley – a region with 8% of the state’s population. Over the last 14 years, the 16th Senatorial District has been the fastest growing district in the state. I believe our success is due to multiple factors all combining to offer a competitive platform for prospective commercial investors:

1)      Our traditional and excellent proximity to major commercial markets

2)      Outstanding educational assets from primary/secondary to higher education and technical training

3)      Excellent quality of life assets from sports and hospitality to arts and culture

4)      A diverse compendium of living opportunities from rural open spaces and suburban neighborhoods to classic urban and village lifestyles

5)      A government sector that fosters partnership and collaboration not partisanship in its role in private sector economic opportunity.

6)      Commercial parcels with ready access to available utility capacity and highways

7)      Multiple highly successful business development and assistance organizations available for workforce skill development and product/process technical assistance

LVEDC: On the flip side, what do you consider some of the most pressing issues and obstacles for your district and the entire Lehigh Valley?

Sen Browne: The two most significant issues which Lehigh Valley leaders must continue to focus on are the continued challenges facing our urban communities and the condition of our infrastructure.

Although our three cities are experiencing the fruits of commercial redevelopment, we must make sure that this success is sustained through continued investment in the residential neighborhoods which surround and support the commercial center of each city. Our city leaders must partner with the private sector and state and federal agencies to maximize performance in public safety, job creation, public spaces and housing stock reinvestment. In addition, all resources must be brought to bear, both public and private, to promote continuous improvement of the academic performance of our urban school systems.

The prospective growth of our region necessitates a continued focus on the condition and efficiency of our transportation network including its emphasis on available and prospective mass transit systems. Our ability to realize sustained growth in private commercial investment will directly depend on our ability to offer an effective platform for the free flow of goods, services and workforce both to and from suburban and urban parcels. The recent passage of the state’s transportation funding act will provide a solid foundation from which our region can promote continuous transportation system improvement.

LVEDC: Finally, what is it about Allentown and Lehigh Valley that makes you not only want to live here, but to also fight for the area in Harrisburg?

Sen. Browne: My father and mother moved to the Lehigh Valley in 1962, the year before I was born. They moved from New York with the thought that their stay would be temporary and would move back to the city once my father gained executive experience in his chosen profession. Yet, very rapidly, they realized how special the Lehigh Valley region was and how much it had to offer. Fifty years later, I carry their commitment to the community they came to call home because no other place can offer a family a stronger platform for a better quality of life than the Lehigh Valley can. From its cities to its villages, from its theaters to its parks, from its schools to its places of worship, the Lehigh Valley is second to none.

It is in this regard that I first decided to seek public office in 1993 and I still serve in the General Assembly 20 years later – to play a part in preserving and improving the region which gave me and my family such tremendous gifts and opportunities. I look forward in the years to come to work with all sectors of our community to make sure that the Lehigh Valley is a place that we and the entire state of Pennsylvania can be proud of for generations to come.

Optimal Target #3: Life Sciences Research & Manufacturing

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