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U.S. Congressman Matthew Cartwright Q&A (edited)

By LVEDC Staff on May 22, 2013

EDITOR’S NOTE: Matthew Cartwright was elected November 6th, 2012 to represent the recently and heavily reconfigured 17th U.S. Congressional District, which now includes the City of Easton and several townships and boroughs in Northampton County. A lawyer by trade and Democrat by political affiliation, Cartwright recently agreed to an interview with LVEDC. Topics include economic development, job creation and the economy at large.

During your campaign you said your number one priority was attracting good-paying, family-sustaining jobs to Northeastern Pennsylvania. As a member of Congress, what have you done to accomplish that?

In Washington, I have been looking at a number of approaches to bring good-paying, family-sustaining jobs to the district. To this end, I have been advocating for the repeal of “the sequester,” which has led to layoffs and furloughs of many areas. Additionally, I have co-sponsored a number of pieces of legislation to make it easier to invest in job-creating ventures. I have signed on to a number of letters asking Congress to fund our job-creating programs at appropriate levels. I have tried to give our business owners certainty by both sponsoring legislation to prevent the kind of brinksmanship that damaged our credit rating and by reaching across the aisle to friends on the other side of the aisle to work together to solve problems. I’ve only just started, but I look forward to bringing great, new jobs to this area for as long as I am a congressman.

In your view why has the U.S. economy continued to remain sluggish after several years?

There are a number of reasons why the recession has gone on for so long, but let’s be clear on the point that we are out of a recession. Economists tell us that we have been out of a recession for many years. The reason why we feel like we’re in an economic hole is because our employment rate remained high many years after this recession hit. Right now, we in the government could be doing more to get back to full employment, but we aren’t getting those things done. Rather than engage in a policy of austerity, we need to invest in building a workforce of talented people who are earning family-sustaining wages. I have spoken about investing in infrastructure often; now is the time to build our workforce and move to greater economic prosperity. Also, we should look at the Make It in America agenda that we rolled out recently. We need to repeal sequester, which is causing layoffs everywhere, and engage in a more focused approach to build the economy.

What role does an economic development agency such as LVEDC play in facilitating long-term economic growth?

The Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation is an important force for economic development in the Lehigh Valley, and it will continue to play an important role in the long-term economic prosperity of the Lehigh Valley by helping to increase productive capacity and to promote regional collaboration.

One of the most important roles the LVEDC will play to increase long-term productive capacity is attracting businesses, preferably those offering family-sustaining wages, following sustainable development practices, and diversifying industry clusters. The LVEDC has been supportive of neighborhood partnership programs and start up businesses. The LVEDC should continue to make strides toward facilitating small development projects and fostering grassroots, neighborhood-level development. Economic development needs to be part of a collaborative, community response that focuses on issues like public safety, affordable housing, well-maintained properties and streetscapes as well as enrichment of cultural, historical assets and encouragement of the arts.

In addition to attracting businesses, helping new businesses start up, and revitalizing neighborhoods, the LVEDC should continue helping to retain and grow existing businesses. Long-term growth will be sustained as businesses expand and related businesses develop.

The long-term economic prosperity of a local economy depends on the economic prosperity of surrounding economies. The LVEDC should continue to be an advocate for and be a catalyst of regional partnerships.

The LVEDC has been a facilitator of long-term economic growth by helping to bring in businesses, get businesses started, revitalize communities, retain businesses, connect businesses to other markets, and strengthen regional collaboration. They will need to continue this work to build and sustain long-term economic growth.
What are the top development opportunities in your district in Northampton County?

There are a lot of great economic development projects currently in the works in the Lehigh Valley. As the congressional representative for part of the Lehigh Valley, my top priority is to help create good-paying, family-sustaining jobs. To support job growth, the Lehigh Valley will need economic development projects that attract businesses, enhance the quality of life, capitalize on regional partnerships, invest in energy, preserve natural resources, invest in infrastructure, and strengthen downtown and urban centers.

One of the best ways to support economic growth and ensure smart, sustainable development projects is through collaborative planning and regional partnerships. A regional partnership can emphasize the region’s collective assets and advantages. Development projects such as the improvements to the Four Blocks International business district, the Greenway, the Sands Casino, and the SteelStacks campus in Bethlehem and plans for the Simon Silk Mill and 13th Street Corridor, as well as improvements to the West Ward in Easton, are examples of how private-public partnerships and collaborative planning have already or will soon reuse neglected and abandoned sites, revitalize neighborhoods, link neighborhoods, develop green spaces, create trails, and create jobs.

As people and businesses move to the Lehigh Valley, it will become more important to invest in energy. I support an “all of the above” approach that utilizes domestic resources in an environmentally responsible manner, finding newer, better uses for traditional forms of energy production, and investing in sustainable, clean energy technologies to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Investing in energy is not just about power companies. We need to promote green businesses that install solar panels, energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, and weatherization improvements.

From my perspective, many residents in the Lehigh Valley want to protect natural resources and open spaces. Regional planning and dialogue between public, private, and community groups will help to ensure economic development projects are smart and sustainable. For some parts of the Lehigh Valley, natural resources are or can become the industry. There are many ways to protect natural resources and open spaces while also boosting economic development. Recreational opportunities for the sportsman and eco-tourist can boost related businesses like lodging, restaurants, and retail.  Another example of projects that protect natural resources and support sustainable practices is the redevelopment of brownfields. Redeveloping a brownfield maximizes the use of space in a municipality, cleans up environmentally damaging contaminants, removes blight from our cities and rural areas, and protects open spaces. Improvements along Route 512 in the Slate Belt could alleviate traffic congestion, provide access to an undeveloped industrial park on a brownfield, and improve infrastructure related to sewer, water and drainage.

When we invest in infrastructure, we create better locations to set up a business and to start a family. Investing in infrastructure projects means doing more than repairing roads and bridges and upgrading utilities like sewer and water. It is about access to high-speed Internet, a vital component for linking local economies to global markets. It is about enhancing infrastructure in places that will attract businesses and, ideally, create cost savings. We need projects that reduce congestion, make it easier to navigate neighborhoods, support alternate modes of transportation, and link businesses to domestic and global markets. We need economic development projects that link regional supply chains and increase access to multiple modes of transportation: foot, bike, car, truck, rail and plane.

Public-private partnerships are often needed to leverage resources and put in place infrastructure of roads, water, sewer, drainage, and utilities in a manner many developers and business owners cannot afford on their own. The Route 33 Interchange and Chrin Commerce Centre offer an example of how public-private partnerships can leverage resources to make needed infrastructure improvements. Businesses that locate there will have access to expressways and rail.

One of the added benefits of investing in infrastructure is increased opportunities to strengthen downtown and urban centers by developing commercial corridors. An important and efficient place to focus commercial corridor development is currently underutilized sections of our cities and boroughs, where most of the infrastructure is already available. Municipal areas cannot expand. Redevelopment of a brownfield not only protects natural resources and supports environmental cleanup, it also allows a municipal area to reclaim industrial space, as is the case with the Bangor Business Park, as well as the Simon Silk Mill. The Intermodal Center in Easton is another good example of how we can fill in an unused part of the city and attract more retail space to a growing city center. The new Intermodal Center will link public and private transportation systems and make it easier for people to commute to and from New York and Philadelphia, as well as within the Lehigh Valley.

Some of the projects I have mentioned are well underway, while others are just getting started. Economic development projects need to be part of a strategy for attracting businesses, enhancing the quality of life, capitalizing on regional partnerships, investing in energy, preserving natural resources, investing in infrastructure, and strengthening downtowns and urban centers.

How does the 17th District compete to attract companies from other regions and states if you can’t offer incentives that companies want to come here?

Our goal should not simply be to lure companies away from other regions and states in a zero-sum competition, but to grow new businesses and industry that do not exist elsewhere. Incentives should not merely translate to subsidies, tax breaks, and subsidized resources/infrastructure, but, more importantly, should be about advantages.

There are many advantages for a business thinking to locate in the Lehigh Valley. The Lehigh Valley has been ranked in the top 10 of top-performing regions for economic development in the nation for the past five years. The Lehigh Valley offers many good locations in or near great communities, access to regional markets, a high quality of life, well-managed natural resources, fiscal stability, smart county and municipal governments, and a system of technical assistance.

Most locations for businesses enjoy close proximity to several expressways. Economic development projects have provided site-ready industrial spaces in good locations with infrastructure improvements in place. Many businesses locate in the Lehigh Valley because they can access markets across northeastern United States and beyond using the five expressways as well as access to freight rail and the airport, which is a U.S. Customs Port of Entry.

One of the best qualities of the Lehigh Valley is the level of collaboration between the public and private sectors. Businesses that locate in the Lehigh Valley will be welcomed by a strong network of professionals in the private and public sectors who work together on strengthening economic prosperity.

Thankfully, there are incentives to attract businesses. Businesses can explore opportunities available through Keystone Opportunity Zones, Foreign Trade Zones, and funding through the Lehigh Valley Land Recycling Initiative, business councils, the Small Business Administration, and a network of lending agencies. Businesses may also find it an incentive to know communities may be open to public-private partnership that offers a tax-exempt or tax-incremental financing.

This is an abridged version of Cartwright’s responses – click here to read the entire interview.

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