U.S. Congressman Matthew Cartwright Q&A
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 regarding the topics of 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. According to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission’s Employment Forecast 2040, growth in health care and social assistance, company management, and the arts industries in the Lehigh Valley outpaced national growth in the last decade. The LVEDC should continue to attract businesses that are looking for the workforce, infrastructure, and education conditions that are provided in the Lehigh Valley. It should attract businesses in already growing industries as well as those targeted for growth, such as information and communication, diversified manufacturing and services, and energy/green manufacturing and services.
I believe the LVEDC has been successful in locating businesses to the Lehigh Valley because they provide information on site locations and guidance on navigating state, county, and local agencies across the Lehigh Valley. They provide businesses access to loans and grants, and they provide research on regional demographics and economic statistics. Businesses need funds for start-up, construction, and employee training. Research helps businesses make sound, well-informed choices about moving to the Lehigh Valley, where they can optimize the conditions for success. Knowing they have help makes it an easy choice for a business to locate in the Lehigh Valley. The LVEDC should continue its good work supporting businesses to ensure long-term economic prosperity.
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. Businesses do better when welcomed by a nurturing community. Support with setting goals, outlining business plans, and finding start-up capital are essential for an entrepreneur. Not all economic development is on a grand scale. The LVEDC can increase productive capacity by diversifying local industries, supporting community-based development projects, and matching start-ups to resources.
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 LVEDC should support business retention by continuing to offer access to funds, research, a guide to state and local agencies, and ways to access markets. Current and new businesses will also need to expand the quantity and range of the Lehigh Valley’s goods and services to increase the long-term productive capacity of the region. This can be done by giving businesses easy access to domestic and foreign markets, which the LVEDC already supports. Additionally, the LVEDC offers valuable networking opportunities for its members with potential business partners and workforce development partners, such as colleges, technical schools, and the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board. Businesses will expand and grow as they access resources, expand to new markets, build partnerships, and keep an open dialogue with workforce development partners.
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. Long-term economic growth requires cooperation among local governments, businesses, educational institutions, and community groups. One of the most vital roles the LVEDC provides for the Lehigh Valley is bringing together the aforementioned groups to establish a comprehensive economic development plan with priority projects. Bringing voices to the table improves the quality of the results and economic equity of the outcomes. Agreement on what will benefit the region and what will help each local economy grow can reduce competition for the same funds or other unproductive rivalries. Regionalization is especially important when there are so many municipalities. A small town may not be able to leverage resources or attract a business the same way a region can. When municipalities come together, there is a possibility for codes and regulations to be aligned. Providing result-oriented reporting on goals will help collaborators reflect on continuous improvement strategies. Regional collaboration will provide a business-friendly environment and maintain a balance of diverse industries, quality employment opportunities, and thoughtful planning.
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.
According to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission’s Employment Forecast 2040, the Lehigh Valley can expect a 35% increase in population over the next 30 years, with about a 6-10% increase in the labor force in each decade. In the last decade, the Lehigh Valley saw substantial growth in the health care and social assistance industry. There was also growth in company management and various service industries. The LVPC predicts continued growth across industries with the most gains in health care and social assistance, professional and business services, and construction. Planners need to be open to all ideas and attract businesses that grow and diversify industry clusters. Hopefully, we can support conditions to retain or grow the manufacturing industry and attract green energy suppliers. The Lehigh Valley will boost productive capacity by attracting new businesses and by supporting existing businesses to help them expand, diversify, and reach new markets. Businesses and those planning economic development will need to be flexible to adapt to market changes and employment opportunities.
Enhancing the already high quality of life in the Lehigh Valley will support economic development by attracting businesses and a maintaining a collection of talented workers. The Lehigh Valley offers good schools, many colleges and technical schools, top-notch health care, historic downtowns, open spaces, and a wide array of entertainment and recreational opportunities. The Lehigh Valley has a vibrant arts community and a local food economy. Galleries, community theaters, and farmers’ markets positively affect the prosperity of surrounding businesses and add to the overall quality of life that makes people want to move to and stay in the Lehigh Valley. We need to bolster our education system and ensure our young people can compete in the world-wide marketplace. We need to ensure there are quality training opportunities to re-tool workers who have lost their jobs or who are looking for a career change. People may come for college and stay for a job in one of the top health care networks or a budding technology company. As people move to the Lehigh Valley for the quality of life, they provide a strong pool of talented employees. Businesses may locate to the Lehigh Valley knowing they have access to a skilled workforce.
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. When leaders from public, private, and community sectors come together, they leverage talent, finances, and information. Partnerships between educational institutions and industry partners, for example, create a business-friendly atmosphere that supports economic opportunity for employees and a skilled workforce for businesses. Development projects like 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 these cities grow their economies, nearby areas will benefit. A broad, regional perspective can lead to economic development plans that attract and support businesses, enhance quality of life, and emphasize existing assets.
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. These improvements would further benefit from the electric distribution companies serving the region, PPL and Met-Ed, making further infrastructure investments to developing a smart grid to take full advantage of the resulting energy demand reductions. More people in the Lehigh Valley will mean more construction. We need green builders and eco-friendly neighborhoods. We need to encourage development projects that will grow the economy and meet energy needs while also conserving lush natural resources.
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. At times, brownfield development, like at the Simon Silk Mill in Easton, provides the opportunity to preserve a piece of history.
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 investments in infrastructure should always be made with careful consideration of long-term sustainability and future development in the area beyond just the immediate needs of the current developer or prospective business. 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. This project is projected to create 5,000 jobs. It will add exits, expand the overpass, manage truck traffic, and provide an industrial and retail center with close proximity to six municipalities.
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. As our population and the labor force grow, we will need to support commuter options. Ideally, commercial corridors will develop organically along well-used public transit and commuter routes.
We will strengthen our downtowns by investing in green spaces and providing more options for housing. Feet on the street mean more people in shops and restaurants. When a city has green spaces, such as the Greenway in Bethlehem or the parks in Easton, people are more likely to take a look at what there is to offer nearby. Downtowns need to be walkable. Initiatives to improve main streets, such as those in Easton and Bangor, have seen results after investing in facade improvements. Better looking storefronts make a downtown more attractive to businesses and customers, especially when accompanied by investments to streetscapes to make crosswalks safer and more visible and provide traffic calming measures, which can include trees, plants and brickwork, which also lend aesthetic qualities. Add a few galleries, great restaurants, and shops in preserved historic buildings, and you have a downtown destination.
It is no secret that I am a big supporter of having freight and passenger rail service restored to all parts of the 17th District. I see bringing back rail as a great economic development opportunity. The Lehigh Valley already has access to freight and has the potential to use it to reach more markets. We will attract businesses by giving them more access to domestic and global markets in ways that can save them on the cost. Rail is a means of supporting business infrastructure and connecting people to jobs. We need smart, efficient ways to help people get around for work and play. We already have a good system of roads and an airport in the Lehigh Valley. We need to increase access to rail.
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 the 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.
Some businesses see the advantage in the high quality of life afforded by the good schools, high-quality health care, vibrant arts scenes, historic downtowns, beautiful open spaces, and great recreational opportunities, like the Sands Casino and Dorney Park as well as a network of trails and parks. One of the biggest draws for people to locate to an area is schools. The Lehigh Valley has great public, private, and charter schools as well as access to eleven colleges and universities and four career and technical schools.
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. These groups offer a network of support with access to technical assistance, financing, real estate guidance, maps of municipal zoning regulations, and community services. When the public and private sectors work together, planning and development can cross municipal boundaries. Codes and regulations can become better aligned and the process for getting things done can be streamlined. This kind of support is a great advantage.
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.
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