About 20 Upper Bucks Chamber of Commerce members, along with local legislators and business leaders sat down with Republication U.S. Senator Pat Toomey for an informal session in September.
While Toomey talked about the economy, health care, jobs, tariffs and trade wars, he listened while those gather around the table shared what was on their minds – along with their biggest fourth quarter concerns – for 2019 and beyond.
“Businesses are taking a hit…its jobs,” said Ron Bracalente, owner, president and CEO of Bracalente Manufacturing in Trumbauersville.
His firm manufactures precision machined parts in Trumbauersville and in Suzhou, China.
Toomey acknowledged the economy is slowing down but said he’s “skeptical it will slide into recession.”
Chris LaBonge, principal of Adtell Inc., said a once thriving market for telecommunications products and sales “has eroded.” With Chinese competition asking “how can we work together,” LaBonge said keeping dialog open “that didn’t exist before” could be part of the stalled market’s solution.
Closer to home, ratifying the USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement) which replaced NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) in 2018, could stabilize markets here.
To date, the agreement has been signed by all- three countries: Canada, Mexico and the United States, but the trio of countries have yet to ratify it.
Toomey said ratifying USMCA could eliminate some uncertainty about trade between America’s nearest neighbors, and maintain a healthy flow of goods and services across the borders.
Tariff threats by the U.S. aimed at curbing illegal immigration have been tied to USMCA, but Toomey said trade partnerships should not be partisan- based.
A shortage of skilled workers continues to plague the region, according to Stephanie Shanblatt, president of Bucks County Community College in Newtown.
She said among options for filling vacant jobs was the successful expansion of training and re-training programs offered through BCCC. So far the programs have not been eligible for federal grants or funding.
“We have a 90 percent placement rates,” Shanblatt said.
With college officials working directly with industry leaders to craft relevant curriculum, prospective employees are trained for available jobs and to meet current workforce needs.
“There are tremendous opportunities in Upper Bucks for workforce development, education and [facing our] manufacturing challenges,” said Bucks County Commissioner Rob Loughery.
Dennis Pfleiger, president of St. Luke’s Quakertown and Upper Bucks County campus said affordable health care and prescription drug price controls were essential elements for legislators to tackle to support local populations.
Toomey said while he would not support price controls on drugs, generic versions of brand name products should be able to come to market more quickly when patents expire.
Mark Horn vice president of marketing at Grand View Health said patient access to care and resources to support those with opioid addiction and recovery problems were priorities for Upper Bucks County communities.
He noted opioid drugs are replacing alcohol for many with addiction use disorder, and in-patent placements were a major issue and obstacle to recovery for them.
“We struggle to find beds, and [we] are sending people to Pittsburgh,” Horn said.
Loughery said finding or making local resources available to those who are recovering from opioid addition was of paramount importance.
Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick who serves District 1 said opioid deaths since 2018 have declined, but an increase in the use of methadone and cocaine in many communities is on the rise.
The Upper Bucks Chamber is proud to host our elected officials and will continue to have open dialogues and discussions with all of our representatives. Each year the Government Affairs & Public Policy Committee hosts a series of legislative events with our county, state and federal elected officials.
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