From PA Chamber of Business & Industry
The 2019-20 state legislative session has started out much like the one before it – with a divided government. The state House and Senate remain under Republican control and the Executive Branch is still led by Democrats, with Gov. Tom Wolf being sworn in last month for his second term. However, there are some differences in the political dynamic. Last November’s General Election resulted in losses for some moderate Republicans, which has led to a smaller and more conservative Republican majorities and larger and more ideologically liberal Democratic caucuses.
But these differences weren’t the focus of Gov. Wolf’s Inaugural speech last month, when he focused on bridging political divides to get things done for the betterment of all Pennsylvania’s citizens. The PA Chamber is also taking this optimistic approach this session, realizing that there are many areas for improvement in the Commonwealth that everyone – regardless of political party – can be in favor of.
Building a Skilled Workforce
One area is in workforce development. Pennsylvania businesses are facing a workforce crisis. In our most recent Economic Survey, our members’ number one concern was finding skilled and qualified employees to fill open positions and actively seeking solutions that will help close the skills gap in PA. The Pennsylvania Chamber is taking the lead across the state, responding to the needs of the state’s job creators. We have named workforce development as our top priority and have launched a major grassroots initiative to help bridge the gap between Pennsylvania employers’ current and future employment needs and the skills of today’s workforce: Start the Conversation HERE.
Through this program we are collaborating with educators, developing solutions-based workforce programs, highlighting company success stories and providing resources describing how businesses can develop programs to attract the talent they need in Pennsylvania. We are spotlighting student success stories and the steps they took to reach their achievements, and raising awareness of the jobs that are in-demand in the state, describing the occupations, the education and skills needed and the salary potential they offer. And we’re also in our third year of teaming up with the mikeroweWORKS Foundation, in which—through the generosity of Pennsylvania businesses—we have donated more than $200,000 in Work Ethic Scholarships to 70 Pennsylvania students who have chosen to pursue careers in the skilled trades.
On the legislative side, we stood last session with a bipartisan group of lawmakers and the governor as he signed a “Clean Slate” bill – a first-of-its-kind measure that provides a mechanism for people with low-level, non-violent criminal offenses to have those records sealed from public view. This gives them a better chance at securing a better paying job and housing, which allows them to become productive members of society and lower their chances of recidivism.
Building a More Competitive Economy
There are other areas in which we are excited to work across the aisle this session. In last week’s Inaugural speech, Gov. Wolf referenced Amazon, the Seattle-based mega-corporation that ultimately decided to split a second headquarters between New York City and outside of Washington, D.C. instead of Pittsburgh or Philadelphia (the two cities were among the final contenders). The governor said he wants Pennsylvania to be a place where “we don’t wait around for Amazon to move here, because we’re building the next Amazon.” This is where the PA Chamber’s influence, through the support of our members, can make all the difference. Our business is in ensuring that for businesses of all sizes, the Commonwealth is the best possible place to invest, grow and hire. That’s why last session, we secured $2 billion in savings for our members by working to defeat a number of proposals that would have raised business costs; while also helping to enact money-saving initiatives (i.e., bonus depreciation and workers’ compensation reform) that are encouraging employers to make investments in their facilities, their workers and in new hires.
It’s true that a lot of work lies ahead to secure Pennsylvania’s reputation as the best possible place for business growth. Throughout our more than 100 year history, our job has been to work closely with elected officials to ensure that they understand the needs of business owners who are committed to building a brighter economic future, through smart public policies that don’t favor Republicans or Democrats, but ALL Pennsylvanians.
- A free job fair will be held this Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 21-23, at the Bloomsburg Fairgrounds in the Industrial, Arts & Crafts and Educational buildings. Any business interested in booking a space should complete the one-page vendor application. For questions, please call Diane Considine at 570-479-0636 or Barb Belles at 570-387-4144.
- The Danville Business Alliance will host an economic vitality meeting and informational session this Friday, Feb. 22, at 8 a.m. at the DBA office at 620 Mill St., Danville. It has invited Paul Macknoskey, regional director from PA Department of Community and Economic Development for an informational session to explain what the Opportunity Zone designation, the Neighborhood Assistance Program, and a Façade program means for the area, how it works, and who can benefit. Jackie Hart, director of codes & building development for Danville Borough, will provide information on the Borough’s LERTA Ordinance. The Neighborhood Assistance Program/Enterprise Opportunity Zone and LERTA ordinance are incentive programs that provide tax credits to businesses or private companies investing in rehabilitating, expanding, or improving buildings or land located within designated areas. Please RSVP by email is you would like to attend this meeting.
- The Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit is seeking professionals in the business community to serve as judges in specific categories at its PA Media and Design Competition (formerly called the PA State Computer Fair). There will be separate regional competitions, one for middle school students on Monday, March 4, and one for high school students on Monday, March 25, both at CSIU #16 located at 90 Lawton Lane, Milton. If interested in participating in these events as a judge, please email Bill Herald by this Friday, Feb. 22. For more information about the event, including a list of categories, visit the event’s website.
- AGAPE is in desperate need of warehouse and driver volunteers. Even if you might only be able to help one day per month, that would be of tremendous value to AGAPE as it works to ensure it serves those in need. If interested, or for questions, please contact AGAPE at 570-317-2210 or stop in their office at 19 East 7th St. in Bloomsburg and fill out an application.
- Currently, and running through April 4, the United Way of Columbia and Montour County is again offering free basic tax help to low and moderate-income residents in the community. This program will be held Tuesdays and Wednesday from 2-6 p.m. and Thursdays from 4-8 p.m. at Wesley United Methodist Church, located at 130 W. 3rd St., Bloomsburg (use the rear entrance). No appointments are necessary, only drop-offs and walk-ins will be accepted. For questions, call the United Way at 570-784-3134 or email, and see the flyer for additional information.
- Knoebels Amusement Resort will hold its annual job fair on Saturday, March 2, from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m., at the Elysburg Fire Department, located at 1 East Mill St., Elysburg. There are seasonal positions available in games, ride operations, food service, gift shops, grounds crew, security & first aid, admissions, crystal pool, campground, guest services, and more. If you have a particular interest or skill set, Knoebels has a job for you. Visit the Facebook event for more information.
Economic development activities of the Columbia Alliance for Economic Growth are now being handled by DRIVE, a two-county council of governments created to consolidate the activities of several organizations. The Alliance Board of Directors voted to dissolve the organization at its annual meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 19, held at the Inn at Turkey Hill. Recent efforts of the Alliance include development of the Columbia County Business Park at the Lightstreet exit of Interstate 80, preceded by the development of the Bloomsburg Regional Technology Center on Market Street in Bloomsburg.
DRIVE’s other initiatives include marketing and reuse of the former Metso Minerals property in Danville, and developing wireless broadband in northern Montour County. More information about DRIVE is available at its website.
More than 400 businesses and organizations belong to the Chamber to receive benefits and support efforts to strengthen their businesses and our region. Increased membership allows us to offer additional programs and benefits, have a stronger voice in advocacy and be involved in more activities and initiatives in our communities. The Chamber welcomes its newest member, Java Momma, to help us fulfill our mission.
Founded in 2017, Java Momma is an online direct sales specialty coffee business that sells direct to consumers, baristas and others through its website. Based in Danville, it also sells other beverages in addition to coffee, including tea, cocoa and mocha, as well as variety of other specialty beverages and beverage accessories. Java Momma can be reached by email, call 570-594-8682, or visit its Facebook or Instagram pages.
Many employers currently offer tuition reimbursement as a component of their employee benefit programs, but this benefit is of limited use for employees who have already completed their education and who do not expect to take further coursework that would be eligible for reimbursement. At the same time, large numbers of prospective employees are burdened with significant student loan debt obligations. This student loan debt can limit the degree to which employees participate in taxdeferred benefit options such as health savings accounts (“HSAs”), dependent care assistance programs (“DCAPs”), and retirement savings programs such as 401(k) accounts.
Currently, an employer cannot make tax-advantaged contributions toward an employee’s student loan debt or offer employees the option to elect a portion of their income to be directed toward student loan debt repayment on a tax-advantaged basis. But in a 2018 IRS private letter ruling, the IRS found that a 401(k) contribution program did not violate the 401(k) “contingent benefit” rule. Under the program, the employer made regular matching 401(k) contributions equal to 5% of the employee’s payroll period compensation if the employee contributed at least 2%. The employer’s proposed amendment to the program, which the IRS addressed in its ruling, allowed employees with student loan debt to voluntarily opt out of the regular matching contributions and earn a similar employer contribution provided that the employee made student loan repayments of at least 2% of their payroll period compensation. This benefit allowed the employer to reward the employee for making student loan payments by increasing the employer’s contribution to the employee’s 401(k).
This letter ruling is not precedential and should not be solely relied upon to adopt a student loan repayment benefit. There are unresolved nondiscrimination, administration, and verification issues that will accompany any student loan repayment plan. Further, pending legislation may dramatically alter the scope of student loan repayment benefits and tax advantages to employers and employees related to these programs. Employers should consult with their legal, accounting, and benefits advisors to consider whether there is a role for a student loan repayment benefit in their broader benefit package and the possible costs and benefits associated with this in-demand benefit option.
This article gives a basic overview of recent regulation as in effect on the date of the article. Please be aware that the determination of the requirements and the application of these rules to each employer may differ due to a number of variables. Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice.
More updates on our Facebook page
Latest from the Newsroom
- Working Across the Aisle: PA Chamber Committed to Smart Policies That Everyone – Regardless of Political Party – Can be in Favor ofFebruary 21, 2019 - 11:39 am
- Member News – February 20, 2019February 20, 2019 - 10:48 am
- Columbia Alliance for Economic Growth Votes to DissolveFebruary 19, 2019 - 6:32 pm
- Welcome Java MommaFebruary 18, 2019 - 10:21 am