Governor’s Cabinet Members Discuss Education, Substance Abuse and Infrastructure

Members of Governor Wolf’s cabinet who participated in the meeting were (left to right) Pedro Rivera, Secretary of Education; John Wetzel, Secretary of Corrections; Leslie S. Richards, Secretary of Transportation; Colonel Tyree Blocker, Commissioner PA State Police; and Russell Redding, Secretary of Agriculture.

Members of Governor Wolf’s cabinet were in Bloomsburg on Monday, March 12, as part of a series of “Cabinet in Your Community” meetings across the state. Community members were invited to ask questions of the secretaries of Agriculture, Transportation, Corrections, Education, and the Commissioner of the PA State Police. During the 90-minute meeting, topics included workforce and education, rural broadband expansion, and how the Commonwealth is helping to deal with the opioid crisis.

When asked about workforce development, Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera reviewed some of the input gathered from the Middle Class Task Force meetings held last fall. The Chamber participated in one of these meetings which was co-chaired by PA Chamber President Gene Barr. In the next 10 years, 60 percent of the jobs that will be available will need some form of advanced training or degree, according to Rivera. Only 40 percent of Pennsylvanians currently meet that criteria. Rivera noted that Pennsylvania’s robust education system, from early childhood education, to K-12, career and technical education, the community college network, and the State System of Higher Education and state affiliated universities, needs to be properly positioned to educate its citizens.

Included in that training and education gap is skilled trades. Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel talked about education programs for inmates, including training inmates in job fields that are in demand in their area. Those who receive basic education or job training while incarcerated are 20% less likely to be arrested again, according to Wetzel. He stated that education, including early childhood education, is the key to reducing prison populations.

Sec. Wetzel noted that the biggest challenges facing the prison system are drug offenses and those with mental illness. He acknowledged that more treatment facilities and programs are needed to properly deal with these issues. One program that he hopes more counties will participate in is funding for medically-assisted drug treatment for inmates.

State Police Commissioner Colonel Tyree Blocker added that the State Police work to maintain connections with local and federal law enforcement to provide resources as part of a comprehensive strategy to address the opioid crisis.

Transportation Secretary Leslie Richards talked about the development of autonomous vehicles and Pennsylvania’s efforts to support this new technology, and also understand the implications to workforce. As a comprehensive fiber optic network is necessary for the technology to work, PennDOT and other departments are discussing funding models, rights of way, and other issues to support broadband expansion. Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding identified broadband expansion as the “single most important economic effort” in Pennsylvania.

On another timely topic of school safety, Commissioner Blocker stated that he wasn’t sure arming teachers is the right way to improve school safety. Sec. Rivera also noted that the Dept. of Education is not making a recommendation to the governor about arming teachers. Rather, several departments are evaluating safety protocols in schools.

Tickets Remain Available for Easter “Eggs”press Train Ride

The Bloomsburg Easter “Eggs”press Train Ride will offer four rides on Saturday, March 24, and there are still tickets remaining for all four departure times. The train will depart at 10 a.m., 12, 2, and 4 p.m. from the Sherwin Williams parking lot, located at 607 Market St., Bloomsburg. This train ride is organized by Downtown Bloomsburg, Inc. and is being sponsored this year by Service 1st Federal Credit Union, with the trains being provided by North Shore Railroad



Tickets are $13 per person, and may only be purchased online at the DBI website. Visit the website for more information, including FAQs.



PA Senator, Geisinger Representative Brief Local Chambers on Energy Policy and Efficiency

From Chambers for Innovation & Clean Energy

To some, Pennsylvania may be best known for its great historical significance — as home of the Liberty Bell and the place where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the U.S. Constitution drawn up.

But Pennsylvania has an equally strong history of innovation: being home to the nation’s first baseball stadium, first commercial broadcast station, and the world’s first high-speed, multi-lane highway to name just a few examples.

So perhaps not surprisingly a growing number of Pennsylvania leaders are now taking steps to seize the growing economic opportunities in energy innovation.

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PA State Sen. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Allegheny/Washington)

“This is a win-win for everyone,” PA Sen. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Allegheny/Washington) said in a recent briefing call with local Chamber of Commerce leaders from across the Keystone State.

Sen. Reschenthaler is a co-sponsor Senate Bill 234, which would allow municipalities to establish voluntary programs to provide financing for energy upgrades without any upfront costs.  Known as Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE), property owners re-pay the financing through a property assessment. C-PACE is offered in enabling legislation is active in 33 states plus Washington, D.C.  

SB 234 was overwhelmingly passed on the Senate floor 42-8 and is now being considered by the House Commerce Committee. Sen. Reschenthaler asked that Chamber leaders contact their legislators to voice their support.

(Note: The Columbia Montour Chamber has not taken a formal position on this proposed legislation)

“It’s about job creation in high paying fields such as electrical contractors, excavating, general construction, engineering, and so on,” Sen. Reschenthaler said. “It will lower energy costs for local businesses, increasing competitiveness.” Importantly, he added, the program uses funds from private institutions, not taxpayer dollars.

Asked why he became interested in CPACE, Reschenthaler said because he believes in energy independence and knows that renewables help contribute to that.

Geisinger Savings Through Efficiency

Co-hosted by the Columbia Montour Chamber, the briefing call was also an opportunity for local Chamber leaders to hear from Geisinger about how it is saving with energy efficiency.

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Al Neuner, VP of facility operations at Geisinger

“Energy is one of these topics that can benefit everyone,” said Al Neuner, VP of Facility Operations at Geisinger. As a result of its investments in energy efficiency, Geisinger has saved $15 million in energy costs, Neuner said.

“And businesses do not have to be as large as Geisinger to benefit from energy efficiency—he noted, adding that it is very scalable and no-risk (Watch a video about Geisinger’s energy efficiency program).

“One of the things we can do as chambers is to play the role of conveyor and bring our business members, the community, the utility, and workforce development organizations together to exchange information so that clean energy, and clean energy workforce training is more relatable to all of our businesses and community members,” said Fred Gaffney, president of the Columbia Montour Chamber.

“There are people and resources there to help you pay for this,” he said, referring to Act 129, a law passed in 2008 to encourage energy efficiency and provides rebates for new appliances, lighting and windows and energy audits.

A 2017 Public Utility Commission study found that Act 129 has delivered $6.4 billion in benefits for all electric consumers to date.

Growing Solar Jobs in PA

The speakers also briefed Local Chamber leaders on the recently passed Act 40, the Solar Jobs bill, aiming to limit state payments to out of state projects and grow jobs here in PA.

Ron Celentano, President of Pennsylvania’s Solar Energy Industry Association told the audience that up to 70 percent of the solar energy purchased in the state was coming from outside the state, said.

The new Solar Jobs bill corrected this by requiring that the solar come from within Pennsylvania.

“We see this as a great opportunity to have more solar jobs created within the state,” Celentano said. “And we’ve been seeing growth of solar jobs already since the passage.”

The call was co-hosted by the Columbia Montour Chamber and Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy.

Leadership Central Penn Gets Political

L-R: State Sen. John Gordner; Daniel McGann, Berwick School Board; Ken Holdren, Montour County Commissioner; State Rep. David Millard

So you think you know what LCP stands for. So did the class participants. That might have been true until arriving at Central Susquehanna Community Foundation in Berwick for February’s class when LCP stood for legacy, change and politics.  Punxsutawney Phil was seen this month, and the class welcomed back Tina Welch of Welch Performance Consulting for the Morning Motivation.  The class prepared to meet the panel of political representatives from local council, school board, county commissioner, PA State House of Representatives and PA State Senate. 

Fred Gaffney, Columbia Montour Chamber president, introduced the panel to the class:

Following brief introductions by Gaffney, the class then learned why each of the panelists ran for office, that running for office can be discouraging, rewarding and challenging, and that the public does not know what happens in an election tie until the last ball is drawn. Each person on the panel had personal reasons for entering politics.  It was refreshing to hear, unlike in many times in national media, about what they are trying to do to improve our local communities.

The panel also shared issues they face, mostly from unfunded state and federal mandates. These are mandates related to education, the environment, public domain, industry, and public safety, just to name a few. More and more, there are laws and regulations that force issues down to the local level for implementation and enforcement. Issues like teacher pensions, flood protection, environmental monitoring and water run-off regulations were discussed. 

Later in the morning the panel was joined by two state officials: 

  • John Gordner, PA State Senator
  • David Millard, PA House of Representatives

After introductions, it was time to discuss governmental transparency, budget and election gerrymandering. These topics, of course, were ripped from the headlines. This led to discussions related to constitutional law, and how Pennsylvania is one of a handful of states facing election issues as we prepare for primary season and midterm elections. These issues will cause debate about judicial versus legislative powers that will most likely reach the Supreme Court.

The one thing missing from the morning was partisan politics. It was refreshing to hear a group of elected officials discuss topics in a succinct way using facts and common sense, with the end goal being what is best for their constituents and people of Pennsylvania. Oftentimes, we get lost in partisan pandering and the daily media news cycle, and it is nice to see behind the local and state curtains, and realize these are good people doing the best they can.     

After another wonderful lunch prepared by Lucy’s Kitchen & Catering, it was time to introduce Christine Pangelinan, program officer at the Central Susquehanna Community Foundation. She was able to educate the class on the advantages of community foundations, and their impact on our area. There was a fun game involving teamwork to identify key terms used by foundations, and a scavenger hunt to learn about the CSCF.  Christine then asked if anyone won $1 million and had to set up a community fund through a community foundation, what would they do? There was great enthusiasm as the class then created their own community funds. These funds needed to be named, focused and a type was chosen (e.g. donor advised fund, agency endowment fund, scholarship fund, designated fund, pass through fund). The class really impressed Christine with their creative and thoughtful approaches, organization and naming of these funds.

Leo Gilroy, director of strategy & innovation at NEPIRC, leads the class through a presentation on change management.

As the afternoon wore on, it was time for a change, literally and figuratively. The class was introduced to Leo Gilroy, director of strategy & innovation with the Northeastern Pennsylvania Industrial Resource Center (NEPIRC). The class had individual opportunities to introduce themselves and discuss issues they have seen related to change at their organizations.  One thing everyone learned is that change is necessary, but not always easy.  However, the hardest changes can be the most beneficial, and communication is the main key to success in all organizations.

Leo then walked through a presentation highlighting the “5 Dimensions of Leading Change, Flexibility, Change and Teamwork,” “The Heart of Change (8 steps)” and “The Power of Habit.” In the end, human beings are biased toward the status quo, and all have heard the saying, “well, that is the way we’ve always done it.” People change radically only when they overcome instincts to stay in the comfort zone. Creating a culture of change is hard, but the payoff will be a flexible and agile organization ready to take on planned and unforeseen changes as they arrive.

Leadership Central Penn is sponsored by Bloomsburg UniversityKawneerSEKISUI SPI and USG

Downtown Improvement Plans Moving Forward in Berwick, Bloomsburg & Danville

Rich Kisner, executive director of Community Strategies Group, informed state and local agencies and elected officials about several significant projects being pursued for Berwick’s downtown area.

Efforts to enhance the downtown commercial districts in Berwick, Bloomsburg, and Danville are moving forward.

On Thursday, Feb. 22, the Berwick: The Next Step steering committee met with representatives of state and federal agencies as well as elected officials to provide an overview of the downtown enhancement plan. Several significant projects are currently being pursued and the meeting was to help identify funding opportunities for those projects. The Chamber provided funding for the enhancement plan and is part of that steering committee that meets every other week to advance the plan. Community Strategies Group is coordinating the effort.

Downtown Bloomsburg Inc., the Chamber’s subsidiary organization, is requesting approval from the Town of Bloomsburg to apply for grant funding to convert Miller Avenue into a primarily pedestrian walkway and gathering place. Ideas include tables and chairs serviced by the adjacent restaurants, and additional lighting to enhance safety between Main Street and the municipal parking lot. The project was identified the downtown Bloomsburg enhancement plan coordinated by DBI and supported by The Chamber.

In Danville, funding for the development of Canal Park next to Borough Hall has been awarded by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. The plan includes seating and a stage area for live performances. That project is a collaboration between the Borough of Danville and Danville Business Alliance.