'Bringing PA Back' from the pandemic [column]


The COVID-19 pandemic brought forth an unparalleled time in our state’s history. As a commonwealth, we came together to slow the spread of this novel coronavirus. And thanks to the hard work of our health care professionals and the collective efforts and sacrifices of our citizens and business community, Pennsylvania has been able to flatten the curve.

However brave and selfless these efforts have been, they haven’t been made without serious repercussions for our economy. Prior to the pandemic, Pennsylvania’s economy was on a positive trend, with revenues for the current fiscal year coming in slightly above estimates. We now find ourselves in an economic free fall the likes of which our nation hasn’t seen since the Great Depression.

As of Thursday, more then 1.96 million Pennsylvanians had filed for unemployment claims since March 15. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently noted that figure makes the commonwealth the eighth hardest-hit state in terms of the percentage of the workforce filing for unemployment.

In March, our state had the fourth highest unemployed rate. With Pennsylvania already lagging behind the majority of states, it will take extraordinary measures to come back from this economic downturn.

As the “Statewide Voice of Business,” the PA Chamber is committed to leading Pennsylvania’s economic resurgence through our bold new initiative, Bringing PA Back, which is arming employers with the information they need to reopen their facilities for employees and customers and promoting public policies that will help employers overcome hurdles to reopening and operating in this new pandemic era.

Over the last several weeks, the PA Chamber has engaged in extensive conversations with statewide associations — including the medical community, business leaders and local chambers — to determine employers’ major concerns and needs as the state looks to slowly reopen economies across the commonwealth.

Using this feedback, we created a comprehensive website, BringingPABack.com, which features guidance from trusted sources on a number of important topics, including workplace readiness (such as cleaning and safety standards), employment opportunities and industry-specific guidance. The website also includes a map of the commonwealth identifying which phase of the reopening process each county is currently in, along with an overview of the Wolf administration’s guidance for each phase.

As new guidelines and announcements from the Wolf administration are released, we will be regularly updating the website so that employers can stay up to date on the reopening process.

But in order to truly bring Pennsylvania back, there needs to be a focus on policies that prioritize reopening safely and encourage business investment and reinvestment in the commonwealth. To that end, the PA Chamber has developed policy recommendations that are focused on the state’s economic recovery — all of which are highlighted on the website.

One policy that is absolutely critical at this time is enacting limited liability protections for the health care industry and businesses. The executive order signed by the governor earlier this month provided liability protections to only approximately half of the state’s doctors, which doesn't go nearly far enough. Medical professionals have been on the front line of battling this disease and businesses statewide have made bold changes to help combat COVID-19, including closing their physical locations and reworking their operations to comply with social distancing orders, as well as shifting their production lines to provide the medical community with the personal protective equipment they desperately need right now.

If they continue to proceed in these efforts without liability protections in place — which would be narrow, targeted and temporary — hospitals and businesses could face mountains of lawsuits, further stalling our recovery efforts and potentially leading to closures and shutdowns.

We need policies that will help businesses survive and ultimately thrive. Anything that blocks that will only hinder our ability to come out of this pandemic economically stronger than before.

On behalf of Pennsylvania’s business leaders, we are dedicated to restoring a sense of normalcy both in our economy and our way of life, and moving forward in a safe and productive way. Our rich history shows we are a people who can rise to any challenge, and our organization stands ready to work with elected officials, public health experts and employers on implementing a workable process to get back to business in a responsible way.

Together, we are “Bringing PA Back”!