It is not a matter of if but when Pennsylvania moves toward permitting reform, according to Harrisburg insiders. Still, industry groups and business owners insist, time is of the essence.
Building A Better America, a campaign in support of permitting reform, recently hosted area legislators, labor leaders, and business owners for talks on the subject. All agreed government needs to do a better job of helping businesses and workers by speeding processes and cutting red tape.
“This is the biggest pain in the a** going right now, in my opinion,” said Rob Buckley, president of Buckley & Company, Inc., a family-owned construction company founded in 1928. “We have jobs, we have opportunities, but that opportunity only lasts so long, and next thing you know, it’ll go somewhere else.”
The Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry can relate.
In 2022, U.S. Steel built a $3 billion investment with 900 good-paying jobs with six-figure salaries a year in Arkansas. Pennsylvania wanted the investment, but the permitting system was too big a factor. In fact, when then-Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) announced U.S. Steel’s decision to come to his state, Hutchinson said it would move into the building before it would even get permitted in Pennsylvania. The situation was brought up in the Building A Better America panel discussion, just as it was during a recent press conference featuring the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry held with legislators and industry representatives.
Joseph Szafran, executive director of Lower Bucks Chamber of Commerce, wants to see permitting reform to help the Delaware Valley region.
“Bucks County is prime for economic growth,” said Szafran. “There’s construction, whether it is roads or new businesses, and items like permitting slowdowns and the implications they have to that economic growth, are, you know, endless.”
Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) appears to be on board with the idea of permitting reform. In March, he did not mince words when he told legislators that “our licensing and permitting process takes too damn long.” Shapiro went on to say that “bureaucratic delays and inefficiencies” make life difficult for everyone from barbers to nurses and the people involved in infrastructure projects.
“We’ve been held back,” said Shapiro. “I say no longer.”
Shapiro has since issued executive orders to try to make things better for professionals and industries. In July, following the partial collapse of Interstate 95, Shapiro cut red tape to expedite the rebuilding process. The damaged section of the interstate reopened 12 days later. Buckley was part of that rebuild.
Republican legislators are ready and willing to work with their colleagues from across the aisle. State Sen. Frank Farry (R-Bucks), who worked as a firefighter while running for office, said if government fought fires the way it handles permits and other processes, not only would a house burn but maybe an entire block. State Rep. Martina White (R-Philadelphia) agreed, saying time is money, and that is not something businesses have a lot of to throw around.
“Companies want to come here. But then they see the potential issues with our regulatory process or our permitting approval processes,” said White. “If the permits are not approved in a timely manner, those dollars are going elsewhere.”
Buckley put it this way: Stop playing kick the can down the road and work with guys like him who are in it to win it.
“When I bid a job, it’s money that is coming out of me, and I kind of like my house, but if you tell the people that are in the permit process, ‘either get this thing approved or you’re going to lose your house,’ I’ll bet there’s a little more motivation to get that done,” said Buckley. “It’s good for the economy, it’s good for the industry, it’s good for the union, it’s good for the people in this area of Philadelphia where we’re trying to attract businesses.”
Speaking of unions, Jim Snell, Business Manager at Steamfitters UA Local 420, was also a participant at the Building A Better America panel discussion. Snell said the issue is very important to Local 420 and the Philadelphia building trades. Just as legislators serve citizens, Snell said he is there to serve members and their families, some of which have seen projects go to other states.
“My members should be on that project working, but they’re not because of red tape,” said Snell.