Virus Outbreak Pennsylvania

People wait for a takeout order May 15, 2020, at a restaurant along Butler Street in Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville neighborhood.

(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania legislators announced plans for economic recovery on Tuesday as industry analysts report a historic low in small business confidence.

House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, said the chamber’s Economic Recovery Task Force will focus on aligning the state’s “homegrown assets” with opportunities for growth in hopes of turning the state into “the envy of the east.”

“As we began this session, I made it a priority to develop a working group of lawmakers from across Pennsylvania, with varied backgrounds, to put their heads together to help inform my office about what economic recovery legislation should look like,” he said. “Their charge is simple: Examine how we got here and develop and strategize legislative and policy ideas to kick-start the economy and make Pennsylvania the ‘envy of the East.’”

Lawmakers can start with favorable tax and regulatory policies, said Gordon Denlinger, director of the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business. Lingering uncertainty from ongoing COVID-19 restrictions at the state – and potentially federal – level plummeted small business confidence to historic lows, according to the NFIB.

“There is an amazing amount of uncertainty at this time, with small business owners concerned about health mandates coming from Governor Tom Wolf, and policy changes that will advance at the federal level,” Denlinger said. “In addition to favorable tax and regulatory policies, business owners need stability to make good decisions and plan for the future.

According to the NFIB’s Small Business Optimism Index, just 8 percent of businesses think it's a good time to expand. Nine of the index’s components declined, with virtually no one anticipating better business conditions over the next six months.

“The current dramatic changes in Washington and our ongoing challenges in Harrisburg are not providing stability or much in the way of hope for strong pro-business support from government,” Denlinger said.

Pandemic restrictions continue hampering industries unevenly – while bars and restaurants limp along under strict capacity limits and social distancing mandates, big box retailers remain virtually unaffected. With a slow vaccine rollout nationwide and a new incoming presidential administration, it's hard to forecast what the future holds for small business owners, according to the NFIB.

“This month’s drop in small business optimism is historically very large and most of the decline was due to the outlook of sales and business conditions in 2021,” said NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg. “Small businesses are concerned about potential new economic policy in the new administration and the increased spread of COVID-19 that is causing renewed government-mandated business closures across the nation.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Aaron Kaufer, R-Luzerne, will lead the state lawmakers' task force, which he said will investigate “legislative solutions” that will encourage business owners to again expand and hire more workers.

“With difficult challenges come great opportunities and we are faced with the opportunity to not only recover but come back stronger,” he said.

Fellow task force member Rep. Wendi Thomas, R-Richboro, said the state is “obligated to repair the financial damage caused by the ramifications of COVID-19.” 

“We must help Pennsylvania’s businesses rebound from this crisis and thrive, but we must also focus on attracting new businesses to our state through economic policies that remove the obstacles to economic growth,” she said. “In the end, the work of this task force will create a roadmap for helping businesses flourish and stand strong in the face of any future crisis.”

Staff Reporter

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania's General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.