Pennsylvania’s construction industry needs a robust economy to thrive. Its success is linked to growth at the local and state levels. Chambers of commerce play a big role in encouraging that growth, and the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry recently named a new president and CEO.
Luke Bernstein joined the chamber in June 2022, bringing more than two decades of experience working in business and government.
His most recent position was as executive vice president and chief operations and technology officer at Orrstown Financial Services. His resume also includes two years as senior vice president of external affairs at the Pennsylvania Bankers Association; four years as deputy chief of staff for former Gov. Tom Corbett; and stints as an aide in the U.S. Senate and as an appointed advisor in the administration of President George W. Bush.
Goals in the Chamber of Commerce
“My goal, and the mission of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, is to make Pennsylvania the most competitive state in the nation for economic growth,” Bernstein said. “That is both a challenge and an opportunity.”
Challenges include a declining population, rising costs, and an antiquated tax and regulatory structure, he said. Opportunities include strong infrastructure, a prime geographic location, world-class educational institutions, and a good quality of life.
Advancements are needed in workforce development, tax reform, and regulatory reform, he said.
“Businesses across Pennsylvania are struggling to find qualified workers, and we need to ensure that we are investing in programs that train individuals with the skills needed to fill in-demand jobs, particularly in the trades.”
Bernstein said he is encouraged that Pennsylvania recently enacted the most comprehensive business tax reform in the last three decades.
Supporting local businesses
Bipartisan legislation will cut Pennsylvania’s corporate net income (CNI) tax in half, from 9.99% to 4.99%, by 2031. Other small business tax reforms, including Section 179 (expense deductions) and Section 1031 (like-kind exchanges), bring Pennsylvania law in line with federal law and make it more competitive.
But more can be done, Bernstein said.
“Policymakers should build on these reforms by continuing or expediting the phase-down of the CNI and improving the treatment of net operating losses. Additionally, Pennsylvania’s permitting process needs significant improvement. Long delays and a lack of predictability in permitting often lead to slow-going infrastructure development and financing for all manner of public and private projects, and even causes Pennsylvania to be dropped from consideration for site selection,” he said.
“To provide further certainty to businesses looking to invest and hire in Pennsylvania, the legislature should codify in law provisions included in recent executive orders from Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration aimed at reducing red tape and streamlining the permitting and licensing processes,” Bernstein said.
Additional reforms that the state chamber is lobbying for include allowing permit applications to be “deemed approved” if an agency fails to meet a required deadline and allowing for a third-party review of applications.
Since starting as president and CEO, Bernstein has traveled to businesses and organizations in every corner of the commonwealth to get a first-hand look at their operations and hear about the challenges they face. He has also visited more than 40 local chambers of commerce.
Breaking the trends
“Pennsylvania has so many advantages–from our proximity to markets and population, infrastructure, and rich culture–but the most important is our people. It’s a real privilege to get to meet so many fascinating and talented Pennsylvanians,” he said.
The Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry has nearly 10,000 members, in every industry.
“I often joke that I have 10,000 bosses. Navigating the unique perspectives and varying priorities of so many industries and sectors of the economy can sometimes be a challenge. However, the diversity of our membership is also one of our greatest organizational strengths, as it uniquely positions the PA Chamber to bring different groups together and build consensus on issues that move Pennsylvania forward.”Bernstein
“Our size is our strength,” Bernstein said. “No other statewide association has the breadth and diversity of our membership or ability to mobilize significant support of pro-growth policies or against anti-business policies.”
Last year, the chamber collaborated with the insurance and automated vehicle industries to develop and enact legislation providing a regulatory framework to produce self-driving vehicles in Pennsylvania.
“We worked together to facilitate a compromise that ensures Pennsylvania will continue to be a leader in this innovative technology, which is expected to grow to a more than $1 trillion global market by 2026,” he said.
Chamber of Commerce events
In addition to its advocacy efforts, the PA Chamber holds several events across the commonwealth throughout the year. They include an HR Conference, Health and Wellness Summit, Economic Summit, Women in Business Conference, State Civics Bee, Government Affairs Roundtables, and member-sponsored webinars.
“These events provide attendees with valuable advice, networking opportunities, and continuing education credits,” Bernstein said. “Our annual chamber dinner at the Hershey Lodge is Pennsylvania’s premier event where the state’s business, civic, and governmental leaders gather to celebrate everything that makes Pennsylvania great. We look forward to announcing guest speakers and programming for this year’s dinner soon, but in the meantime, I can safely say that you won’t want to miss it!”
I encourage you to visit our website, www.pachamber.org, to learn more about our efforts to improve the business climate for Pennsylvania’s job creators and consider becoming a PA Chamber member today. We wake up every day with the goal of improving Pennsylvania’s business climate, and we need your help to create a more prosperous future.
Check out other articles in the Spring 2023 issue of The Keystone Contractor!