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Lively Discussion at Pennsylvania Jobs and Economic Growth Roundtable

Late last month Bill Wehry, State Executive Director for USDA’s Farm Service Agency and I warmly welcomed a crowd of over 35 to the Pennsylvania State Farm Show Building for a roundtable discussion on jobs and economic growth in Pennsylvania. This event was held on a Monday following an intense snowstorm. Pennsylvania Officials at a recent Jobs Roundtable Event hosted by USDA's Rural Development and Farm Service Agency.

USDA is taking the lead in hosting forums and discussions on jobs and economic growth as an extension of the White House forum of last year.  Tasked with the goal of exploring ideas to meet the needs of Rural Americans and providing input back to the White House, we chose a panel consisting of: Russell Redding, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Secretary; Charlie Lyons of Senator Bob Casey’s staff; Melissa Frey of Senator Arlen Specter’s staff;  Bill Hanley of Congressman Holden’s staff; Bill Sturges with the Governor’s Advisory Council on Rural Affairs; David Black, President of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber; Doug Hill with the County Commissioners Association; Joe Mackey, Pennsylvania Builder’s Association 2010 President; Gwen Andersen from the Renewable Energy Center at St. Francis University and Jeff Fleischer, CEO of Youth Advocate Programs, Inc.

I can’t thank these individuals enough for their commitment—they re-arranged flights, dug cars out of three feet of snow, and went above and beyond on a cold Monday in Pennsylvania to attend this event.

Barry Denk, Executive Director of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania served as moderator for the group, interjecting thought-provoking statistics on our state as he led the roundtable discussion focused on creating jobs by rebuilding infrastructure, green jobs of the future, small business growth, preparing and training workers, and expanding job opportunities by boosting exports.

In addition to comments from the panelists, comments were also submitted from 20 members of the audience, including several young adults from the Future Farmers of America organization. Several key ideas that surfaced involved suggestions on reducing the regulations involved in seeking federal funding. Other suggestions involve the creation of a government subsidized workforce and allowing our technical training high schools to double as adult learning centers to create a more skilled workforce in rural areas.

Ideas continued to flow from panelists as our discussion time drew to a close. We are accepting additional comments as we begin the process of compiling Pennsylvania’s report for Secretary Vilsack. I was pleased to be part of such lively discussion and excited to hear that so many ideas are out there to help America rebound from the economic downturn.

To learn more, go to the Rural Development and FSA Job Roundtables Schedule, and the News Release, “USDA to Host Roundtables on Jobs, Economic Growth”.

Thomas P. Williams, Pennsylvania State Director, USDA Rural Development

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