By HEATHER BOSAU
Held in Ford Chapel, the fourteenth annual Executive Roundtable welcomed various area executives and Allegheny alumni gathered to address the current state of work in Western Pennsylvania, as well as the potential for growth within the economies of the area.
The original consensus was bleak. While the national average in terms of job growth is worrisomely low, according to moderator Russ Ormiston, totaling about 4.45 percent, despite a relatively stable increase in real GDP since the recession, Western Pennsylvania is well below even the national average, coming in at about 1.6 percent, based on Professor Ormiston’s opening presentation.
This, coupled with the note that manufacturing jobs have also been on a steady decline in recent years did not suggest a positive discourse for the panel. However, Professor Ormiston concluded his opening with a question that became the subject of the entire discussion: “How can this region create ‘good’ jobs?”
The panelists, who, from their various perspectives offered a wide spectrum of insights, discussed the issues faced by the Western Pennsylvania economy as well as possible solutions. The panel featured Allegheny alumni Bill Adams,’89, and Silas Russell, ’07, as well as noted community members Stephen Herzenberg, Executive Director of the Keystone Research Center, Harrisburg, and Joy Sherry, Director of Human Resources at Ainsworth Pet Nutrition in Meadville.
After opening remarks from Adams and Sherry, who both encouraged the creation of jobs within the manufacturing sector that are not directly related to manufacturing, such as administrative and clerical work, Herzenberg, armed with the fact that manufacturing jobs have such a low retention rate, suggested that manufacturers do not ‘invest enough in workers.’ After a brief interlude in which incentives ideally available to workers were discussed, and with a bit of urging from the moderator, the panel focused on the topic of healthcare as a benefit.
At this point, each panelist had quite a bit to say.
The question posed by Professor Ormiston was originally directed at Silas Russell, whose resume includes a great deal of political experience, culminating in his current position as government affairs and legislative director of the SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania. Russell condemned an earlier comment made by Bill Adams that suggested increased benefits would cost corporations more, thus forcing prices to increase. Russell instead suggested that employers attempting to maintain as much profit as possible, as opposed to spreading a bit of the wealth amongst the workers, would be the only reasons for prices to dramatically increase.
Adams took a decidedly more conservative, big-business view of current healthcare legislation that would offer healthcare to many people who otherwise would not have access to it.
Adams made a suggestion to jobs offered that do not provide health care.
“If you needed health care, you wouldn’t be taking that job,” Adams said.
He also suggested that he refers to those twenty-somethings who are still living at home and who might benefit from the recent legislations as slackers, though he said so with air quotes, implying that there was a bit more to this diagnosis, than the original, albeit, negative connotation.
Sherry, too, warned against the various drawbacks of recent legislation, framing her arguments in terms of the costs inflicted upon workers.
Overall, the panel highlighted the various manufacturing-based jobs that offered Western Pennsylvania an opportunity to increase job creation, while also examining the various factors that make a job ‘good.’