The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

November 26, 2013

Highlight the positive | Summit reveals area's growing pessimism

JOHNSTOWN — Local business leaders have spoken, and the news isn’t very encouraging.

The Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Chamber of Commerce’s annual Economic Summit, which was held Friday at the Pasquerilla Conference Center, revealed a growing uneasiness among area businesses.

More than half of the 159 respondents – 52 percent – said they were pessimistic about the future, according to the 2013 Economic Climate Study. That’s 13 percentage points higher than last year’s survey and marks the first time in the 20 years of the economic summit that more businesses were pessimistic about the coming year than were optimistic.

“If anyone read this report and just looked at the numbers in here, they can’t come away with anything but pessimism,” said Pitt-Johns-town associate professor emeritus Ron Vickroy, who conducted the research along with UPJ associate professor John McGrath. “That’s my personal opinion. Now, we could have come up here and sugarcoated this for everybody in the room. We could have swung it. I don’t think it’s right. I don’t think it’s the right thing. We’re just sharing. It’s not my perspective. It’s what you’re telling us, and what you’re telling us is not good.”

We’re glad that the professors didn’t sugarcoat anything. Our region needs to take a hard look at itself and its future. Glossing over our problems won’t do anyone any good.

The percentage of pessimism seen in our region is much worse than the state (35 percent) and national (39 percent) numbers.

The report also found that lowering business taxes is the most important legislative priority on the minds of local businesses while controlling health care costs isn’t nearly as big of a concern here as it is statewide.

The region’s biggest weakness, according to respondents, is a weak business climate. That perception is likely a result of long-term economic problems that led to a financial downturn in our area. It didn’t happen in one year and can’t be fixed in one year. Of course, rampant pessimism about 2014 won’t do anything to shore up the business climate.

Poor highway access, which ranked as the region’s biggest weakness last year, fell to second place with 13 percent of respondents – one point fewer than the business climate – this time.

Unfortunately, the $2.3 billion transportation bill that Gov. Tom Corbett signed on Monday will do little to improve highway access here. Granted, repairing some bridges and roads – and thereby removing some weight limitations – will make it easier for some businesses with large trucks to get from Point A to Point B, but our larger problem is quick access to major highways.

And that same transportation bill that Corbett signed will be, in effect, another business tax, as skyrocketing gas prices will take a very real toll on companies across the state.

The report did contain a few encouraging signs, as the percentage of optimists in our region – 10 percent – also was higher than the state (9 percent) and national (7 percent) outlooks. Part of that optimism likely stems from our region’s strengths, which respondents see as the low cost of living here and the quality of life here.

There certainly are positives to making your home or basing your business in our region. That’s why we need to find more ways, to paraphrase an old song, to accentuate the positives and eliminate the negatives.

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