Katie McGinty, a candidate for governor, repeatedly mentioned one common solution – job creation – when discussing many of Johnstown’s woes.
She talked about developing employment opportunities when addressing the city’s drug-related crime, infrastructure needs, prolonged membership in Pennsylvania’s Financial Recovery Act 47 program and a host of other issues during a recent meeting at The Tribune-Democrat.
“I’m in this race for one reason – and one reason only – and that’s jobs,” said McGinty, one of eight officially declared candidates for next year’s Democratic Party primary.
“It almost defies explanation how we can sit at 49th in job creation in the country. We might be 46th, now, whatever, we’re rock-bottom.
“Every bit of that is unacceptable. There are few places in the country that have the kind of dedicated workforce that we have with an incredible work ethic, that have the natural resources we have – water and energy, and have the technical institutions and colleges and universities that we have.
“You put those together, we should be competing and winning.”
Last week, Johnstown City Council approved another three-year Act 47 plan. Johnstown has been in the program, which provides tools to struggling communities, such as the ability to levy the so-called commuter tax, since 1992.
The city originally entered the program with the goal of receiving some short-term assistance in order to avoid a financial catastrophe.
“The program is a helpful tool to communities in need, but the answer has to be to enable those communities to get out of the downward spiral,” McGinty said.
“For a city like Johnstown, sure there are challenges, huge challenges, but there are also huge opportunities. There is a great workforce here. There are great technical resources here. There are energy and water resources here. There’s a great defense industry here.
“We need to go hard after investing in and growing those industries that will create the jobs in Johnstown to provide the revenues to enable Johnstown to grow its way out of this program. That, to me, is the solution. Yes, keep the tools in place, while we’re working hard towards not needing the tools anymore.”
Also, from 2010-12, the city saw a significant increase in assaults and burglaries.
In July, the ad hoc Johnstown Crime and Violence Commission issued a report in which Chairman Bryan Barbin, a state representative from the 71st district, described heroin trafficking as the common denominator causing problems with law enforcement, education, housing and rehabilitation. The commission made dozens of recommendations, most notably, the hiring of additional police officers.
“It’s heartbreaking tragedy in terms of the lives lost, in terms of the community run down, in terms of the families broken over drugs, the drug trade and the crime that comes with it,” said McGinty. “It’s truly heartbreaking.
“What I think a governor needs to do is be a full partner with the leadership of Johns-town in taking on this scourge that’s ripping the community apart. Job No. 1 is to help create a thriving economy in Johns-town, so that people have a good job and so that we also have a shot at the resources that are needed to do things like then significantly invest in community policing programs. And, my goodness, if we need to have two police officers on every corner in order to save young lives from the scourge of drugs and other violence, I would do it. I would do that. That’s a good investment.”
She additionally discussed ways to assist individuals battling drug addiction.
“We need to understand that treatment programs are an effective investment,” McGinty said. “We need to give people some help to get out of the downward spiral that they’re in. That’s usually a missing part of the equation or part of the equation that doesn’t get enough time, attention or investment.”
Currently, Johnstown is undertaking a large-scale sewer improvement project, which started with a consent agreement between the city and the state Department of Environmental Protection. The goal is to eliminate sanitary sewer overflow from the system.
“I think infrastructure represents obviously a challenge, but a huge opportunity for us, because when you invest in infrastructure you’re putting local people to work to build the backbone of the economy in a way that then attracts other investment and other business,” said McGinty, former secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection.
“It’s a virtuous circle. For me, infrastructure investment would be front and center.”
Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Dave_Sutor.