The coronavirus pandemic has had a profound impact on business across Pennsylvania, which Alex Halper detected in March.
“We recognized early that the business community was critical. Many mandates and new guidelines have been imposed on businesses, some of them difficult and complicated. We’ve also seen an evolution of businesses.”
Halper was the guest speaker at the Washington County Chamber of Commerce’s virtual Breakfast Briefing on Thursday morning. He is the director of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, which advocates for businesses and industries and has 10,000 members, including 100 local and state chambers of commerce.
The state chamber has a business-related initiative, Bringing PA Back.
Speaking from Harrisburg, Halper discussed the changing face of business, liability protection, manufacturing and related issues during a 35-minute presentation, moderated by Will Thomeier, director of economic development and tourism for the chamber.
“One strength of Pennsylvania is its diverse economy, which has helped the state weather the storm better than many other states,” Halper said. One of the main concerns he expressed, however, was related to liability protection for employers.
In early December, Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a bill, passed by the Republican-dominated state Legislature, that would have provided liability protections for employers, schools and businesses and other entities against lawsuits filed by COVID-19 victims.
“Employers should not be facing unfair lawsuits,” said Halper, noting that having a Democratic governor and a GOP-led House and Senate has led to a share of “head-butting.”
Speaking of the clashing political makeup of Harrisburg, Halper also is concerned about the state budget, which has a deficit projected at $3.5 billion and must be approved by June 30. “The budget will be difficult,” he said. “The key may be funding from the federal government.”
Halper praised manufacturers, whom he called “unsung heroes of the pandemic. We’ve seen many of them repurpose their businesses to make PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). Most people don’t realize how challenging that is to do.
“We’ve seen distilleries (including Liberty Pole Spirits and Red Pump Spirits in Washington) switch over to make hand sanitizer. It’s really inspiring.”
Thomeier, whose offices are in Southpointe, noted that parking lots in the mixed-use park have been largely empty since the arrival of COVID-19 forced many employees to work from home. That prompted him to ask Halper whether this may change the way workforces operate post-pandemic.
“Working remotely was such an adjustment early on,” Halper said. “Over time, we saw it worked and made employers think this could be the way to go.
“But I think there is something inherently positive about being together, seeing the synergies of people working together. Once this (pandemic) settles down, I think we’ll see a mix (of in-office and remote work). The idea that people may work completely remotely ... I don’t buy it.”