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Chester County Press

Chamber speakers discuss paths forward to recovery and renewal

11/10/2021 12:38PM ● By Richard Gaw

Photo by Richard L. Gaw      Panelists at the Nov. 4 luncheon included, from left to right, Rep. John Lawrence, Rep. Craig Williams, Sen. John Kane, Sen. Carolyn Comitta and Rep. Christina Sappey.

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

If there was a common theme in each of the short addresses given by the key speakers at the Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce’s (SCCCC) annual fall luncheon on Nov. 4 at the Mendenhall Inn, it was how the road to an economic recovery in the continuing presence of COVID-19 is being achieved through partnerships and initiatives intended to help residents and businesses heal from the damage done by the pandemic.

The theme of the event – “Moving Forward: Recovery & Renewal” – featured Sen. Carolyn Comitta, Sen. John Kane, and State Reps. John Lawrence, Christina Sappey and Craig Williams.

Comitta addressed a few of the many obstacles in the economic recovery of the county that still linger in the face of COVID-19, including a disruption of supply chains and worker shortages at all levels of business.

We’re only fully experiencing those impacts right now,” she said. “Such challenges impact the entire business community, from global brands to international corporations to independent businesses to family-owned businesses. While we have continued to make significant progress in combating the virus through vaccinations and supporting businesses through emergency relief funds and other incentives, it is crucial we evolve, grow and work together to meet these and future challenges head on.”

Comitta discussed House Bill 425 -- which unanimously passed both the Pa. House and Senate and now awaits Gov. Wolf’s signature – that extends additional emergency provisions designed to help the hospitality industry during the pandemic recovery period. The bill includes several assistance measures such as extending emergency outdoor dining provisions for 2021, expending off-site catering permits and holding suspended liquor licenses.

“We need to look at some of the creative and innovative measures that our taverns and restaurants have been engaging in, as we move out of COVID-19 and into a strong economic recovery,” Comitta said, adding that equal relief attention must also be given to barbers, cosmetologists, pharmacists, therapists, physical  therapists and funeral directors. “We are also looking at these areas to see if we can ease some of the requirements impacting these businesses now and in the future. We still have a lot of work to do, and one place to focus is giving all of our businesses the flexibility we need to overcome the setbacks of the last two years.”

                ‘I know what it is like to hurt’

In his address, Kane told a compelling story of his rise from drug and alcohol dependency to becoming a state senator, a journey that began after he graduated from high school, joined the plumber’s union and sought treatment for his addiction when he was 27.

“On October 3 this year, I ended up celebrating my 38th year of sobriety,” he said.

Kane also recalled the many times during 1989-91, when he worked three months out of the year for his union that required him to take on several jobs in order to provide for his family. When the recession hit in 2008, he went from full employment to seeing 450 members of his union lose work over the next four years.

In 2015, he was diagnosed with cancer, which is now in remission.

“This is why I am in the Senate, because I tell people these stories,” Kane said. “I know what it is like to hurt. I know what health care means to people. If I didn’t have health care, I’d be dead. I know that unemployment [compensation] was extremely important to me when I was younger, because if I didn’t have that [compensation] I wasn’t going to be able to make it.

“I like to fight for working-class people, small businesses in the union,” Kane added. “They were hurting during the pandemic, also. I’m not a politician. I am a plumber by trade. Seventy-five percent of those in the Senate are lawyers. I am the only master plumber.”

Reeling off some of the largest challenges facing him in the last year – including the impact of COVID-19 on his district, the proposed sale of the Chester Water Authority and the expected closing of the Jennersville Hospital in 2022, Lawrence said “we face some unprecedented challenges as we are walking, hopefully, out of what I would suggest what has been the most unprecedented challenge we have ever faced. I think about the fact that there are folks who were in this room two years ago who are not here today, because the challenges of the pandemic have forced them to move on to different opportunities in life.”

On the subject of Pennsylvania’s next budget cycle, Lawrence said that the state faces significant financial challenges, including how it will fund transportation and infrastructure funding, pensions for school teachers and state workers.

                           ‘The power of us’

Sappey acknowledged the intangible that is helping to lead towns, businesses and individuals through the COVID-19 recovery. She also said that the county’s rate of vaccination is the highest of any county in the state, and referring to data she learned at a recent economic forum, the counties that collar Philadelphia and that the state overall has seen a higher economic growth than the national average --- due specifically to the way it has handled vaccinations and subsequently, mitigated the spread of COVID-19.

“We all understand what we’ve been through, and while we’re all coming out of it, it’s not been fun,” Sappey said. “It doesn’t matter what your stance in life is, this has been a tremendous challenge, but as I say all of the time, Chester County is an amazing place because we have such serving hearts here.

“The post-pandemic world that awaits us will compel us to come together to move forward, and I have every faith that we will meet those on-going challenges because I have witnessed your goodness and determination.

“I believe in the power of ‘us.’”

As opposed to the national perception, Williams said that the relationship between his fellow elected officials on opposite sides of the aisle is quite strong. He praised his colleagues for their willingness to work together on key issues such as Hurricane Ida and COVID-19.

Williams called upon business leaders in the audience to start helping their employees “find their humanity, find their family again, establish a daycare center at their business” and “think about their individual human needs,” such as mental health, adequate healthcare and adequate roadways.

“Find the human problems in your business before the humans in your business do,” he said.

Speaking in a recorded video from Washington, D.C., U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan of the Sixth Congressional District gave the audience an update on her recent schedule, which included meeting with a Japanese delegation at Longwood Gardens in an effort to deepen economic ties between Japan and the U.S.; a job fair that attracted 125 employers and hundreds of job seekers; and a push to President Biden to pass a disaster declaration to help those affected by Hurricane Ida, particularly those residents in the Oxford community who were victims of the hurricane that swept through the town on Sept. 1.

Other speakers included SCCCC President and CEO Cheryl Kuhn, WSFS Bank Chairman Betsy Niedziejko, Kendal-Crosslands President and CEO Linda Marsilio and Leon Spencer, who delivered the invocation.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].