Spotlight On: Laura Manion, President & CEO, Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry

Spotlight On: Laura Manion, President & CEO, Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry

2023-04-28T15:31:22-04:00April 18th, 2023|Economy, Philadelphia, Spotlight On, Tourism & Hospitality|

3 min read April 2023 — The lack of access to affordable and attainable childcare is one of the root causes behind the workforce shortage in the region and across the country. “We, the private sector, government officials, and experts in the childcare field, must come together to address this crisis. This is a commitment to future generations that will lay the foundation for a more prosperous economy”, says Manion.

What differentiates Chester County from other markets in the Greater Philadelphia area? 

Chester County does an incredible job in business development, residential investment and entrepreneurial support to help make those business investments. Chester County differentiates itself from our other collar counties around Philadelphia because we’ve set ourselves apart by working hard as a community to maintain a delicate balance between the need for development with the need for open space. We also have an impressive investment in the preservation of our landscape. Our county officials have worked hard to protect open space and maximize our trails.  

We have the best of rural, suburban and urban environments — and Chester County is continually nationally ranked as one of the healthiest, wealthiest and most educated counties. This attracts many new residents and visitors to our community, creating a nice pipeline of economic impact for our restaurants, retail shops and hospitality industry.  

What are the key highlights and milestones for the Chamber over the past year?

Through the last year, we’ve worked hard on establishing our advocacy priorities and working with our elected officials on local, state and federal levels on what’s important to the business community in terms of public policy. We’ve also ramped up public-private partnerships. We have great relationships with the county, elected officials and nonprofits. We have a membership of 800 members. With that, we have a great deal of collaboration between all involved. 

As we came out of the pandemic in 2022, we started to see new life and more events happening. This led to an increase in our membership and we’ve been very conscious of hosting more meaningful discussions post-pandemic around workforce, economic development and infrastructure. We continue to work toward increasing the return on investment for our members of what they are getting out of their Chamber membership. 

Could you share with us some of the efforts that you’re doing to help the local workforce? 

The mission of the chamber is to facilitate connections, including with employers to talent and vice versa. We are here to serve as a liaison and a resource. We have various partners throughout the county that we work with, such as our fellow chambers of commerce, nonprofits such as SCORE, and the county’s workforce development board. We work in tandem to connect employees to employers and vice versa. 

Recently, QVC, one of our largest employers in the region, announced layoffs of a number of employees in the county, and the Chamber, along with our County Commissioners and the Economic Development Council, sprung into action. We put out a joint statement, offering assistance to both the employees and QVC. As a group, we contacted QVC directly to schedule a meeting to sit down and talk about the plan to help these unemployed workers get back to work. The workforce shortage is the number one issue we’re hearing from employers. So, it is key to connect those very talented individuals who are now in a very difficult time to employers who are looking to hire. 

What is the main reason behind the skilled workforce shortage? 

There are many reasons for the workforce shortage, but one that I have been focusing on is the lack of affordable and accessible childcare. I am experiencing the problem myself. I have an 8-month-old son, and I was put on a waitlist when I was 5 months pregnant. We have 38,000 children in Pennsylvania on childcare waitlists. 

The growing issue came to a head during the pandemic when over 16,000 childcare facilities were forced to shut down or operate at a severely restricted capacity. This forced parents, overwhelmingly mothers, to leave their jobs to care for their children in the absence of reliable or affordable childcare. The setback to the workforce has exacerbated the current economic climate. We’ve seen data that says 60% of all parents attribute lack of childcare as the primary reason for leaving the workforce (U.S. Chamber Foundation data). Additionally, absences and employee turnover due to childcare challenges cost PA employers $2.88 billion annually and $3.47 billion to PA’s economy annually.

I recently provided testimony to the Children and Youth Committee in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on the childcare crisis and offered suggestions on how to tackle this issue based on feedback from our membership and community partners. The Chamber is recommending that the State Legislature and administration consider the following four policies to aid in the accessibility of affordable childcare: Employee Child Care Public Partnership (P3) to incentivize employers to fund childcare for their employees by splitting the cost with the state and providing tax credit incentives to employers who participate. Second, a Childcare Tax Credit for Parents through the Expanding the Child and Dependent Care Enhancement Program to allow middle-income parents to return to the workforce. Third, retention and recruitment must be addressed by expanding rebates and incentives to include the childcare community. Last, the Chamber is advocating for favorable regulatory changes considered by the Shapiro Administration to include input and guidance from active childcare providers without increasing costs for providers.

We need to get creative when it comes to childcare, in addition to transportation and infrastructure issues. Creativity comes out of collaboration and those public-private partnerships we are advocating for. 

Can you talk about your efforts to support the business community? 

Governor Shapiro announced in his budget address that there is a new program of funding for historically disadvantaged businesses. The goal is to get those mom-and-pop shops on the main streets more funding and more assistance. Here in Chester County, we have the city of Coatesville. This city has been going through a revitalization, and there is an increased investment in new businesses and the expansion of the SEPTA rail service. Projects like this need funding, dedication and grit, and we are lucky to have a great deal of invested community partners putting their heart and soul into Coatesville.

We are working to assist those in Coatesville and our other main street towns like Phoenixville and West Chester to continue to invest and revitalize to attract new business, residents and visitors. 

CCCBI is also dedicated to working with our legislators to continue to create a friendly business tax environment on our state level. We continue to advocate for an acceleration of the decrease of Pennsylvania’s corporate net income tax from the second-highest rate in the country and regulatory reform. That helps our small businesses, in addition to our medium and large-sized businesses and makes Pennsylvania a more attractive state to do business. That’s another way to help diversify our economy.

What are your organization’s key priorities now?

We continue to make investments in our infrastructure, roads, bridges, and mass transit, to keep our regional economy functioning and competitive. We sit on the Keystone Corridor, which is the backbone of Chester County, and we need to make sure that continues to be the state-of-the-art infrastructure system through funding and improvements. We need to continue to reduce our carbon impact. 

Tourism and economic development programs are also a major priority of the Chamber. Chester County is home to one of the world-renowned tourist locations with Longwood Gardens, and we need to continue to drive people to the region — to stay in our hotels, go out to our restaurants, and spend money in our shops.

What is your outlook for the Chamber for the next two to three years?

Last year, the Chamber celebrated its 30th anniversary. Through advocacy, leadership development, networking, education and marketing, we do so much for our members, and we can only go upward from here via collaboration and partnership. So, I’m very excited about the next three to five years. The end goal is always to be a better community. So, we’re working with our community partners toward achieving that goal.

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