Jan. 19, 2024

HARRISBURG—Rural communities are the backbone of Pennsylvania, and yet burdensome government regulations and a diminishing workforce are preventing these areas from flourishing. Rep. Parke Wentling (R-Mercer) and the House Republican Policy Committee, led by Chairman Joshua D. Kail (R-Beaver/Washington), convened in the Shenango Valley this week for a hearing, “Strengthening Our Rural Communities,” intended to find ways to help rural communities, like Mercer County, retain their workforce and encourage people to relocate to rural parts of the state. 

“Workforce development has become one of those issues that is recognized across the board as something we need to work on,” said Kail. “It’s not just here in Mercer County, but across the Commonwealth.”

Honorable Rod E. Wilt, executive director, Penn-Northwest Development Corporation was the first to testify as part of the workforce developers’ panel followed by Jake Rickert, director of workforce development, Penn-Northwest Development Corporation; and Tracy Mantzell, Realtor, RE/MAX.

“We are struggling with figuring out how to keep more of our young people in our rural communities and how to attract others here,” said Wilt. However, regarding the opportunities that Mercer County presents, “we have the right people in the right seats at the right time right now to go fast,” he said. 

One solution is to develop and implement workforce initiatives, according to Rickert, who pointed to the Homegrown Initiative, which provides resources and opportunities for young adults looking to settle in Mercer County.  

“To get people to move here, we need housing,” explained Mantzell, who identified the following as key real estate challenges: lack of new construction and move-in ready homes, inability to finance homes, and short supply of amenities. 

The second panel of testifiers included Pennsylvania employers Brent Fisher, director of operations, Joy Baking Group and Michael Walton, CEO, Jamestown Coating Technologies. The two discussed challenges in recruitment and retention and finding skilled workers in manufacturing. 

“There are good family-sustaining jobs in manufacturing,” said Walton. But retaining employees is a challenge despite offering competitive wages, excellent benefits and a safe work environment. 

Joy Baking Group offers “the American dream,” according to Fisher, who identifies the Mercer community as “top notch,” but his employees often don’t stay long enough to recognize this. 

Wentling has been a longstanding champion for Pennsylvania employers, sponsoring and co-sponsoring legislation intended to help businesses thrive.

“Government should not make it harder for people to enter the workforce,” said Wentling. “We must fight for Pennsylvania businesses and fulfill our commitment to helping our rural communities attract and retain workers.” 

Representative Parke Wentling
7th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Jake Gillespie