Augustine: Regional Collaboration is Working


Pittston, Luzerne County, PA - John Augustine, president/CEO of Penn's Northeast, said more than 20 years ago community leaders knew there had to be a better way to approach economic development.

“Communities across the country were looking for more effective ways to attract new employers,” Augustine said.

A group of local leaders began meeting to put together the organization we now know as Penn's Northeast. The mission was simple - attract quality employers to the region through collaborative external marketing and site selection assistance - on behalf of its member organizations.

“The task was enormous,” Augustine said. “Getting groups of ‘competitors' to work together to combine regional resources and build a strong outward image to market Northeastern PA was the goal.”

Created by a coalition of private business leaders, utility companies, local economic development organizations, and governments to promote Northeastern Pennsylvania's collective assets, Augustine said Penn's Northeast facilitates the creation and retention of quality jobs by marketing Northeastern Pennsylvania to the world and provides site selection and incentive financing assistance to businesses, real estate brokers and developers.

In 2022, Penn's Northeast is continuing that mission and more. Serving as a single point of contact, PNE provides regional information to potential prospects. PNE helps them define their needs, identify potential sites, provides them with demographic and salary information, and connects them with other economic development groups and chambers of commerce in specific areas of interest. PNE also arranges site tours throughout the region.

“Regional collaboration is working and continuing to be successful,” Augustine said. “In 2021, we had a record year for Northeastern PA. Our region led the commonwealth in job creation - not only in e-commerce and distribution but also in manufacturing and regional and national headquarters, according to the annual report by the Governor's Action Team.”

In addition, for the second year in a row, Augustine said Northeastern PA was ranked in the Top 10 for US Metros in the northeast. Working together with our partners, members, and stakeholders announced more than 6,000 new jobs - $8 billion in new project investments and 18 million square feet of new industrial space.

Continued growth

Due in part to the pandemic, Augustine said more companies are looking to manufacture and distribute products here in the U.S. He said e-commerce is at an all-time high, with no signs of slowing down, and customers continue to want more items quicker.

“Because of our strategic location, companies can reach one-third of the U.S. market and half of Canada within one day's drive,” Augustine said. “We are fortunate to have a diverse, affordable, and reliable energy portfolio and our education system is second to none.”

Augustine added, “We will continue to build on these strengths by growing and providing the necessary skills for our workforce and by adding new industrial options for businesses looking to grow in Northeastern PA.”

In just three short years, Augustine said the minimum wage had nearly tripled. The average hourly pay is now over $18 with benefits and many companies are offering sign-on bonuses.

“We also continue to expand job opportunities for our residents in growing sectors like advanced manufacturing, agribusiness, office, e-commerce, and life sciences,” Augustine said.

“While our mission remains the same - attracting quality employers to Northeastern PA - we also want to make sure that our region is a premier place to live, work and play.

“Working together, we believe the best is yet to come.”

‘A win for the entire NEPA region'

Augustine said the Annual Report of the Governor's Action Team for Fiscal Year 2020-21 showed Northeastern Pennsylvania as the Commonwealth's leader in job-creation as a whole, as well as in the manufacturing industry and regional and national headquarters sectors.

Augustine was elated to hear the findings of the GAT report. He has been advocating a regional approach to economic development for years and the effort is showing huge dividends.

“This is a testament to our regional approach to economic development,” Augustine said. “This could not have happened with one community competing against another. This is cooperation at its finest, showcasing the best that Northeastern Pennsylvania has to offer.”

GAT's mission

The mission of GAT is to support the attraction of businesses to Pennsylvania and the expansion of businesses currently operating in the state. GAT supported the completion of 58 projects, leading to nearly 10,000 pledged new jobs and more than 33,000 pledged retained jobs - totaling more than $3.8 billion in investment into the commonwealth.

Augustine said the report provides additional detail on GAT's results this year, including major job creation projects like Ball Corporation in Jenkins Township and CANPACK Group in Olyphant, Lackawanna County, establishing aluminum canning operations in Northeastern Pennsylvania; and many other examples of businesses choosing Pennsylvania as the best location for sustainable long-term growth.

Penn's Northeast represents eight counties - Wayne, Pike, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Schuylkill, Carbon and Columbia.

“This report shows that we created more new jobs than any other region in the state,” Augustine said. “And the majority of those jobs were in manufacturing and other sectors.”

High-paying manufacturing jobs

Augustine said that for manufacturing jobs the average salary is $48,000 per year, discussing the 2,300 new jobs created in the region during fiscal year 2020-21.

“This is a positive story that is great for the entire region,” Augustine said. “It showcases all of Northeast Pennsylvania. The GAT report reaffirms what we know - that our region is one of the most sought-after locations in the U.S. It also shows that it's not just about e-commerce distribution, but also manufacturing and national and regional headquarters.”

Augustine said major companies in the U.S. and globally no longer see municipal boundaries when they look at NEPA. “They see opportunities,” Augustine said. “And our collective whole is our greatest good.”

Augustine said the positives include NEPA's location, utilities, health care, workforce, education institutions, recreational outlets, transportation network with close proximity to major markets, and more.

Published in The Times Leaders Innovation Publication, April 28, 2022
Reach Bill O'Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.