Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development shares its research
PLAINS TWP. — State Sen. John Yudichak knows that the value of the Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development goes beyond gathering information, calculating statistics and monitoring trends.
In January 2017, Pennsylvania considered shutting down two state prisons to help close a $3 billion structural budget deficit. Three of the state prisons considered for closure were located in Northeastern Pennsylvania — SCI-Waymart, SCI-Frackville and SCI-Retreat in Newport Township.
“Under the direction of Teri Ooms, the institute produced a detailed economic impact study that helped area legislators make the case to Gov. Tom Wolf that closing any one of the three Northeastern Pennsylvania prisons would unfairly harm the region’s economy,” Yudichak stated. “Without the institute’s quick and trusted research, a thousand workers would have had no voice in the fight to keep their jobs and to keep their homes in Northeastern Pennsylvania.”
The institute held its 2017 Indicators Report on Thursday at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. The 12th annual Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties Indicators Report tracks data and trends that are critical to the region’s future. The project measures the region’s progress over time on key economic, education, public safety, health and human services, environment and infrastructure measures portraying the quality of life in our region.
The indicators have been produced annually by the institute since 2006.
Yudichak went on to say that the fight to save NEPA prisons is just one of countless success stories for the institute. He said the institute was also instrumental in the creation of Operation Gang-Up — a coordinated effort to understand and combat gang violence in our communities — and it continues to provide research and data analytics resources to the successful Luzerne County SHINE after-school program.
“We live in the age of data,” Yudichak said. “There is more information at our fingertips than ever before, but the institute is a powerful force that cuts through the clutter and helps community leaders shape policy with relevant and accurate data.”
Yudichak said good policy is driven by good data, adding that the Institute has quickly become a leading research organization in Pennsylvania that can turn data driven research into tangible progress in our communities.
Following a two-hour presentation before more than 150 NEPA economy drivers, Ooms went over how the region stacks up against other areas. She said NEPA is above average in two key areas:
• Diverse and resilient economy — growth conducive to business and innovation and able to withstand periods of recession.
• Healthy and prosperous families — residents are safe from violence, in good health, sufficiently educated and have enough income to be financially secure.
However, NEPA is below average in:
• Investment in physical assets and environment — physical attributes, including housing stock and public infrastructure, are well maintained, and environmental resources are well cared for.
• Civic engagement and community ties — residents are engaged as members of a community with a strong sense of citizenship and high social capital.
Ooms said the Indicators Report provides a wealth of social, environment and economic data that contributes to building civic agendas by providing a common information base for policy makers, nonprofit leaders and civic entrepreneurs.
“This thought provoking document sets a solid baseline as to where the region has been, where we are and where we are going,” Ooms said. “The most important outcome should be the resulting dialogue that stimulates specific action in moving this region forward, in a thoughtful way and drives future priorities to improve conditions needing special attention.”
State Rep. Mike Carroll, D-Avoca, said the very thorough data provided by the the institute offers significant good news for Lackawanna and Luzerne counties.
“While work remains to be done, our region is generally on the right track thanks to the collective efforts of many community leaders,” Carroll said. “I’m hopeful more people will step forward to add their talents on behalf of our region.”
Larry Newman, executive director of the Diamond City partnership in Wilkes-Barre, said what is most helpful about the institute’s annual Indicators event is that the institute presented data that’s provocative enough to spur action by others in the community.
Newman cited the Land Use Task Force’s discussion on regional transit service. During the presentation, it was pointed out that the region’s three urban cores — the places with the region’s highest transit demand factors — are still not particularly well-connected to one another by transit.
“Their findings suggest that we would see a better return on future transit investment if we directed more funds to projects that fill gaps and improve service frequency between Hazleton, Wilkes-Barre and Scranton’s urban cores as well as to those regional destinations — such as the airport — that also sit along that corridor,” Newman said. “That takeaway makes a lot of sense, and I hope that it’s pursued by the region’s transit agencies.”
Those findings, as well as others, such as the Health Care Task Force’s troubling report on the region’s dental health, are good illustrations of how events like the indicators forum can harness information and put it into motion for the benefit of the region,” Newman said.
Frank Joanlanne, president of the Borton-Lawson Engineering/Architectural firm and vice chairman of the institute, substituted for Dr. Pat Leahy, president of Wilkes University and chairman of the institute, who was speaking at the United Nations on behalf of the region, the institute and Wilkes.
“For over a decade, the work of the institute has empowered community and business leaders with research-based strategies and solutions for informed decision making,” Joanlanne said. “It has been behind the scenes, supporting many important initiatives that have helped to advance our regional competitiveness and revitalize our communities.”
Wico Van Genderen, chief executive officer at the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber, said Thursday’s program showed forward-moving momentum.
“As a whole, we are seeing positive trends in job growth, particularly in the STEM sectors, a steady decrease in unemployment, an increase in private investment in the community, a decrease in crime and an increase in career education and tech training in our workforce,” Van Genderen said. “Certainly, we have our issues, but using the institute’s data driven economic trackers, we are showing progress in the four pillars that make for a strong community.”
Van Genderen said the work of the institute provides a data driven strategy and execution plan which pinpoints the heavy lifting in economic development, community and quality of life, but also helps ensure that those efforts reinforce the trends to continue in the right direction and ensure sustainability.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle,
Jobs, Economy & Economic Development — Found a correlation between low scores on regional financial literacy levels and poverty, assistance program participation, bankruptcies, foreclosure rate and slower post-recession recovery.
Education & Workforce Development — Improve in areas of higher wages and employment opportunities; prepare a multi-faceted strategy; align industry credentialing standards; increase program offerings for equity and access; increase economic development opportunities; high number of unemployed as well as high number of job openings in transportation and warehousing jobs; health care and traditional blue collar trades represent lowest share of unemployment.
Energy — Natural gas more cost-effective in the region; land, transportation, labor costs, supply chain network, and taxes make region overall more competitive to energy intensive businesses.
Health & Health Care — Regional oral health is poor among impoverished populations; few providers accept Medicaid; Only Hazleton water system has fluoridated water; limited number of clinics providing dental care to uninsured and under-insured; dental issues drive uninsured and under-insured to emergency rooms and contribute significantly to health costs.
Planning, Land Use, Transportation & Infrastructure — Fewer routes connect the three urban cores of the region; increased inter-agency collaboration may be useful step in providing more connectivity between the three urban cores; increase service frequency on existing routes or add or extend routes to fill in gaps, such as along Interstate 81 between Wilkes-Barre and Scranton.