Congressman speaks to industry, non-profit leaders in stop

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Congressman Glenn Thompson speaks during a listening tour stop Friday at the Conewango Club in Warren. Pictured, from left, are: United Fund of Warren County Executive Director Lacey Hanson, Ellwood National Forge President Mike Barrett, City of Warren Manager Nancy Freenock, and Thompson.

Congressman Glenn Thompson made a listening tour stop in Warren on Friday.

“You can’t address a problem… you can’t fix a problem, until you actually define it,” Thompson said to a group of Warren County industry, government, and non-profit leaders at the Conewango Club. “This is about problem solving.”

He cautioned those around him that his powers are limited. “I’m one on a committee of 435,” Thompson said. “We’re not going to be able to personally solve any problems. It’s about bringing people together who can help each other out.”

Andy Sokolski of Whirley Drinkworks suggested certificate programs for non-profits “to elevate their programs” and workforce development efforts to “held turn the tide of our dwindling population.”

“to work, live, and play.”

City of Warren Manager Nancy Freenock expressed concerns about American Rescue Fund dollars the city has been awarded. “They project has to be in a qualified census tract,” she said. “We’re going to be turning around and giving (those dollars) back. We need to get rid of that language.”

Freenock said federal dollars are generally difficult to apply for and that the city doesn’t have “the internal capacity” to handle those applications.

Thompson said he favors some “programmatic monies. It wouldn’t be a competitive type of thing – there would be paperwork, but hopefully not as much of a hardship.”

In general, Ellwood National Forge President Mike Barrett is confident that his company, and others that operate domestically, would be better off if government would “support industry, support manufacturing, but really, get out of the way.”

“One of the challenges is a lot of offshoring,” Barrett said. For “those companies that remain in the U.S., it’s become much more challenging.”

He said companies that operate inside the United States can’t compete with companies elsewhere that pay “$5 an hour.”

“Or ($5) a day,” Thompson said.

Barrett also asked about the vaccine mandate.

“I believe in vaccines,” Thompson said. “I understand individual choice.”

“We’ve been waiting for guidance on the vaccine mandate,” he said. “It’s short on details. It creates all this uncertainty. At least figure out the details of how people would go about getting a waiver.”

United Fund of Warren County Executive Director Lacey Hanson expressed concerns for her member agencies in the case of a minimum wage increase. Those entities are concerned about “how far they’ll have to increase wages and how many people they’ll have to cut,” she said. Doing so would result in a reduction in their ability to deliver services.

“Everyone deserves a good living wage,” Warren Public Library Executive Director Kelli Knapp said. “But, as non-profits, how are we going to afford that?”

Warren County YMCA CEO Thad Turner echoed concerns about child-care and staffing. “YMCA staffing is a big problem,” Turner said. “Some Ys are draining their pools. Child-care is a big issue.”

He asked Thompson if there was a way “you can alter where those taxes go.”

As chairman of the board of Warren General Hospital, he asked Thompson for “anything you see that could help with recruitment and telemedicine, as well as for support of the 340B Drug Discount Program.

“That’s survival,” Thompson said.

Turner also asked for support of “tougher laws against human trafficking” and “accountability for Afghanistan.”

Knapp also urged Thompson to support the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Library Services and Technology Act.

“We have the same issues” as many of those brought up by others in the meeting, Bob Barber, Chief of Staff of the Barber National Institute, said. “We can’t staff. Unfunded government mandates. It’s hard for us to stop and start, stop and start.”

He expressed a hope that some “sustainable solutions” could be found for the group’s numerous issues and suggested that the tax code by modified to “further incentivize giving” by making it so “charitable donations are credited 100 percent – not only deductible,” he said.

“What I’m trying to get to is the point where we don’t have that constant rotation of staff,” he said.

“We lost a lot of people with longevity” during the pandemic “who couldn’t afford to be off any more,” Bollinger Enterprises Operations Manager Kim Nowell said.

Barber said there have been differences in government response to the pandemic between private business and non-profits. “Government covered 100 percent of unemployment for for-profit business and 50 percent for non-profit,” Barber said. “We could use some real help with unemployment.”

Warren County Historical Society Director Michelle Gray joined Knapp in concerns over cost increases since pre-pandemic bids. Funds raised to cover estimates and bids that were tendered pre-pandemic are now insufficient.”

“This inflation’s killing us,” Thompson agreed. “It’s supposed to go up another 20 percent.”

Commissioner Ben Kafferlin said broadband is always at the top of the list when it comes to concerns in the county. After that, expansion of Route 62 to provide a connection to points north, and undertaking some kind of development of the Allegheny National Forest, were on his list.

Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry President and CEO Jim Decker agreed that development of some kind should be going on on the forest. “The ANF needs to be funded at a higher level to handle deferred maintenance” and “improve the services and the assets” around the Trails at Jakes Rocks and Kinzua Beach in particular, Decker said. “The assets are tired across the board.”

Skyla Govier, president of the Kinzua Chapter of Blue Star Mothers, asked Thompson for continued support of the veteran population.

“We’re sitting in a county that has a higher percentage of veterans than any other county in the commonwealth,” Thompson said.

He said he has “been in theater” when care packages like those prepared and sent by Blue Star Mothers arrive in the hands of deployed troops. “It’s a big deal,” he said.

Candidate for Commonwealth Court Stacy Wallace of McKean County also attended the meeting brought together by Ash Khare.

Sokolski suggested to Thompson that leaders in the county could “learn more about what you’re working on in Washington” and work through the areas “where you have the greatest ability to leverage your interests,” rather than asking the Congressman to re-invent the wheel.


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