Archive for Economic Development

PA business and military leaders: STEM jobs are growing – but can we fill them?

Wilkes-Barre, June 14 – Regional business chamber officials joined forces with military leaders today to release a new report detailing how high quality pre-k is important to developing STEM skills—those essential capabilities in science, technology, engineering, and math demanded in the 21st Century workforce. The report calls on state policymakers to expand access to high quality pre-k as part of the 2016-17 state budget.

Wico van Genderen - GWB Chamber“Our concern about the development of STEM skills in young people is well-founded,” said Wico van Genderen, President & CEO of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry. “STEM-based jobs like computer science and healthcare are expected to grow by 20 percent to 37 percent nationally in coming years. They are driving the economy, and yet, more than half of Pennsylvania employers have reported trouble finding people with adequate skills, training, or education, especially in technical and skilled job openings.”

IMG_4734Retired Army Major General Joe Perugino of Kingston also warned that our tech-focused military faces similar challenges. “Like all employers, the armed forces need people with STEM skills,” said Perugino. “As just one example, the U.S. Army has 16 laboratories and research centers where more than 16,000 world-class scientists and engineers develop technologies that give our soldiers advanced capabilities. It is therefore troubling to know that inadequate education is a major factor that precludes 72 percent of Pennsylvania’s 17-24 year-olds from enlisting in the military.”

This workforce “skills gap” reflects a similar gap within Pennsylvania classrooms. Nearly two-thirds of Pennsylvania eighth-graders are not proficient in math and science. Plus, one in four students entering Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education schools requires remedial math and/or English. For low-income students the rate rises to 40 percent.

Joseph Boylan - GWB ChamberServing as a backdrop for the conference was the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber’s Innovation Center – a business incubator in downtown Wilkes-Barre that houses several high-tech startups. Joseph Boylan, Vice-President for Economic Development at the Chamber explained, “as the technology firms grow here at the Innovation Center, they will be looking to hire new employees with the tech skills they need.”

Businesses and chambers are being proactive in addressing STEM skill deficiencies by retraining current employees and creating strategic partnerships with schools,” said Boylan. “Additionally, research is clear that a long-term plan to address our growing STEM needs should also focus on early childhood.”

Secretary Kathy Manderino“The skills gap will seriously affect our ability to find a talented and qualified future workforce,” said Pennsylvania Secretary of Labor & Industry Kathy Manderino. “We’re looking at significant retirements in the years ahead and business leaders are extremely concerned about finding qualified employees in the coming years. ”

The ReadyNation / Mission: Readiness report details how STEM skills take root in early childhood:

  • Disadvantaged children can be 18 months behind their peers in math achievement when they enter kindergarten, and the gap keeps growing. In the first three to five years of life, children’s brains build synapses—the neural connections that support learning and skill development—at the rate of 700 a second.
  • High-quality early education directs children into fun, play-based activities that have a purpose. These activities teach real math and science, preparing children to absorb more complex concepts as they grow.
  • Early math knowledge predicts later academic achievement, including better reading skills.
  • Proper brain development in young children also supports such valued workplace characteristics as focus, perseverance, and teamwork.

Secretary Manderino praised the report saying, “This report motivates Governor Wolf and all of us in his administration to take action.”

Rear Admiral Thomas Wilson (ret.)Navy Rear Admiral (Ret.) Tom Wilson noted that the military has for years provided high quality early learning for all active-duty military families. He continued that this is not the case with state funded pre-k programs. “Far too few of Pennsylvania’s young learners have access to publicly funded high-quality pre-k, said Wilson. “In Luzerne County, 72 percent of income eligible children do not have access. That’s more than 3,500 (120,000 statewide) income eligible young children each year who will not receive quality learning experiences that position them for academic achievement and workplace success.”

Wilson urged lawmakers to include a $90 million expansion proposal for high-quality pre-kindergarten in the 2016-17 state budget. The $90 million expansion would allow 7,400 more Pennsylvania children to receive high-quality early childhood education, and 6,200 would receive pre-kindergarten for a full year, instead of a half-year.

“If America does not produce enough young people who can meet the STEM needs of both the private sector and the military, both our economy and our national security could suffer,” said Wilson. “Pennsylvania policymakers must help ensure the STEM workforce of tomorrow by growing access to pre-k today.”


ReadyNation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group of more than 1,400 business leaders nationwide. Together, they aim to strengthen the workforce, business climate, and economy by focusing greater attention on the value of research-proven investments in children’s learning and development.

Mission: Readiness is the nonprofit, nonpartisan national security organization of more than 600 retired generals, admirals and other senior retired military leaders who work to ensure continued American security and prosperity into the 21st century by calling for smart investments in the upcoming generation of American children.

For a copy of the full report, “STEM and Early Childhood – When Skills Take Root,” please visit

Media contact: Steve Doster – cell: 717-343-6403; email

America’s Best Communities Update: Downtown Assets and Walkability

“[Wilkes-Barre’s] deep rooted history on the banks of the Susquehanna and natural mountain beauty created a walkable downtown sprinkled with architectural gems, a great Public Square and beautiful waterfront park system, and has created a great downtown vibe with over 40 restaurants, the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts that attracts diverse national entertainment and cultural events, and a strong business core driven by innovation and academic centers of excellence.”-Wico van Genderen, President/CEO of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber

Wilkes-Barre’s Colleges and Universities: America’s Best Community

King’s College, the Commonwealth Medical College, Penn State Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County Community College, and Wilkes University all have one thing in common: a current or soon-to-come downtown Wilkes-Barre anchor!

These colleges and universities have worked to connect their students to the downtown fabric by utilizing spaces on Public Square for classes and programs, remodeling their campuses throughout the downtown, and involving students in activities that encourage them to engage with the community.

King’s College’s King’s on the Square building welcomes their students to the downtown, and invites the community into their attached Zime restaurant. Local artwork is also showcased in indoor and outdoor exhibits. Additionally, the college has decided to share their space with the Commonwealth Medical College to bring TCMC’s exercise science and athletic training programs to the downtown.

Penn State Wilkes-Barre has become a part of the downtown by contributing the seed funding that they received from the INVENT Penn State Initiative to support the development of an entrepreneurial lab and mentorship program in the Innovation Center on Public Square.

The Luzerne County Community College has a space on Public Square for local students-an extension of its main branch.

Wilkes University’s Gateway Project has connected different segments of their campus, improved public safety, and enhanced a walkway throughout the downtown.

Students have also embraced activities that utilize our area’s natural resources and connect them with the surrounding community. Wilkes students have discovered outdoor assets of our area by participating in the 2015 Outdoor Nation Challenge-where they placed 4th out of 57 schools! Penn State Wilkes-Barre students have even become involved in the America’s Best Communities competition by educating and engaging local businesses, non-profits, community members, and college students!



America’s Best Communities Update: Penn State Wilkes-Barre Partnership

Penn State Wilkes-Barre students have been involved in the America’s Best Communities competition!

As their semester project, Terry Clemente’s Contemporary Business Skills class at Penn State Wilkes-Barre have been educating and engaging local businesses, non-profits, community members, and other colleges students about the America’s Best Communities Competition and our community revitalization plans and goals.

The 12 students in the class were divided into three groups, and each group was assigned a personalized hashtag (#PSU1, #PSU2, and #PSU3) to promote some friendly competition and allow students to track their progress through social media. Each team was responsible for developing their own education and social media engagement strategy for ABC, which they would then implement throughout the semester.

Students were given suggestion lists of local businesses, non-profits, community events, and surrounding higher education institutions to reach out to about the Wilkes-Barre’s plans for the ABC campaign, and were encouraged to connect with organizations and individuals from their own networks as well.

The students sent emails, made phone calls, arranged meetings, and set up outreach tables throughout the community to spread the word about America’s Best Communities, and to engage local organizations and community members through social media. People were encouraged to show their support on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram by using the ABC50 hashtag. Many have responded featuring pictures of their businesses with our America’s Best Communities signs, “selfies” with these signs, or text posts about the competition. The students themselves have developed countless posts to promote ABC, and one group has even developed a Facebook page for The City of Wilkes-Barre’s ABC campaign.

The student’s efforts have been responsible for over 300 posts, with approximately 3,300 additional engagements through likes, shares, and comments.

They have truly connected with and inspired our community, and have made our community excited about being one of America’s Best Communities!