Election outcome worries Western Pa. business leaders
President Obama's re-election compounded worry for many business leaders about taxes, health care costs, government regulations and the nation's fiscal strength and ability to compete globally.
Those problems won't go away soon, they said, urging the president and Congress to act soon on issues affecting employers, business activity and economic growth.
“We weren't really all that pleased about the way the election turned out,” said CEO Jeff Pfeifer of MLP Steel in Scottdale, a maker of grating and wire products with annual sales of $18 million and 90 workers at two plants.
Obama negotiated trade deals poorly in his first term because “he's afraid of a trade war, which is ridiculous,” said Pfeifer, who plans to meet with State Department and Treasury officials in Washington this week about a deal he fears could spur steel “dumping” in the United States by Asian countries.
The president has “a big problem with fossil fuels” but green-energy alternatives aren't always practical, Pfeifer said, echoing frustrations other companies expressed about thousands of new and pending environmental and other regulations.
Coal and natural gas producer Consol Energy Inc. in Cecil liked the focus on energy that the presidential race brought but “the crossroads America is facing remains,” spokeswoman Lynn Seay said.
Despite Obama's criticism of coal-fired power plants, Consol executives hold out hope for an energy policy that supports “responsible development” of coal and gas, she said.
Strip District-based EverPower Wind Holdings Inc. believes the Obama administration is friendlier to renewable energy than Republican Mitt Romney's White House would have been. Yet CEO Jim Spencer said he doesn't believe it's “purely a Democrat-versus-Republican issue,” noting that Romney favored green energy development as Massachusetts governor.
“We're going to be seeing increased (power) generation and use of both natural gas and renewables,” Spencer said, and nuclear energy could thrive. EverPower has 39 headquarters employees, two operating wind farms in Pennsylvania and others in development.
Even as the Obama administration promotes energy independence, some businesses predict more regulations with less access to federal land and water.
National Mining Association President Hal Quinn criticized Obama for not fulfilling a 2008 promise to develop clean-coal technology. Pennsylvania Coal Alliance CEO John Pippy urged a “commonsense energy policy” under which coal continues to meet U.S. energy needs. It accounted for about 42 percent of domestic electricity generation in 2011.
Officials with the National Association of Manufacturers and other business groups want Obama and Congress to quickly tackle issues tied to the year-end expiration of Bush-era tax cuts — then take action on corporate tax rates, ballooning entitlement programs and other threats to growth.
“There's a time for politicking and a time for governing” and constituents haven't seen much of the latter, said Greg Casey, CEO of the Business Industry Political Action Committee.
Kevin Shivers, Pennsylvania director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said small employers are concerned about the “fiscal cliff” looming Jan. 1 that also involves automatic federal spending cuts and could further weaken the economy.
“It's hard to imagine that as Americans we can't find innovative solutions to the core issues of the day,” said Pittsburgh Technology Council CEO Audrey Russo.
Scott Baker, whose 5 Generation Bakers Inc. turns out Jenny Lee cinnamon swirl and five other varieties of bread in McKees Rocks, said he didn't support Obama but, because he won, “I'll trust that he's going to lead us out of troubling times.”
“Actions are louder than words,” said Baker, 41. “Barack promised so much four years ago. Maybe he over-promised; he certainly under-delivered.”
Baker's company, with 14 employees, sells its breads in more than 1,000 supermarkets in 18 states and expects to generate $1.1 million in revenue this year.
Obama has said he proposed the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010, which cut taxes and made it easier to obtain federally guaranteed loans, to help small businesses. He also called for dropping the 35 percent corporate tax rate to 28 percent, and the rate for manufacturers to no more than 25 percent.
“The excuses are over,” said Steven Shivak, president of SMC Business Councils of Churchill, an advocacy group that represents about 1,500 businesses in Western Pennsylvania. “I think our legislators have used the election season to take a back seat and not make the tough decisions that need to be made.”
One tough decision is to finish writing regulations for the Affordable Care Act, Shivak said, so that “our businesses can understand what they need to do” about providing health insurance to employees.
Highmark Inc., the state's largest health insurer, is glad to have certainty about the future of health care reform.
“We're preparing to compete in the exchanges” the law established, spokesman Aaron Billger said.
The state's hospitals supported the law because it will expand the number of insured people, said Carolyn Scanlan, CEO of the Hospital and Healthcare Association of Pennsylvania. Hospital executives “look forward to working with the Obama and Corbett administrations, as well as federal and state lawmakers and regulators” to implement the law and expand Medicaid in Pennsylvania, Scanlan said.
Kim Leonard is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5606 or email@example.com. Staff writer Alex Nixon and wire services contributed to this report.