Democratic governor candidate touts manufacturing plan in Oakmont
Pennsylvania manufacturing companies can compete on quality and price with competitors from Asia, Democrat gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf says.
“We need to get in our own minds we can actually do this,” Wolf said to a couple dozen employees at Chelsea Building Products in Oakmont on Wednesday. “We can compete with anybody in the world in any product.”
Wolf was touting his “Made in Pennsylvania” plan for generating manufacturing jobs in the state during his hour-long visit to Chelsea, which for two years has supplied plastic mouldings to the Wolf Organization.
The Wolf Organization is the corporate parent of WOLF, a supplier of kitchen and bath cabinets and provider of specialty building products. Wolf is now the non-executive chairman of the board after stepping down as CEO of the business at the end of 2013 and executive chairman at the end of May.
Founded in Wilkinsburg in 1975, Chelsea has been located in Oakmont since 1985 and employs about 200 people, the company's marketing director, Gary Hartman, said.
From plastic, Chelsea makes products used in windows, doors, flooring, and siding. The company is held by a private equity firm, and the company does not disclose its annual sales, Hartman said. Wolf visited the Alle-Kiski Valley in early May, speaking with supporters at Futules' Harmar House before winning the Democratic primary for governor later that month.
Wolf is trying to unseat Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in November's general election.
Billy Pitman, Corbett's press secretary, acknowledged Wolf's push to increase manufacturing jobs but noted that's long been a priority for Corbett.
“Gov. Corbett has been focused on bringing jobs back to manufacturing and energy since taking office,” Pitman said.
He pointed out that the state's unemployment rate as decreased from 8.1 percent to 5.7 percent during Corbett's tenure.
Pitman said Wolf “has different ideas on where Pennsylvania should go as far as taxes than Gov. Corbett,” citing Wolf's support for taxes on coal and natural gas extraction and an increase in the state's income tax.
Wolf arrived for his visit to Chelsea in a minivan, not the Jeep that has been made famous in his campaign commercials. He toured the facility, taking notice of products labeled as destined for the company bearing his name.
Close proximity and better communication help Chelsea and the Wolf Organization respond more quickly and remain competitive, trumping the low wages, currency manipulation and disregard of environmental regulations found overseas, Wolf said.
“As partners, we've been able to make better products, new products,” Wolf said to the employees after his tour.
Under Wolf's “Made in Pennsylvania” jobs-creation program, the state would give cash payments of up to 5 percent of new taxable payroll for manufacturing companies that increase their annual taxable payroll by at least $1 million.
The new jobs must be fulltime, have an average wage equal to or above the county wage and include competitive health benefits. Companies that do not maintain the jobs for five years would have to give the money back.
Wolf said companies should be flocking to Pennsylvania because of the state's geographic location and its resources, including a skilled workforce with a strong work ethic.
“We're called the Keystone State for a reason,” Wolf said. “Pennsylvania is in an enviable position. Part of that is our location. We ought to take advantage of that in a much better way.
“This is a great place for so many reasons. We're so modest about it sometimes, we're our own worst enemy,” he said.
Wolf's plan includes an education and training component.
In response to a question about school taxes, Wolf cautioned against blaming teachers for property tax increases. Instead, he said the state needs to increase its support for public education.
Wolf has said a 5 percent severance tax on Marcellus shale natural gas could be used to fund schools.
“You're being asked to pay too much,” Wolf said. “The real problem is the state is paying too little.”
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or firstname.lastname@example.org.