BY: ADAM SMELTZ
A forum centered on the Allegheny County job market drew a cross-section of ideas Wednesday from a half-dozen candidates for county executive.
While the hourlong exchange at Robert Morris University saw few jabs from the five Democrats and one Republican, their pitches for reversing the county’s job losses varied widely, from encouraging immigration to improving access to child care.
Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb, seen among the leading candidates in the May 16 Democratic primary race, said the region must do better in welcoming international immigrants.
“I know some people find it controversial. But any region that’s growing right now is growing by the number to which they attract international immigrants,” Mr. Lamb said. “If we don’t get serious about that and get more welcoming around that, we’re going to die. And you better be prepared for that.”
Organized by Pittsburgh Works Together Inc., an alliance of labor, workforce and business interests, the event followed a report showing the county lost more than 50,000 jobs in the past five years.
The county’s economy was the worst-performing urban core county of any metropolitan region in Pennsylvania and Ohio, according to the findings from the coalition.
County Treasurer John Weinstein cited public safety and the health of Downtown Pittsburgh as cornerstones of attracting jobs.
“That’s one of the reasons that we’re losing jobs — because of the crime that’s perpetrated in the City of Pittsburgh,” said Mr. Weinstein, another Democrat seen among the top candidates. “That’s not acceptable. Pittsburgh is the vibrant jewel of Western Pennsylvania, and we have to keep that strong.”
State Rep. Sara Innamorato, D-Lawrenceville, said the county’s human services can play a key role in enabling people to join the workforce. In particular, many women want to work but have trouble lining up child care, she said.
Ms. Innamorato also called for rethinking workspaces for hybrid and remote work arrangements and for emphasizing jobs in the clean-energy sector. Dave Fawcett, a Democrat and trial lawyer, urged better planning to help the region retain emerging jobs in robotics.
“You can’t just say, ‘Oh, I want jobs; I want to bring people here,’” Mr. Fawcett said. “You need to plan, and the county executive can do that.”
Will Parker, a Democrat and mobile-app developer, called for recruiting business owners who offer robust health benefits as a way to keep workers in the area. He also pressed for promoting inclusion while fighting racism and workplace bullying.
Former PNC executive Joe Rockey, the only Republican candidate to succeed outgoing County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, said the region’s abundant natural gas and water offer strategic advantages. The county should leverage those to spur manufacturing and create jobs, including as water becomes more scarce in some western states, Mr. Rockey said.
Only he and Mr. Fawcett indicated they would not support a fracking ban for Allegheny County. Mr. Rockey said using natural gas to attract manufacturing jobs from China could help the global environment by reducing coal use in the Asian country.
“If you’re environmentally conscious, as I am, you have to acknowledge that over the last 20 years, it is natural gas which has actually reduced the greenhouse [gas] emissions in the United States,” Mr. Rockey said.
Democrat Theresa Colaizzi is the only announced candidate for executive who did not participate in the event.