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‘At CORE PA, our top Mission is to Attract, Retain, and Grow business and industry in the 53-county region of Pennsylvania’- Noelle Long

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Noelle A. Long is the Project Manager and Regional Representative of CORE PA Global, an initiative established to increase the visibility of a 53-county footprint of Pennsylvania, USA to international and domestic investors. In this exclusive interview with Margaret Nongo-Okojokwu, Orient Energy Reviews editor during the international media tour of Mining, and Gas facilities in the state of Pennsylvania, USA; Noelle takes us through the world of CORE PA Global and what they stand for. Excerpts

OER: Tell Us about Yourself and what you do at CORE PA?

NOELLE: I have been with SEDA Council of Government located in central Pennsylvania for 13 years now. We are a local economic development agency working on a variety of different projects for both local governments, residents in the community, also different community organizations, and businesses. We have been providing trade assistance, helping export their products and services for close to 30 years now. Just recently, we have gotten more into the foreign direct investment assistance services which is where CORE PA was born out of.  So I have been managing that project for almost three years, and also working on the trade side of things, helping export their products and services.

OER – What are the vision, mission and goals of CORE PA?

NOELLE: CORE PA partners with 50 economic development organizations and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to attract, retain, and grow business and industry in the region. We are tasked to promote a 53-county region of Pennsylvania, so that the more rural parts of Pennsylvania becomes an ideal location for companies to come establish manufacturing, establish sales headquarters, Research and Development facilities, etc. We are tasked with telling the story of the rest of Pennsylvania because often times, people just associate Pittsburgh and Philadelphia as the whole state, but there is more of a story to tell to promote the more rural regions of the state. We are doing this through promotions like the media familiarization tour we are doing right now. We have done Agriculture industry media tour and plastics industry media tour and the current one we are doing is focused on the oil and gas, mining and construction industries. We also attend international trade shows as well. We are working with well 50 economic development partners across the state. We are trying to do a more coordinated approach to promoting the rest of the state. Some of these more rural economic development professionals might not have the resources or the capabilities to promote their smaller counties but when we combine our forces together, we are a bit more of a stronger voice and we are able to get a bit more exposure for those lesser known regions of Pennsylvania.

OER – In terms of diversification of the economy, what are the major economic businesses that draw revenue for the state?

NOELLE: We have quite a bit of manufacturing still happening. We have many factories, we have quite a few clusters of them because we do cover a large territory, we have obviously mining, oil and gas equipments, heavy construction equipments, there’s a lot of heavy manufacturing going on, also lots of plastics, big energy as well, we also have medicals, paramedics as well, then we are going into financial services and retails as well, but really in the Core PA region we are more focused on the manufacturing side of things.

OER – How has your efforts helped with job creation in the state?

NOELLE: Well, Core PA is relatively young, we are almost 3 years into the project, so what we have been doing after the ground working infrastructure for the projects, is figuring out what shows we are going to go to, what trainings we are going to provide to our economic partners, much of that time is just the infrastructure, so we’ve exhibited at some international trade shows, and also some domestic events as well, and we have also done three media familiarisation tours tour as well, so we haven’t yet realised new job growth as a result of this but certainly we have had good prospects in the region and hopefully by September we would have our first announcement that will corroborate all our efforts as Core PA.

OER –  In terms of providing skilled workers, because if you are going to attract investments, you’ll have to have the talents and the infrastructure, so in terms of employment diversification, what are the statistics that will attract anybody to come in and put their plants here? What are the numbers in terms of employment diversification that you have in Pennsylvania that can attract investments?

NOELLE: In the manufacturing sector alone we have about 693, 000 employees, and that is a large number, but I can definitely get you more specifics on that. We have a strong workforce development as well, they have prescribed training in everything from manufacturing side of things to leadership, to others like the CNC type of things, even like welding, and there is already an establish list of training programmes that we can offer companies at a highly subsidised rate,  and so it could be up to X amount of dollars per a company’s employee, and also offering some training programmes to companies as well, so if we are talking to a potential prospect, and say they are into food processing for instance, which is significant in the Core region in Pennsylvania as a whole; we tell them we can offer XYZ type of trainings to make sure that your new employees will be up on the A-list technologies, machineries that will be needed when you set up your plants. So we have a lot of customised trainings.

OER – In order to attract foreign investment, the talk about tax is very important. How attractive is the tax rate here?

NOELLE: We have taxes just like every other state does, and I think the unique thing about Pennsylvania is that given the fact that we have so many economic development entities throughout the state, often times these are, maybe just one county, but some of them are done on multiple counties as well, and they can offer local tax incentives too, even tax incentive on the properties themselves. The most popular incentive among them is the keystone opportunities where designated buildings and sites, just lands that are tax – free for 10 years. So the state is able to offer that as well.

OER: So in terms of global marketing, that is FDI generally, how many foreign companies have come into Pennsylvania as a result of your efforts?

NOELLE: Well, like I said we’ve only been out there having promotional efforts; we have been doing a lot of social media as well, but the Trade Shows has been the most beneficial because we have really been getting in front of people and educating them on the opportunities in Pennsylvania. For instance we had a team at an oil and gas show earlier this year that came by the booth, but they were only looking at opportunities in Texas, Maryland, and Virginia and they didn’t even think of looking at Pennsylvania because they hadn’t realised the opportunities that we have, but luckily they stopped by because we had a huge map showing the Marcellus, Utica Shale plays and the location where we are on the east coast and they were able to strike a conversation with our team, then they realised ‘oh this is something that we need to look into’, so a lot of it has been educating. We’ve had some visits coming from foreign prospects. Just two weeks ago we had a company from Israel come in; it’s a wind production company. Prior to that we’ve had great companies coming for their fifth visit now, but what we find when we have great prospect coming in is that it’s been a more coordinated effort because we have people on the same page and we are sharing a bit more and we are working together a bit more effectively. So while it hasn’t been like increase in number to say at this point, it’s been better orchestrated on the ground when they are here, and I think it is making for more beneficial trips to Pennsylvania to really showcase what we have to offer to companies.

OER: I know that the US government supports FDI, so in terms of funding, who funds Core PA?

NOELLE: We were a recipient of the federal awarded ‘Make it in America’ challenge grant 3 years ago, and that is supported by the federal government, actually 3 of the federal arms because we have 3 different working parts of the Core PA, we have the commercial side of things which is what we are doing on a daily basis, there is also workforce component which gives training needs of companies looking to expand and come into the region, and then we also have our industrial resource centre that have focused their efforts on studying the cost of ownership for Pennsylvanian companies, as well as supply chain analysis. There are key industries that we can look at for already established companies to begin looking at reshoring their products. Also because it is such a strong opportunity, we can target those industries from an FDI perspective, and say these are great opportunities for Pennsylvanian companies that are already here, we can re-shore their products and think of how to manufacture them here.

OER: When you look at Texas, they are number one in terms of the funding they get from the federal government; they get like $25 million, what is your number?

NOELLE: For our grant projects we get like half a million dollars from the economic development agencies and that is it. So we have been making some other projects, we’ve got other development partners who are putting some fund into the projects as well, and a lot of kind support from our economic development partners, we are making magic happen out of very little funds.

OER: I really want to know, like for instance they were able to go to California and get Apple to a factory in Texas, what is the core industry you are trying to attract here?

NOELLE: Like I said because we are so large, we have so many pockets of opportunities, if you are looking at the central part of the state food processing is very strong, for that we are also trying to target some other companies. But then we are also looking at heavy construction, mining equipment, then plastics because of the by products of the gas we have, medicals aspects, so there is a lot of different pockets throughout the region that we have.

OER: What are the incentives you have for companies coming in to invest in Pennsylvania?

NOELLE: The Keystone opportunities is a wider incentive offer for the United States for designated land and buildings that are designated as key stone incentives and that is 10 years of zero tax payment, that is the primary one, but then there is also some more local incentives, again that depends on the local economic programme of the counties, that some of them are able to say well we are also giving you these incentives, so that is the key thing. Then we also have some industry specific funding as well like Research and development tax credit as well, depending on what industry you are looking at and the business resources available to you as well, free assistance looking at the trade side of things for instance, you know like doing what I do, all my services are free for companies to help them expand and have a global focus, we have a network of 15 representatives across the world basically to help companies find new distributors, to  find new customers, to help with all these regulations you know with different counties,  etc.

OER: What incentives do you have for oil and gas investors as well?

NOELLE: I will say basically all our keystone opportunities will be made available for oil and gas companies, but a lot of the research and development tax credits, looking at innovations and new R&D,  say you want to enhance the way these machine works, that will certainly apply.

OER: While trying to attract FDI to Pennsylvania, What arrangement do you have for your locals, how do you take care of them?

NOELLE: For the CORE PA initiative, a lot of these activities involving retention has already been done, they are conducted by our local economic development professionals, so we don’t have a specific work there. They are on the ground doing that already, although it can be more; we as CORE PA are not tasked to do that.

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