Casey: Rural PA Still Struggling In Tough Economy; Program is Essential for Small Business Growth
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) filed an amendment with Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) to a must-pass bill that would restore Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) status to 16 rural Pennsylvania counties. The special designation helps small businesses in rural Pennsylvania gain access to federal contract opportunities which helps grow their businesses and create jobs in the region.
“The unemployment rate may have ticked down slightly, but the economy is still incredibly hard for middle class families in rural Pennsylvania. This program helps our businesses grow and we must fight to keep it in place,” said Senator Casey. “Right now the government needs to be doing everything it can to help our small businesses, not pull the rug out from under them. My amendment would put Pennsylvania’s small businesses back in this program, and I’ll be making a strong push to get it included in the final bill.”
Citing a reduced unemployment rate, the Small Business Administration (SBA) excluded the following Pennsylvania counties from the HUBZone program: Armstrong, Bedford, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Greene, Huntingdon, Indiana, Jefferson, Juniata, McKean, Mifflin, Monroe, Schuylkill, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga and Wayne. Casey has filed his amendment to restore the status of these counties to the Senate’s Financial Services Appropriations Bill- a must pass piece of legislation that funds the government.
The HUBZone program, which is administered by the SBA, helps small businesses in urban and rural communities gain preferential access to federal procurement opportunities. These preferences go to small businesses that obtain HUBZone certification in part by employing staff who live in a HUBZone. The company must also maintain a "principal office" in one of these specially designated areas. For the past several years, 16 Pennsylvania counties were included in the program, allowing local businesses to boost their bottom lines by taking advantage of federal contracting opportunities. But an SBA decision has removed these counties from the program, meaning that local small businesses no longer have access to these unique contracting opportunities.
Despite the 2010 census showing a small reduction in Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate, small businesses in Pennsylvania’s rural counties are still struggling to deal with the nation’s tough economy. By losing this special designation, businesses in these counties could see a reduction to their bottom lines, hurting the region’s overall economy.
In Bedford County, Vacuum Processes Inc., has been in business for over 20 years and has long benefitted from the program. President John Swatkoski said, “When we compete with other small businesses, the HUBZone becomes a feather in our cap. It allows the companies we contract with to use a small business and HUB Zone listings. Each government contractor has a list of certain contracts they need to give to small businesses. If HUBZone status goes away, that gives me one less leg to stand on for competitive contracts.”
Eric Bridges, Executive Director of the North Central Pennsylvania Regional Planning and Development Commission, spoke directly to the importance of this program, saying: “The HUB Zone Certification provides regional companies with an advantage in contracting with Federal government activities and prime contractors that are required by law to set-aside 3% of their contract dollars for HUB Zone Certified Businesses. The loss of the HUB Zone Certification to regional companies is a major blow to their marketing strategies and their ability to be more competitive in the Federal contracting arena”
Robert Phillips, President and CEO of the Greater Pocono Chamber of Commerce, said, “On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Greater Pocono Chamber of Commerce, representing over 1,200 members, I would like to thank Senator Bob Casey for his concerns and efforts for the extension of Monroe County’s HUBZone status. Senator Casey has been at the forefront for the HUBZone program that will provide a positive impact for keeping and creating jobs in Monroe County.”