SELINSGROVE — The director of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry encouraged local chamber members on Friday to continue its support of workforce development.

Director Alex Harper, as the guest speaker at the Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce Governments Affairs Committee meeting, told attending members that the No. 1 issue for business owners is no longer healthcare costs, the strength of the economy or taxes. In the last two years, survey results from employers show that the priority problem has been the inability to find qualified workers.

"It's an area we're focusing on; it's not always easy to translate that concern to public policy," said Harper. "It takes a lot of different forms."

Some legislative reform allows schools to implement new programs to encourage students to study skills based on the local workforce needs as well requiring schools to have career and technical education and business representatives at jobs fairs, he said.

"As an employer, if you get a call from your local school district, it's a great opportunity for students to hear directly from employers," said Harper. "We're encouraging our members to answer that call when it comes. We have found that employers who are engaged in job training or internships or working with local school districts, those employers are experiences fewer challenges for their workforce needs."

The PA Chamber is also involved in criminal justice reform in order to train those who have a criminal record for jobs, he added.

Harper also discussed overtime eligibility and noted that the PA Chamber has concerns over raising the minimum wage to $15 as Gov. Wolf proposed.

State Sen. John Gordner, R-27, who attended Friday's meeting, said the last time Pennsylvania raised its minimum wage to $7.20 was in 2006. Neighboring states are above the federal minimum, he said.

A bill that the Senate passed and is in the House would raise the minimum wage to $8 on July 1, $8.50 on Jan. 1, 2021, $9 on July 1, 2021, and $9.50 on Jan. 1, 2022, Gordner said.

"The economy itself has raised wages in a lot of cases whether at McDonald's or Walmart or other entities," he said. "We thought it was reasonable since it's been 13 years since we've raised the minimum wage."

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