Steelworkers Robie Smith, left, and Mick Lang stand beside a stack of steel slabs.

A new poll sponsored by the non-partisan Pittsburgh Works Together shows Pennsylvania voters strongly favor Democrats Josh Shapiro for governor and John Fetterman for U.S. Senate over their Republican opponents, state Sen. Doug Mastriano and Mehmet Oz.

But ranking the political horse race for the Nov. 8 elections was the least significant result of the August survey by the non-profit advocacy group for a diverse economy and manufacturing.

Despite the heated and hyper-partisan rhetoric of the campaigns for governor and U.S. Senate, the poll of 600 registered Pennsylvania voters, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, showed Republicans, Democrats and Independents overwhelmingly favor a non-partisan agenda to, among other things, create manufacturing jobs, expand vocational training, and maintain affordable and reliable energy through natural gas, wind, solar and nuclear.

“The public is not as divided as politicians — or the rest of us — tend to think,” Jeff Nobers, executive director of Pittsburgh Works Together, said Friday. “The voters in Pennsylvania are willing to do what’s necessary to turn the state around and make it the powerhouse it should be. But the politicians have to listen.”

Candidates for office, take note: While divisive cultural battles rage on, Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh area continue to lose population and good-paying manufacturing jobs that anchor the economy.

Together, In the five years before the COVID pandemic, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana added more than 66,000 manufacturing jobs. Meantime, Pennsylvania lost 300. With aging populations, two-thirds of Pennsylvania counties are shrinking. Since 2010, 42,000 more people died in the 10-county Pittsburgh region than were born.

New people will come to this state and region only if they see opportunity. Confidence, however, in Pennsylvania’s future is waning. The Pittsburgh Works Together poll shows three out of four Pennsylvanians rate the economy fair or poor, and even more believe it will get worse or stagnate over the next year.

The good news is that Republicans, Democrats and Independents generally agree on what it will take to reverse population and job losses.

Roughly 95% of voters support greater access to technical, vocational and trade training as an alternative to a four-year college. Nearly 90% favor granting similar assistance to students enrolled in community colleges and vocational training as those in four-year colleges, such as scholarships for training in skilled trades. Most new good-paying jobs require more than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year degree.

Other economic development measures with strong bipartisan support include streamlining permit processes, bolstering Pennsylvania’s business reputation, and using government grants and loans to prepare potential factory construction sites, thus offsetting the higher costs of building industrial sites on Pennsylvania’s old brownfields and rolling hills. That would help Pennsylvania compete for investment with flatter states that have lower building costs.

Pittsburgh Works Together believes, rightly, the next governor ought to become the state’s top salesperson, promoting Pennsylvania’s many assets to investors.

Becoming the state’s biggest promoter and cheerleader has nothing to do with partisan politics. Former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell was an outstanding salesman for Pennsylvania. Current Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is not.

People in Pennsylvania, like those in the rest of the country, are divided on many issues, including the criminal justice system, race and foreign policy. But a bipartisan agenda on economic development has broad support.

Politicians interested in public service, instead of self-service, should unite the people around a bold and proactive agenda to reverse the economic and population losses that plague this state and region.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | AP

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