Greg Vote
Meadville Tribune

Set to be inaugurated as our 44th president on Tuesday, Barack Obama has been hard at work performing presidential tasks well before he steps into the Oval Office.

Among those efforts, he is crafting a broad-based economic stimulus package. That complex work is not yet finished — though a mid-February timeframe is suggested for its unveiling as a congressional bill. It has been widely promoted as a financial boost to Americans in greatest need, and as a way to rejuvenate the country’s faltering economy.

Details remain sketchy, but the plan is expected to provide a distribution of at least $70 billion to the American public. The stimulus package would address issues of health care, unemployment benefits, job creation, business tax provisions and a tax break for lower-paid individuals and couples of up to $500 and $1,000, sources have said.

What would such a plan mean to local residents?

The Tribune has asked local business and community leaders to interpret for our readers what they see as the potential impact of the proposed economic stimulus. These responses are being published today and Sunday.

Today’s question is: “What will the proposed stimulus package do for Crawford County?”

For Sunday, the question is: “We’ve all heard the bad news, so how about pointing out some local ‘positives’ we can consider to maintain our perspective?”

Following is what 15 community leaders have to say.


Stephen Onyeiwu, associate professor of economics at Allegheny College, sees a number of benefits for Crawford County under the stimulus package.

Tax credits of $500 for individuals and $1,000 for couples are proposed. If the credits are done through reducing a person’s payroll withholding taxes rather than sending the person a check, “people would be able to spend it right away,” said Onyeiwu. “It would help a lower-income county like us.”

Infrastructure spending on roads, bridges and schools would help create jobs, too.

“The challenge now is do we have projects that are ready to go?,” said Onyeiwu.

Spending on alternative energy projects would help businesses like Ernst Conservation Seeds of Meadville that is developing switchgrass as an alternative energy source.

Proposed tax credits for business including raising the small business investment expensing limit to $250,000 through 2009 would help, Onyeiwu said.


William DeArment, chief executive officer of Channellock Inc., the Meadville-based maker of pliers and other hand tools, doesn’t see any benefit for Crawford County from the stimulus package.

“He (President-elect Barack Obama) wants to stimulate the economy through infrastructure projects that won’t come online for quite awhile,” said DeArment.

DeArment agrees that roads and bridges may need to be rebuilt.

“But then what?,” he asked.

“It’s the private sector that creates real, meaningful jobs,” DeArment said. “We need to create jobs in the private sector and export products.”

DeArment’s concerned all that will happen is the nation’s debt will increase and the cost of increasing that debt will be put on future generations

“We need to cut the cost of government,” he said. “It’s all funded by the government and I don’t know how it’s going to sprinkle down to the local guy walking the streets looking for a job,” he said of the proposed stimulus project.

Bob Davis

An economic stimulus package that creates entry-level jobs for people just starting out, keeping homeowners in their homes and making life economically easier for older members of the population, would definitely be a plus for the community, according to Bob Davis, chairman of Vernon Township’s Board of Supervisors.

However, as Davis sees it, a top priority for any stimulus package should be to funnel dollars to the states.

“We’re counting on the state,” he said. “They’ve made promises to us for grants for infrastructure if we work on a regional basis, which we have done. We’ve done all the work — but the state is in bad straits. We hope the federal government comes through and helps the state so the grant money comes through and we can go ahead and do these projects.”

Sandra Rossi

Sandra Rossi, chief professional officer of United Way of Western Crawford County Inc., didn’t notice a lot of benefit from the early-2008 federal stimulus package that put checks in the hands of taxpayers. However, anything the government could do that might lead to an upturn in the stock market would help. “If anything will help to release the dollars (of our more moderate contributors), it would be few good days of reports on the stock market.”

Although the 2008 UW campaign yielded excellent pledges from some of the participating companies, some employees are now being laid off. “Now we need to be concerned about if we’ll be able to collect on our pledges — to make sure we have enough coming in to be able to allocate it back to our agencies,” she said.

Even if things fall off a bit in the immediate future, however, “we hope that when things start to turn around and people have a few extra dollars in their pockets, they’ll be able to make a charitable contribution at that point,” she said.

Amara Geffen

“Many parts of the proposed package excite me,” said Amara Geffen, director of Allegheny College’s Center for Environmental and Economic Development, noting that a lot also depends on which initiative the new president proceeds with.

Proposals such as creating a special fund to identify and invest in advanced manufacturing strategies; partnering with manufacturers to improve efficiency, implement new technology and strengthen company growth; investing in a clean energy economy; creating new job training programs for clean technologies; and creating new jobs while boosting the nation’s renewable energy sector caught her attention.

In fact, they fit right in with projects Geffen and her colleagues already have under way. “It’s infrastructure. Entrepreneurship. Education reform. Peer-to-peer initiatives,” she explained. “All the things that are alive at Allegheny — especially alive in our applied liberal arts programs, where you have faculty and classes looking at local and regional issues — and how you make change close to home. Instead of reading what other communities are doing, we’re getting our students to innovate the solutions.”

Joe Chriest

Joe Chriest, city manager of the City of Meadville, isn’t sure exactly how much might be gained from any sort of stimulus package. “Is it something that will make it down to the local level, or is it something that will be eaten up in bureaucracy?,” he wants to know. “It’s tough. If you look at the local tax bill, only 25 percent is the city. If they’re talking about health care, they aren’t probably talking about money to help me pay for my employees’ health care. It’s difficult, because we don’t really have any clue of what’s going to be coming down.”

As for a proposed $25 billion that would help states and localities provide essential services without raising taxes or fees, Chriest is a bit skeptical. “If the state’s getting X number of dollars, one-third will go to the State Police. Then we’ll give Philadelphia a lot and Pittsburgh some. The next thing you know, there’s not a lot left,” he said. “The only way it would work would be to give the city a grant of X dollars with instructions it must be used to defer future tax increases.”

Scott Friedhoff

“From the college’s perspective, the economic stimulus plan looks like it may include additional student aid,” said Scott Friedhoff, vice president of enrollment and communications for Meadville’s Allegheny College. “Students from the area may be eligible for additional Pell grant dollars, which will help make college more accessible.”

The plan also contains brick-and-mortar possibilities. “We’re hopeful there may be funds for college building projects,” he continued. “We have on the books the Richard J. Cook Center for Environmental Science. Our intention is for that to be a living learning center for our neighbors in northwestern Pennsylvania.” Should funding become available, he added, “that could be a $3 million to $4 million building project that would certainly provide jobs for the community. That would be terrific for everybody.”

College-community partnership opportunities are also provided. “Any projects to improve infrastructure, we would love to partner with the community — with the area — as we have with the Interstate 79 intersection, for example,” he said. “If it’s roads, bridges or whatever, Allegheny stands ready to be a partner. Anything that helps the college helps the community.”


Duane Koller, Meadville Medical Center’s director of marketing, doesn’t see a direct benefit to Crawford County under the proposed stimulus package.

“I don’t see it, but I hope I’m wrong,” Koller said.

Koller said various hospital associations are urging President-elect Barack Obama to consider health care under the stimulus plan.

“Studies have shown that every $1 spent by hospitals equals $2 in other business activity,” Koller said.

Koller said if the plan helps with hospital construction projects, it would create both construction jobs and permanent jobs.

“It’s a win-win all the way around,” said Koller.

The hospital’s new Oncology Wellness Center added about 20 new permanent jobs since it opened back in May, he said.


David Crowe, Crawford County Human Services director, said he’s not sure if the economic stimulus package will help Crawford County directly.

“If the stimulus creates jobs in this environment it will be good for all of us — no matter what business we’re in” said Crowe.

“Historically, when we get a downturn in the economy that lasts, we get an upswing in the need for services,” Crowe said.

Crowe said if the package creates jobs, he doesn’t anticipate an upswing in mental health services locally.

He said he only has anecdotal evidence, but “the larger number of people employed, there are a less number of people asking for services.”


David Gordon, president of the Greater Meadville Board of Realtors, said the stimulus package may not help Crawford County.

“Hopefully it will give hope to our area,” Gordon said. “What we need in our area is more jobs.”

There is a $7,500 tax credit for first-time home buyers now helping the real estate community. It gives a $500 a year credit for 15 years for persons buying now as well as those who haven’t bought a home in the past three years, he said. “I think it’s good for business, making it easier for people to buy, but how many may do that with the economy being shaky?

“We need the creation of jobs,” Gordon said.

Amy Phyllis

A stimulus package that cuts taxes for 95 percent of workers and their families — and seniors — would put additional cash in people’s pocket, said Amy Phyllis, dealer principal at Griffin Motors. It’s difficult to say, however, what people would choose to do with the money. Some may use it for everyday expenses or even save it for a rainy day.

The goal, however, is aimed at stimulating the economy through making new purchases, such as automobiles, Phyllis said.

One of the items in the proposed stimulus package that would have the greatest impact on the local automotive dealership industry would be broader assurances for credit to banks, which would encourage them to approve more loans.

“Over the course of the last several months, Griffin Motors has lost the sale of vehicles due to the tightening of the credit markets and the unwillingness of financial institutions to lend money,” she said.

Richard Borchilo

The economic stimulus is only in the proposal stage, but one item that could have a positive impact on school districts is if the Secretaries of the Treasury and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) modify the terms of mortgages, which they already have the authority to do. Superintendent Richard Borchilo of PENNCREST School District said this could permit more people to stay in their homes by making their mortgages more affordable. This would make it easier for them to meet the other financial obligations, which includes paying their school taxes which they “otherwise may have been delinquent in doing so.”

President-elect Barack Obama also proposed immediate investments to rebuild and repair America’s roads, bridges and schools, which Borchilo said could benefit area schools because it could give jobs to otherwise unemployed taxpayers who have difficulty paying their property taxes.

“School districts would have less delinquent or unpaid tax bills and would face less pressure to raise taxes or cut services,” he said.

Tom Stanton

The proposed economic stimulus package could create a universal mortgage tax credit for homeowners, which President-elect Barack Obama believes should immediately be enacted to give a 10 percent refundable tax credit on the mortgage interest paid by middle-class families who do not itemize their federal income taxes. Tom Stanton, district manager of Northwest Savings Bank, said tax credits can help spur consumer and commercial spending, leading to a positive economic impact.

“When these two sectors begin spending more, the economy rebounds,” he said. “Crawford County is dependent on the auto industry, and increased car sales would help the county, as an example.”


“I can’t help but think that the stimulus package will help Crawford County. But our biggest concern is, did greed get us into this whole problem in the first place?,” said the Rev. Brian Jensen, doctor of ministry, pastor of Meadville’s First Presbyterian Church and president of Meadville Area Ministerium.

Jensen was reminded of a recent sermon he delivered, reviewing a hard lesson the people of ancient Israel learned, as described in an Old Testament passage; and he connected it to modern times. The passage detailed a time when Israel had turned its back on God, and God then allowed his chosen people to be defeated militarily.

“Can God not allow a nation to fall economically just as easily as he can allow a nation to fall militarily?,” Jensen asks. “I realize people need help, but the money has to come from somewhere. And, ultimately, it has to be paid back. Are we mortgaging the futures of our children?”


Dennis Frampton, president of northwestern Pennsylvania chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association, said Crawford County may benefit under some of the proposed tax changes.

The plan would raise the small business investment expensing limit to $250,000 through 2009. Also, during 2009 and 2010, existing businesses would receive a $3,000 refundable tax credit for each additional full-time employee hired.

“For businesses that need to upgrade equipment, it will give them incentive to purchase new equipment rather than repair existing machines,” Frampton said.

Frampton said the root of today’s economic problems goes back to the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993 which started jobs being outsourced out of the country.

“That’s the bottom line,” he said. “Washington ran a lot of business out of the country, and the economic slowdown has exacerbated the problem.”

Frampton doesn’t see bailing out various industries as necessarily helpful. “Writing a check to other than taxpayers is nothing more than a financial drain on the government,” he said.

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