OPED: Pa. near last in population growth

Rob Wonderling
Council for Growth
In this file photo, Ashly Decker's graduation is punctuated with a motto: "Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire." The Grow PA initiative aims to stem the brain drain that occurs when college graduates leave Pennsylvania in pursuit of better opportunities. Bil Bowden photo.

The facts are undeniable. Over the past 50 years, we’ve witnessed a decline in population and a decline in overall economic growth.

Today, Pennsylvania’s problems are masked by a strong national economy and seemingly positive employment numbers. Sadly, Pennsylvanians are leaving the workforce in record numbers through retirement, relocation or by simply stopping to look for full-time employment. 

While Philadelphia has seen an increase in population, almost every local economy across the commonwealth suffers from similar challenges — namely, slow growth and population retention. In fact, without the five counties in southeastern Pennsylvania, the commonwealth would be second to last in population growth behind Mississippi.

How can we have a Pennsylvania without Pennsylvanians whose efforts and initiative create jobs, individual prosperity and community. Who will create our commonwealth?

I believe that together, we all can.

I am just one of a growing number of Pennsylvanians who are committed to building an overarching Growth Agenda for our commonwealth that will stem the tide of decline and result in population, income and job growth.

Since 2016, a hearty band of economic interests, local chambers of commerce, organized labor, and various professional associations have been working on what is emerging as a modern approach to agenda setting for our Commonwealth: Grow PA.

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Grow PA is an effort that aims to create a shared growth plan by engaging civic and business leaders on policies that will move local economies forward. Specifically, we are seeking to build an agenda around the future of Pennsylvania's economic growth under three pillars:

Higher education: From top-tier universities to deeply-rooted community colleges, Pennsylvania has no shortage of educational institutions. It is, however, hemorrhaging talent, and employers are struggling to create enough jobs to keep graduates around.  Brain drain is a major ailment in need of a remedy.

Health care innovation: Accelerating the development of innovation in health care technology and delivery.

Infrastructure: Modernizing all facets of our infrastructure.

To date, approximately 3,000 Pennsylvanians representing dozens of organizations from all across our commonwealth have joined the Grow Pennsylvania movement. 

We are working locally, regionally and statewide to develop an ever-growing list of “Big Ideas” that will result in the emerging Grow Pennsylvania Agenda. This “open source” agenda will drive the future of our commonwealth’s economy.  It will be a magnate for people from around the world to come to Pennsylvania. It will create jobs.

Most important, it will provide a reason for our young citizens to once again believe that they have a future in our Pennsylvania.

Over the coming weeks, Grow PA stakeholders will be gathering throughout the commonwealth to discuss the ideas collected over the past two years. The intent is to prioritize this list into an agenda for economic growth that will be presented to the governor’s office and General Assembly in Harrisburg for the 2019 legislative session.

Join our Grow Pennsylvania movement by signing up for Grow PA, sending us your Big Ideas and being a part of a statewide effort to get Pennsylvania growing again. Go to for more information

Together, we will grow Pennsylvania.

— Robert C. Wonderling, a former Republican state senator, is president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia and chairman of the CEO Council for Growth. He writes from Philadelphia.