Gene Barr

Gene Barr, CEO and president of Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, was the guest speaker Thursday at the Greater DuBois Area Chamber’s first Business Connections event of the year held at the Lakeview Lodge.

DuBOIS — “Bricks and mortar, there are issues everywhere,” said Gene Barr, CEO and president of the the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, about store closings, at last week’s Greater DuBois Area Chamber of Commerce’s Business Connections luncheon.

The most recent was when earlier this month, The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. announced 42 locations will be closing — including it’s DuBois store located on Commons Drive — as part of its store rationalization program.

“It’s not just in DuBois. Malls are in trouble, people are completely rethinking how they are doing their shopping,” Barr said. “Until we come up with a better way of taxing that doesn’t put bricks and mortar people at a disadvantage, we’re going to continue to have a problem. We need to figure what that is though.”

Decreasing population is a real problem.

“Pennsylvania continues to grow, relative to other states, at a much slower rate,” Barr said. “In fact, we’re going to lose another congressional seat. The southeastern part of the state is tending to pick up folks. The south central part, maybe around State College. Other than that, Pennsylvania’s having difficulties.”

Barr said Pennsylvania needs to do a better job of growing its economy and doing the right thing, like addressing a corporate and income tax rate that’s 10 percent.

“We have this really bad habit in Pennsylvania, we need money, and figure it out, ‘Okay, who can we target for a tax?’ Now, we talked about trying to get Amazon in. What’s one of Amazon’s big productions? They have a lot of warehouses, don’t they?” Barr said.

Last year, Pennsylvania considered adding a warehouse tax to solve the budget problem, Barr said.

“Don’t you think Amazon probably noted that we were having a discussion on taxing warehouses?” Barr said. “We threw around a hotel tax. It would have made Philadelphia the highest hotel tax city in the United States. That was kicked to the side. It was a discussion and actually movement on, again, another severance tax, but also something called a Gross Receipts Tax, which would make all of your energy more expensive. Now, Pennsylvania doesn’t have a lot of inherent advantages. One of them is, to cycle back to the beginning, affordable, accessible energy.”

Barr said natural gas can drive the Commonwealth if it’s done right.

“In my view, the key to keeping our people here, particularly our young people, is reconfiguring what we need to do with our work force, get them trained for the jobs that we have, reduce the impediments for investment here, start thinking smartly, and realize the strengths that Pennsylvania has,” he said.

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