Columnist : Lincoln Institute

Harrisburg (PA) — Pennsylvania’s major employers say public schools are failing to make the grade when it comes to preparing students with the appropriate skills to enter the workforce. Results of the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research’s semi-annual Keystone Business Climate survey also found confidence in the Commonwealth’s business climate at its highest level in the past five years.

     The survey, conducted in March, found 80% the Chief Executive Officers of Pennsylvania’s largest corporations saying students are not graduating from public schools with the necessary skills to get and keep a job. Only 13% of the business leaders felt government schools were adequately preparing students to enter the workforce.

     Efforts to institute educational standards in Pennsylvania’s public schools are gaining ground in Harrisburg. That solution to the state’s education woes found unanimous support from the CEOs who responded to the Lincoln Institute survey. A rarely seen 100% said public school academic standards should be improved so all graduates will have basic verbal and math skills. None of the respondents chose the other option of maintaining the current system then paying for remedial education for those who need it after graduation.

     “Governor Tom Ridge is receiving high marks for improving Pennsylvania’s business climate,” said Lincoln Institute Chairman Lowman S.Henry, “the major employers responding to our Keystone Business Climate Survey felt his proposed 1998-99 fiscal year state budget would continue moving the Commonwealth in that direction.”

     Sixty-two percent said the new state budget will have a positive effect on job growth in Pennsylvania, while 36% felt it would have no significant effect, and 2% predicted the budget would have a negative effect.

     “Further,” Henry continued, “major employers are more satisfied with the state’s business climate than at any time since the Lincoln Institute began conducting the Keystone Business Climate Survey in September of 1994.” Forty-six percent of the CEOs said business conditions in Pennsylvania are now better than they were six months ago, while 48% say business conditions have remained about the same. Only 5% felt business conditions had worsened.

     “That is a significant turn-around in business confidence from September of 1996 when only 16% felt business conditions had improved over the previous six months and 22% felt business conditions had worsened. It is also an improvement from the September 1997 survey when 43% felt business conditions had improved and 9% felt they had worsened.” Henry explained.

     Looking ahead, major employers are more optimistic about the future than they were last fall. Twenty-eight percent say they expect business conditions to improve during the coming six months, up from the 21% who predicted improved conditions last September. The majority (60%), however, expect business conditions to remain about the same as we head into the summer months, and 11% expect business conditions to worsen.

     The rate of employment increases that the Keystone Business Climate Survey found last fall has slowed. In September of 1997, 54% of the corporate leaders said employment levels at their company were higher than during the previous six months. The March 1998 survey found 43% reporting higher employment levels. Forty percent said employment had remained about the same and 17% reported employment levels had fallen during the previous six month period.

     During the coming six months 40% of the state’s major employers expect to add to their payrolls, 52% say employment will remain steady and 8% said they plan to trim their employee compliments.

     Sales for 57% of the companies responding to the Lincoln Institute survey went up during the past six months. That’s close to the 58% who reported sales increases in the September 1997 survey. Twenty-seven percent of the companies said that sales stayed about the same during the past six months and another 15% reported decreased sales.

     The spring and summer selling season looks strong for most companies as 67% are predicting sales to increase, 28% say they anticipate sales to remain about the same and only 4% expect sales to decline.

     In terms of job approval ratings, 85% of the CEOs said they have a positive opinion of the Governor Tom Ridge, while just 7% offered a negative view. U.S. Senator Rick Santorum received a 70% positive rating, while fellow Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Arlen Specter got a 37% positive job rating. Thirty-three percent gave a negative review to Specter and another 30% voiced no opinion.

     The positive rating for Pennsylvania’s legislative chambers ebbed a bit in the March survey as 44% of the corporate CEOs gave positive ratings to both the Pennsylvania House and the Pennsylvania Senate. The state Senate’s negative rating stood at 30%, while 29% had a negative opinion of the state House’s performance.

     The Keystone Business Climate Survey was mailed on March 9, 1998 to 3,000 Pennsylvania-based businesses which employ 125 or more individuals. As of the survey response deadline of March 27, 1998, 146 responses were received by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc. The Lincoln Institute is a Harrisburg-based non-profit educational foundation.