Mt. Lebanon resident transitions from public office to regional advocacy
Say you’re the parent of three children, all under age 10. And your job involves traveling regularly to, say, the Capitol Complex in Harrisburg.
“It was really important for me to be able to go to their softball games and basketball games, and hard when you’re in elected office, going from here to there at 65 miles per hour,” Matt Smith said.
A year ago, the Bethel Park native faced that conundrum in the midst of his first term as a state senator, after serving six years in the House of Representatives.
His solution was a career change: In June, he became president of the Greater Pittsburgh Area Chamber of Commerce. And his children – now 4, 6 and 9 – no doubt are glad to see more of Dad.
And vice versa.
“It’s been really nice, being able to see them progress through school, and they’ve developed their own personalities,” Smith, 43, said. “It’s really neat.”
His regular commute these days is from his Mt. Lebanon home to his office on the 17th floor of the former Westinghouse Tower on Stanwix Street, where Smith heads the advocacy arm of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.
“It’s in many ways a continuation of my career in public service,” he said. “It’s a different platform, and in many ways, it’s a broader platform. Instead of one district, we represent the whole 10-county region in southwestern Pennsylvania.”
That includes Washington County, where Smith’s former 37th senatorial district takes in Peters Township, and it stretches as far as Indiana County, the original home of his wife, Eileen.
“We do think it’s very important to work collaboratively, both public-private collaboration as well as cooperation and collaboration among the counties,” Smith said. “When we speak as one voice, as a united Greater Pittsburgh region, that’s a very powerful voice.”
The advocacy mission often extends to policy at the state and federal levels, and Smith points to two pieces of legislation that he considers to be prime achievements for the chamber during his first several months on the job.
Jan. 1 marked the end of Pennsylvania’s Capital Stock and Foreign Franchise tax, which had been on the books since 1844.
“That was a state issue that we really pushed hard to end. It was a tax on business in two ways, tax their income and assets, and so it was a really onerous tax for job creators,” Smith explained.
In Washington, D.C., the December enactment of the $305 billion Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act included the revival of the Export–Import Bank of the United States, which finances and insures foreign purchases of goods for customers who are unable or unwilling to accept credit risk. Smith gave an example of how the measure can affect local businesses positively:
“A company like Aquatech in Southpointe is a big exporter of their products, and it was critically important to have the Export-Import Bank providing some backstop financing, because other countries have that support for their companies,” he said.
The Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce’s 2015 annual report also notes progress in state and municipal pension reform, and in advocacy for a budget increase for the National Energy Technology Laboratory, which has a strong southwestern Pennsylvania presence.
“All this success doesn’t happen by accident,” Smith said. “You need strong public partners, elected officials. You need a strong and robust private sector, and nonprofit and foundation community, all working together to address these issues. That’s really what we’re focused on as an organization, to make sure we’re pushing that forward.”