Published by Philadelphia Business Journal | Authored by Michael Innocenzo and Chellie Cameron
Feb 28, 2023
The people currently running to lead Philadelphia do so at a remarkable moment in our city’s history. With a reinvigorated commitment to improving the quality of life in our region, and our laser-like focus on inclusive and equitable growth, Philadelphia is making 21st century economic progress, particularly for underserved communities. With the right approaches, we can turbocharge that growth, even as we confront our city’s persistent challenges: namely, gun violence and poverty are keeping our city from reaching its potential.
Fortunately, there’s a lot that we as a city can do to improve our business climate, which can impact the economic outlook of every neighborhood, affecting everything from crime rates to housing to trash pickup.
Candidates competing for mayor and City Council will each offer their own solutions and will need to partner with each other in order to tackle these challenges in a thoughtful, coordinated way to lift up all Philadelphians. Voters should demand not just platitudes but plans – ones that understand the ways in which these challenges are intertwined. If done right, we’ll see more family sustaining jobs that broaden Philadelphia's tax base to help grow our city equitably.
Crime and gun violence hinder our growth, affecting workers and visitors alike. A Pew Trusts report last April noted 70% of Philadelphians believe public safety is the most important issue facing the city. Stemming the tide of violence and making our city safer is critical; safety challenges are also business challenges, which means we’re most likely to make progress if we address these challenges through a shared and collective lens. Together, we need to understand the impact that crime has on every Philadelphian’s quality of life, and how cleaner streets, improved job access and better neighborhood cohesion can affect the violence that our city sees.
To improve that job access in a way that will have an impact on quality of life, business owners need a tax structure that allows them to pay better wages and hire more people. For years, Philadelphia’s employers have identified the city wage and business income and receipts taxes (BIRT) as the most significant obstacle to the city’s competitiveness with the suburbs and other metropolitan areas. Supporting small and midsized businesses – particularly those owned by Black and brown Philadelphians – will lift all businesses in the city.
Last year’s modest reduction of the BIRT and wage tax rates were welcome and important – and they had an impact. The city must continue to reduce these burdensome taxes to nurture long-term growth and stability. This improved tax structure would provide the greatest relief to the smaller, locally owned businesses that struggle in a difficult and volatile economy.
And even more can be done for small and midsized businesses, which lose considerable time and money to bureaucratic city delays. We applaud the city for its recent announcement of a “Permit Navigator” pilot to improve access to necessary permits, approvals and requirements for selected types of residential and commercial projects. Quick expansion of this pilot will help streamline these processes, giving entrepreneurs the opportunity to invest more time in their actual businesses. This kind of partnership between the city, the Chamber of Commerce and the business community represents the new ways of thinking that will make it easier – and less costly – to do business in Philadelphia, which in turn will make it more affordable for everyone to live and work here. If candidates commit to these kinds of innovations, everyone wins – especially traditionally underrepresented Philadelphians.
In just a few months, Philadelphians will have the opportunity to pick those who will compete to be our next mayor. Even as the candidates express their policy disagreements, we all care about building a better, stronger city. We hope the next mayor will cosign a comprehensive approach that appropriately considers how crime reduction, quality-of-life improvements, and business and job growth in Philadelphia are interconnected. Working together, we can leverage our collective resources to show the world the 21st century city that we all believe in.
Michael Innocenzo, the CEO of PECO, is chair of the board of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia. Chellie Cameron is CEO of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia.