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Viewpoint: Philadelphia's next mayor, City Council must prioritize inclusive job and business growth

Regina A. Hairston, Khine Zaw, Chellie Cameron, Zach Wilcha and Jennifer Rodriguez | Philadelphia Business Journal

Nov 17, 2022

In 2023, Philadelphia is poised to elect the city’s 100th Mayor and a new City Council. While our future elected public officials will consider many issues, we believe a comprehensive pro-jobs, economic agenda must be part of the discussion to revitalize and grow our great city.

This is why the Inclusive Growth Coalition — an unprecedented partnership between the African-American, Asian, Hispanic, LGBTQ and Greater Philadelphia Chambers of Commerce and numerous diverse business organizations and companies — is advocating for sustained investments in good-paying jobs, inclusive business growth and a robust economy that leaves no one behind.

Our city’s challenges are well documented. Poverty, education shortfalls, blight, gun violence, and global economic forces are making it harder for people to make ends meet — whether they are self-employed or work for others. These are complex issues with proposed solutions from across the ideological spectrum. However, everyone — from heads of households to heads of companies — agree that increasing the number of people making a good living helps lift up all people.

To further understand why such investment is important we should keep in mind that Philadelphia's “highest-among-big-cities poverty rate”, is in part a jobs issue – we don’t have enough people working in jobs that pay good wages. Data shows that Philadelphia jobs have decreased 23% since 1970, while regional competitors like New York, Boston, and Washington DC have seen double digit increases over the same period. A major reason is that Philadelphia has fewer private employers of all demographics than comparable locales – and very few for-profit companies at the top of the city’s largest employer list. Low business density has been found to correlate with fewer business startups, lower economic output, and higher poverty within areas.

To increase jobs, Philadelphia must grow and attract more businesses and talent. Too many employers choose to locate beyond Philadelphia’s borders to city’s such as Bensalem or Cheltenham to avoid the City’s “highest in the nation” Wage Tax and “double tax” from the Business Income and Receipts Tax (BIRT). In fact, 80% of respondents to a joint survey performed by Philadelphia's diverse chambers of commerce indicated that reducing taxes on business is the primary action the City could enact to help them stay, grow, and hire here.

In addition, we believe we can better nurture our businesses by streamlining interactions with City agencies, saving businesses time and resources. Doing so will also help improve our ranking on the national “Ease of Doing Business” index that employers track. The City should also enhance its workforce development programs that help prepare people for the jobs of today, strengthen relationships with employers, and provide citizens with a pipeline to readily available jobs for the next decade and beyond.

The good news is that all of this can happen now. Philadelphia has substantial unspent revenue from the $1.4 billion it received from the federal American Rescue Plan (ARP), and has been experiencing “better than expected” revenue receipts. A portion of these funds should be dedicated to an annual reduction of business and wage taxes to grow and attract more employers and workers, to improving business interaction systems to make it easier to do business in and with the City, and to upskilling residents to be a part of today’s workforce.

This is not an "either-or" moment. Budgetary provisions can be made in municipal service delivery and in inclusive job and business growth – which also provides more resources for such public services. For these reasons, City leaders should fully invest in policies that demonstrate Philadelphia is serious about the economic future of its business owners and workforce.

Published: Philadelphia Business Journal | Nov 17, 2022

By: Regina A. Hairston, Khine Zaw, Chellie Cameron, Zach Wilcha and Jennifer Rodriguez

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