Updated: Jan 19, 2022
The Philadelphia Tribune
By: Regina A. Hairston, Pres. & CEO, African American Chamber of Commerce PA, NJ & DE. and Sue Jacobson, Board Chair, Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.
It has been almost two long years since the COVID-19 pandemic began, threatening both the health and well-being of everyone who lives in, works in or visits Philadelphia. While our community has become more resilient — due in large part to the rapid adoption of vaccines and safety regulations — it is clear the emergency has had a major impact on our city and has redefined our communities’ efforts to care for one another.
While news and social media tell stories of staffing shortages or a “new normal” of working remotely, the fact is that for many city residents, it remains a challenge to envision a future with a good-paying job.
Far too many Philadelphians can’t find jobs to support themselves and their families, whether because of a lack of viable options or because they don’t have the required skill set for available jobs. Even before the pandemic shuttered businesses across the city and drove thousands out of work, Philadelphia was the poorest big city in the country with an unacceptable 25% of residents living in poverty. More troubling was the fact that the city had one of the slowest job growth rates in the region with the majority of new jobs providing lower wages and income. The pandemic made this situation worse, with too many companies unlikely to re-open or announcing that a significant percentage of workers may never return to the city. The likely effect is a dearth of good-paying jobs, depressed city tax revenues and further harm to small and medium-sized businesses that benefit from pedestrian traffic, whether in Center City or our neighborhood commercial districts.
For Philadelphia to not only rebound from the pandemic, but also expand meaningful economic opportunity for more people, we need to foster a new way of generating equitable, inclusive job and business growth. To do that, we simply must make it easier for both new entrepreneurs and longtime business owners to open or expand their companies and create new jobs. Many companies citywide were able to survive the pandemic despite the requirement that most workers do so from home, but several now are weighing options to move out of the city due to high costs, complex regulations and an outmoded, onerous business and wage tax system that desperately needs reform. We need to retain these jobs and companies if we are going to recover and address the deep-seated poverty and inequality that should be unacceptable to all of us. Philadelphia’s companies (and we need to claim them as ours) allow for workers to be present for both their employers and their families while investing and strengthening their community. We have to see our locally owned companies with a sense of kinship, as essential partners in the kind of long-term growth, opportunity and dynamism that defines a truly great city.
While the aid many received during the pandemic was necessary and lifesaving, it cannot and will not last forever. City decision makers must refocus on what it will take to rebound from COVID and reduce Philadelphia’s poverty, starting with the understanding that a vibrant, growing and inclusive economy is essential.
To rebound and rebuild also means focusing on neighborhood safety and cleanliness. It means ensuring that our workforce has the skills they need to succeed in the workplace and that employers are connecting with qualified prospects. It means addressing the city’s burdensome tax and regulatory systems and facilitating economic programs that support women-owned and Black- and Brown-owned businesses to make Philadelphia competitive both with its surrounding suburbs and across the nation. That is why the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, the African-American Chamber of Commerce of PA, NJ and DE (AACC) and a growing number of organizations are working together to spur inclusive growth citywide.
Over the next few months, this Inclusive Growth Coalition will highlight data and stories about real city business owners and the challenges they face in the city. These stories are important because envisioning a post-COVID future doesn’t start with questions around work-from-home attire — it starts by providing every member of our community access to good, dependable and family-sustaining jobs that are critical to making Philadelphia a city that truly works for everyone.
Regina Hairston is President & CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce PA, NJ, DE.
Sue Jacobson is Board Chair of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.