Leaders of Philadelphia’s minority chambers of commerce say the city needs to be more business-friendly

Philadelphia-area chambers of commerce are coming together around one central idea: inclusive growth.

The Inclusive Growth Coalition, which includes several Southeast business organizations, advocates for Philadelphia’s pandemic recovery process to be fair as it brings jobs and business growth to the region.

City & State PA spoke with representatives from the Inclusive Growth Coalition to discuss their recovery priorities and how the city can ensure no one is left behind in the process.

The conversation included coalition members: William Carter, vice president of local government advocacy and engagement, Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce; Narasimha “Nick” Shenoy, President and CEO, Asian-American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia; Regina Hairston, President and CEO, African American Chamber of Commerce of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware; Ashlee Miscevich, City and County Affairs Manager, Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce; Jennifer Rodriguez, President and CEO, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia; Zachary Wilcha, Executive Director, Independence Business Alliance, Greater Philadelphia LGBT Chamber of Commerce; Jasmine Chaulisant, Administrative Assistant, Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce; and Susan Jacobson, president of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

What is the Coalition for Inclusive Growth and how did it come together?

William Carter: The IGC organizations are committed to educating our local leaders more with factual data and diverse business experiences about the urgent need for policies that will grow all businesses in Philadelphia and get more people back to work…But what is growth? Inclusive growth means more local jobs, more local businesses contracting with each other, more employers who tend to pay higher wages, and more municipal tax revenue that provides health care, education, social protection and basic public services. We know that cities with business and employment opportunities tend to have less violence, less crime, less poverty and less plague, and that’s something we talk about all the time in all of our elevators. We know that if we have more jobs in this city and more business growth…the less you have the deleterious effects of gun violence, crime, poverty and so on.

Regina Hairston: We understand that our businesses are at the heart of communities here in Philadelphia. Small businesses make up more than 33% of jobs in Philadelphia neighborhoods, and so our members are expressing that to stay in Philadelphia and grow in Philadelphia, they need to see the price of doing business in Philadelphia come down. That’s why we joined this coalition.

Susan Jacobson: The reason this coalition is so important is that we have a poverty problem. We have to face it and we have to do our part as a business community to strengthen businesses and bring other businesses here because, as Will said, it’s about jobs. That’s why we’re here and that’s why we seek lower taxes to bring businesses here and to continue to grow our world-class city.

You mentioned that Philadelphia is a world-class city. How do you think the city can better use its variety of sectors and institutions to attract more businesses?

Zachary Wilcha: All the infrastructure, culturally, is here, right? We have everything… We have to think about how easy it is to get these people to come here and enjoy Philadelphia as a world-class city. As the leader of the LGBTQ+ chamber, we work with other minority chambers and do a survey every year and talk about the things that are currently barriers for Philadelphia. We talked about a high crime rate right now impacting business, we talked about the high BIRT tax right now. But what we hear from our businesses is that they love being in the city of Philadelphia and wish there were fewer barriers to being a business in the city.

Jennifer Rodriguez: It is very difficult to attract new companies and new workers if your current companies and your current workers are not satisfied. It’s a very basic tenet of business development, that where you get the most benefit is getting your current customers to buy more, which they call scaling their businesses. What we really want is existing businesses in Philadelphia to help them grow and buy more from Philadelphia. And what I mean by that is [it’s] about expanding to Philadelphia. If they expand to Philadelphia, they will bring more jobs.

With changing workforce dynamics during the pandemic, how can the city attract workers specifically to the region?

Jennifer Rodriguez: There is a tremendous opportunity over the next 10 years in the infrastructure bill and the billions of dollars coming into the city for infrastructure improvements to create an on-site job opportunity for our community. These are jobs that, while they require you to be skilled, do not necessarily require a four-year or higher education. These are ideal jobs for workers in Philadelphia to come in and grow… So the question from my perspective in the Hispanic Chamber is, what are we going to do with the unions? How will trade unions play a role in diversification?

Susan Jacobson: Philadelphia is uniquely positioned to attract more remote workers to live, work and play. We have a fabulous culture, fabulous museums and our housing costs are great. Like Zach said, people like living in the city. So we have this population of core and remote workers. We’re hoping and just starting to see some of that happen in Philadelphia, which makes sense.

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