Many Pennsylvania communities are in recovery mode. Residents are still dealing with health, economic and social issues, while business and government leaders are looking to ensure we come out of these crises in a stronger position.
To get a better sense of what issues workers and businesses are dealing with and hoping officials can address, City & State spoke with Zachary Wilcha, executive director of the Independence Business Alliance, also known as the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Chamber of Commerce for the Greater Philadelphia region. Wilcha discussed what the City of Philadelphia and the state can do to better support businesses and workers in the LGBTQ+ community.
This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
What kind of advocacy does the Independent Business Alliance do for the region?
We are the LGBTQ plus Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia and that means we cover five counties in Pennsylvania – the ones that surround Philadelphia, five counties in South Jersey, and one in northern Delaware. We do everything from advocating for our larger businesses and corporate partners to be LGBTQ+ friendly from the inside and to do things right when it comes to their hiring practices and their supplier diversity initiatives. We also advocate at the state- city- and regional-level around initiatives that make things better and easier for businesses to grow and thrive … Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been working with the City of Philadelphia to try and make recovery for businesses as easy as possible. One of the ways we’ve done that is strategically forming a coalition with the African American, Hispanic American and Asian American chambers of commerce in the area. Together, we speak with a unified voice on our business constituencies’ experiences and challenges.
What are the top priorities and issues your members are working to address?
The four (chambers of commerce) did a survey in the springtime and what we determined is that businesses are experiencing challenges right now that boiled down to four areas that begin with the letter ‘C.’ One, is the cost of doing business. Right now, it’s very difficult to do business in the City of Philadelphia because of the cost of the Business Income & Receipts Tax (BIRT). It’s very onerous for businesses to be double taxed. The next is clarity in doing business. Especially during the pandemic, there were a lot of rules and regulations that were evolving and businesses are trying to make sure they were clear on how they were able to do business. Another issue is cleanliness. Right now, there’s blight in the City of Philadelphia which has been difficult to do business around. And crime is the fourth issue, and that’s really been on the rise in the city. Cleanliness and crime are really tied together as hurdles for businesses to succeed and thrive, especially in places that are not right in Center City.
With many workers calling for higher wages and more flexibility to work from home, what are you hearing from members about those changing dynamics?
We represent businesses and employees. We've really been hearing from a lot of businesses that want to make things better on the inside, especially for LGBTQ+ employees when it comes to benefits and flexibility and ways that they're accepting what that future workforce is going to look like and experience in a recovery period. We hear that there is a Great Resignation, but we also have a program called TransWork, right now, where we specifically focused on finding job and entrepreneurship opportunities for trans and gender-nonconforming communities. We have more than 900 folks that are job seekers who are looking to be employed. So while the Great Resignation is one side of the story, we also have a willing and able workforce that is ready to bring their talents to places that are trans-affirming.
What does Philadelphia need to do to maintain its economic growth while at the same time recover from the pandemic?
One thing that Philadelphia can continue to do, especially for LGBTQ+ communities, is pass rules and regulations that will protect our communities so that they're able to bring their whole selves to work. Right now, across the country, and even within the state of Pennsylvania, so many folks and their family members that are part of our community are under attack legislatively. And that's another layer on top of a public health crisis and economic crisis, where folks are really having to figure out where they want to be safest when it comes to being a resident and taxpayer. If Philadelphia wants to continue to be a beacon for LGBTQ+ folks in a time of crisis, it needs to definitely walk that walk and talk that talk – like it has been doing. Another is to create an environment of business friendliness that does nothing to take away from workplace rights and regulations. I think a lot of people are afraid when they hear business-friendly because they automatically think it’s not favorable for workers in those businesses. But we believe that there are ways that our city and our corporations can navigate being friendly workplaces as well as do what’s right for business.