Economic Development

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

Economic issues are discussed during a conference before the Northeast Berks Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

Economic issues are discussed during a conference before the Northeast Berks Chamber of Commerce breakfast. MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty

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

The Inclusive Growth Coalition, including several business organizations in the southeast, is advocating for Philadelphia’s pandemic recovery process to be equitable as it brings job and business growth to the region. 

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

The conversation included coalition members: William Carter, vice president of local government advocacy and engagement, Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia; 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, manager of city and county affairs, Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia; Jennifer Rodriguez, president and CEO, Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Zachary Wilcha, executive director, Independence Business Alliance, Greater Philadelphia's LGBT Chamber of Commerce; Jasmine Chaulisant, administrative assistant, Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia; and Susan Jacobson, chair, Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia. Responses have been edited for length and clarity. 

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

William Carter: The organizations of the IGC are committed to further informing our local leaders of factual data and diverse business experience of the urgent need for policies that will grow all Philadelphia businesses and put more people back to work … But what is growth? Inclusive growth means more local jobs, more local businesses contracting with each other, more employers that tend to pay higher wages, and more city tax revenues that provide for health care, education, social protection and basic public services. We know that cities with business and job opportunities tend to have less violence, less crime, less poverty and less blight, and this is something that we in all of our silos talk about all the time. We know that if we have more jobs in this city and more business growth … the less you have deleterious effects of gun violence, crime, poverty and what have you.

Regina Hairston: We understand that our businesses are the heart of the communities here in Philadelphia. Small businesses represent over 33% of jobs in the neighborhoods in Philadelphia, and so our members are expressing that in order to stay in Philadelphia and grow in Philadelphia, they need to see the price of doing business in Philadelphia decrease. That is why we've joined this coalition.

Susan Jacobson: The reason this coalition is so important is that we have a poverty issue. We've got to deal with it and we've got 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're looking for a reduction in taxes to bring companies here and to keep growing our world-class city.

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

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

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

With labor dynamics changing over the course of the pandemic, how can the city attract workers specifically to the area?

Jennifer Rodriguez: There's a tremendous opportunity in the next year to 10 years in the infrastructure bill and the billions of dollars coming into the city for infrastructure improvements to provide an opportunity for on-site jobs for our community. Those are jobs that, while they require you to be skilled, they don't necessarily require a four-year education or a graduate education. Those are ideal jobs for the workers of Philadelphia to enter and grow into … So, the question from my perspective at the Hispanic chamber is, what are we going to do with the unions? How are the unions going to play a role in diversifying? 

Susan Jacobson: Philadelphia is uniquely positioned to attract more remote workers to live, work and play. We have fabulous culture, fabulous museums and our housing costs are terrific. As Zach said, people love living in the city. So, we’ve got that base and remote working population. We’re hoping and just starting to see some of that coming to Philadelphia, which just makes sense.