PHILADELPHIA – Mayor Jim Kenney delivered his fifth address—and the first of his second term—to the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia this afternoon. In his remarks, the Mayor highlighted major accomplishments of his administration’s first term, as well as key priorities for the second term—including how they will help the business community.
In the address, Mayor Kenney noted the historic strength of Philadelphia’s economy and called on members of the business community to help change the narrative about the city—putting to rest old tropes and emphasizing recent success of Philadelphia businesses.
The Mayor discussed the need for the public and private sectors to work together to foster inclusive economic growth that benefits all Philadelphians. This included a call to increase workers’ wages—which is the fastest, most direct way to move people out of poverty. To support the goals of the citywide workforce development strategy, the Mayor also asked employers to commit to providing young people with real-world opportunities, including career panels, shadowing opportunities, internships, or jobs that are necessary for our students to succeed in the jobs of tomorrow.
*Remarks as prepared*
Thank you for the introduction and for the opportunity to address your Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia today.
Thank you to the board of the Chamber, as well as Chairperson Dan Hilferty, whose advocacy on behalf of Philadelphia businesses is second to none.
I want to acknowledge all of today’s sponsors — including title sponsor Comcast and Chairman sponsor Independence Blue Cross. Your support helps make this luncheon the signature event for our region’s growing business community every year.
I also want to thank the Pennsylvania Convention Center and all of the workers in the room for their hard work today — and every day.
Let’s give them a big round of applause.
And of course, another round of congratulations is in order for today’s scholarship award winners.
In 2016, we embarked on a mission to tackle some of Philadelphia’s biggest challenges — a struggling public education system, intergenerational poverty, public health crises, gun violence, an inequitable criminal justice system, and much more.
The progress made during our first term would not have been possible without the support of our City Council members and administration staff — many of whom are here today.
When I became Mayor, my goal was clear — to increase equity and opportunity so all Philadelphians, regardless of their zip code, can reach their full potential.
We’ve been driven by our guiding values of courage, compassion, and collaboration.
Courage to take on the greatest challenges our city faces; compassion to address the issues that affect our most vulnerable residents; and collaboration, because we know that our greatest impact comes when we work together.
Philadelphia’s achievements and the economic momentum that we’ve built are due in no small part to each and every leader, entrepreneur, and organization represented in this room today.
You create jobs, employ our residents, and contribute to our thriving economy. You are the reason our job growth rate has outpaced the national average over the past four years.
There are more Philadelphians working now than at any point since at least 1990. Unemployment and poverty are at their lowest rates in a decade, our reputation as a Welcoming City fuels population growth, and our neighborhood schools are improving.
These are things we all should be proud of.
I love Philadelphia’s toughness and tenacity. But sometimes that causes us to be too tough on ourselves — applying an overly critical lens to our own city. It’s time we change that narrative.
When I travel to attend conferences with other mayors or leaders from across the globe, I’m reminded not just of how great we can be, but how great we already are.
National Geographic recently named us the best city in the world to visit, and we set tourism records year after year.
Philadelphia isn’t struggling to keep anchor businesses or attract new ones. We are earning well-deserved spots on national lists across industries.
Our life sciences sector is putting us on the global map by bringing life-changing, life-saving concepts to market.
Our schools are making strides towards success and our kids are achieving, but I also recognize that, as with all major cities, there’s always more work to do.
Our administration’s vision for the second term is built upon our commitment to helping all Philadelphians benefit from our city’s recent economic renaissance.
Our approach to achieving this is clear: we’ll continue working to raise incomes and make strategic, historic investments to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty for good.
Anchored by this approach, our second term agenda is based on five priorities, all of which have an impact on the business community — and our city as a whole.
First, there is nothing more important to me than creating a safer and more just city.
The hardest part of this job for me has been seeing the impact that senseless acts of violence have on our residents every single day.
Every time a person is gunned down — on our streets or in their homes — the ripple effects spread to their family, friends, and communities.
Any life lost to gun violence is one that could have been prevented, and that does not weigh lightly on my conscience.
That is why we are moving with urgency to implement our violence prevention strategy — combining proven data-driven and community-informed approaches that have successfully reduced violence in other major cities.
Together with residents, community organizations, and criminal justice partners, we’re making investments in evidence-based programs and long-needed reforms.
Simultaneously, we’re working to improve community-police relations and create a more equitable criminal justice system. Because we know restoring trust in our communities is critical to violence reduction as well.
I want to take a moment to recognize an individual who will help lead these efforts. Please join me in welcoming Philadelphia’s new police commissioner, Danielle Outlaw.
She’s joining us on her second day, so let’s give her a warm welcome.
The Commissioner and I look forward to working more closely with the business community, the Police Foundation, and all of our partners to address public safety. We cannot solve this issue on our own.
As you know, one of the best ways to combat violence is through opportunity — through education, training, and jobs. That’s where the business community can be most impactful.
Together we must champion legislation from Harrisburg — like common sense gun reform — to get guns, especially assault weapons, off our streets.
Building on our first-term progress, another second-term priority will focus on providing quality education — from pre-K to post-secondary — for all Philadelphians.
Investing in the future generation of Philadelphians is the only way we can break the cycle of intergenerational poverty and ensure that our employers have a talent pool they can tap into as they grow.
That’s why we’re committed to growing our PHLpreK program, which has already served more than 6,000 kids and their families.
That’s why we’re creating 20 Community Schools, which bring resources directly to students and families.
And that’s why we returned the School District to local control and will be providing more than $1.2 billion in funding over the next five years.
I also want to thank the Chamber for championing several programs aimed at our young people as well, including: Read to Me and Future Ready Career Pathways.
All of these efforts aim to change the narrative that Philadelphia has “bad schools” and our students aren’t equipped to succeed. Since becoming mayor, I’ve gone on more than 200 school visits, and I can assure you that’s simply not true.
In fact, just yesterday, at Hunter School in Kensington, the District announced that overall scores on its annual school progress reports increased again — for the fourth consecutive year.
Which brings me to my point: It’s time for all of us to shift perceptions about our schools. They’re moving in the right direction, and now is the time to be a part of the progress. The future of our schools — and our city — is in our hands.
Together, let’s capitalize on this moment. Let’s keep improving — moving from an era of survival which starved our children of resources and safe facilities, towards a legacy of smart investments and student success.
Together, let’s fulfill the promise of local control. Let’s better support Superintendent Hite, who is here with us today, and School Board President Joyce Wilkerson to dramatically improve public education.
One way we are doing this is by joining forces with the Chamber to make sure Harrisburg properly funds the capital improvements needed by the School District so that our children can learn and thrive in safe and clean buildings.
If we want Philadelphia to be a talent magnet for new companies, we must do more to help residents gain credentials or post-secondary degrees.
That’s why our Administration is working to help more high school students continue on to college and allow for more residents to attend Community College of Philadelphia tuition-free — receiving more support for books, transportation and access to childcare so they can succeed.
You’ll be hearing more about this effort in my budget address next month.
When we created the City’s Office of Workforce Development — announced at this luncheon two years ago — we did so because of the critical impact that having a skilled workforce will have on our economy.
Since 2018, we’ve worked with partners to provide more than 4,000 Philadelphians with high-quality skills training or work-based opportunities each year.
We’ve engaged over 13,000 young people annually in quality work experiences, such as WorkReady, which many of your businesses have participated in.
In 2019, over 16,000 young adults applied for WorkReady’s summer program, but only 7,200 were able to participate. Together, we’ll continue to increase investments in Summer WorkReady and improve access to summer jobs.
Soon, we’ll launch a new initiative we’re calling Career Connected Learning to build the infrastructure needed to support partnerships between public schools and employers.
We need your help. I ask every employer in this room to commit to providing young people with opportunities through career panels, shadowing opportunities, internships, or jobs.
Let’s guarantee every high school student has the real-world career opportunities that can help them succeed.
For our neighborhood businesses to flourish, we must ensure that our streets are safer and cleaner — another key priority of our second term.
We’ll continue to improve our streets by expanding street sweeping to every neighborhood by 2023, which we know is a major concern for our neighborhood businesses.
I have to thank Councilmember Cherelle Parker for her vision in creating the PHL Taking Care of Business program, which will help ensure that business corridors in the city will be clean, inviting places where businesses thrive.
PHL Taking Care of Business will not only keep our city cleaner, but will also offer opportunities for small businesses and jobs for Philadelphians.
In the second term, we will change the Filthadelphia narrative once and for all.
Our Administration also remains dedicated to creating inclusive and resilient neighborhoods — making sure that economic growth extends far beyond Center City.
That is a goal shared by all of us, and the Chamber’s Neighborhood Growth Project and Roadmap for Growth initiatives are evidence of that.
Our administration is “pro-growth.” We know that continued growth is essential to ensuring increased opportunities for Philadelphia residents, but it is important that we harness that growth in a responsible way.
We need only look at the homelessness and housing crises in cities like San Francisco and Seattle to see the potential impact of growth that is not inclusive of everyone.
Philadelphia, while we face many challenges, has the lowest street homeless population of America’s largest cities.
Through outreach, we engage people experiencing homelessness on a daily basis to offer resources and opportunities.
Our long-term housing programs have, on average, a 90% success rate in preventing a return to homelessness. Even with these efforts, the supply of affordable housing doesn’t keep pace with the demand.
We also have innovative public-private partnerships like Shared Public Spaces. This effort spurred the creation of Philly Cares — a fund supported by businesses and the hospitality industry that offers resources to get even more people off the street and into housing.
We must continue to implement sensible, yet humane, solutions to this issue. It is what’s best for those experiencing homelessness, it is what’s best for our residents and businesses, and it is what’s best for our city as a whole.
While we’re talking about shared goals and collaboration, let’s please put to rest once and for all that Philly is “bad for business.”
Companies — including those who have the power and money to be anywhere in the world — are investing in Philadelphia like never before.
I can think of no better place for businesses that aim to be innovative and challenge the status quo. Philadelphia is a city where passion drives possibility.
That’s why I’m asking you to join us as we continue to change the narrative and show the world that Philadelphia is in fact open for business.
The City has done a lot on this front already and we continue to implement changes to make it easier to do business in Philadelphia.
Many of the changes enacted were born out of true collaboration — specifically, the Special Committee on Regulatory Review and Reform, co-chaired by your own Rob Wonderling.
It presented us with a great opportunity to engage members of City Council, our Administration, the Chamber, and leaders in the private sector to work on finding and implementing smart reforms.
As a result, City Council has passed sixteen bills to repeal parts of the Philadelphia Code that were archaic and cut down on red tape to help businesses.
Through the work of that Committee, we also recognized that the City needed to show its commitment to better customer service for constituents, including businesses — something we will be prioritizing over the next four years.
In October, we released the City’s Business Owners’ Bill of Rights, showing our commitment to enhanced service by holding our City departments accountable.
Key among other recent improvements are changes to the Business Income and Receipts Tax (BIRT). When new businesses file their first tax return in 2020, they don’t have to make an estimated tax payment for the next year, and starting in 2021, businesses with less than $100,000 in receipts will no longer have to file a BIRT return. That means 93,000 of our businesses won’t need to file a BIRT return.
Often times, some of the most basic actions can also be the most impactful. For instance, L&I’s new website — re-envisioned in collaboration with design experts — is now far easier to navigate.
It offers explanations of code requirements, step-by-step guides to getting licenses and permits, and easy access to online licensing.
These long-overdue changes will make a difference in how you do business, but we recognize the need for deeper, and more proactive efforts to help businesses get off the ground and grow now.
That’s why we’re planning to establish a Business Acceleration Team comprised of key staff members assigned from all relevant agencies that work with businesses. This group would build increased consistency, transparency, and efficiency into our processes.
Philadelphia is headed in the right direction. We’ve seen a ton of exciting business activity over the past year.
Spark Therapeutics — the gene therapy company that started in the labs at CHOP — was recently acquired by the world’s largest biotech company, cementing the city’s pre-eminence in cell and gene therapy.
Entercom, one of the country’s largest radio broadcasting corporations, moved their headquarters into the city, bringing 300 new jobs and ensuring that six Philadelphia radio stations are actually based in Philadelphia.
And companies like GIANT Food Stores, Wawa, JP Morgan Chase, and Target continue to show investment in neighborhoods across the city — increasing options for consumers while delivering needed resources.
At any given moment, our team at the Commerce Department is juggling dozens of domestic and international business attraction projects, working with key partners like Select Greater Philadelphia and PIDC to close big deals.
Right now, we’re working with our economic development partners to implement a business and job growth strategy that ensures Philadelphia’s competitive advantage in the industries of the future.
Let’s face the facts: automation, artificial intelligence, and other technological advances are already changing the way we do business.
As part of our Inclusive Growth strategy announced last year, we look forward to partnering with the Chamber and others to create a sector-based approach to economic development.
It will support industries such as cell and gene therapy, biotech, and others that are predicted to be in high demand in the future.
We’ll also apply a lens of inclusion and equity to align this approach with workforce opportunities for our residents who need them most.
Philadelphia is already a clear leader in the Life Sciences sector: Companies like Iovance Biotherapeutics, Integral Molecular, Amicus Therapeutics, Jazz Pharmaceuticals, and WuXi AppTec are — quite literally — changing the world. They’re proud to call Philadelphia home, and we’re proud they chose to be here.
We look forward to working with the Chamber and our many partners, including PIDC, to keep this momentum going.
Speaking of PIDC, I want to congratulate new President Anne Bovaird Nevins. Anne and her team are committed to driving inclusive growth to every corner of Philadelphia.
I also have to recognize former President John Grady, whose many accomplishments transformed our city for the better — including thousands of new jobs at the Navy Yard.
And there’s a key member of our own team I have to acknowledge: Commerce Director Harold Epps, who will be stepping down after four years of exemplary leadership. Thank you for your dedication to our business community and for your service to our city.
Now, I sometimes hear members of the business community — and even my friends I just mentioned — say that we need more urgency in our efforts to grow our economy, and I agree.
That’s why we are working to ensure the city has more home-grown business success stories — in addition to the major entities and international companies we attract.
To grow the economy and create family-sustaining jobs for all Philadelphians, we’ll continue to expand support for small businesses and entrepreneurs — especially those who have traditionally faced barriers.
This year, with United Way’s support, we’re examining the entrepreneurial landscape in Philadelphia, with a focus on existing resources available to diverse business owners.
To generate good-paying jobs, we’ll launch a Quality Jobs program later this year. The program will deploy smart business incentives, in the form of grants, to employers who provide jobs that pay a family-sustaining wage and include employee benefits like health care.
Last year, at this very event, I spoke about how Pennsylvania’s $7.25 minimum wage is the lowest among all neighboring states. Sadly, it still is. For 11 years, it has remained unchanged.
Many of you are already taking action on your own, and the City is leading by example by guaranteeing a $15 minimum wage to all City workers and contractors by 2023.
You have a chance right now to raise wages so your workers understand they are valued, so they can provide for their families, and so they can directly contribute to growing our economy by spending more money with your businesses.
I also urge you to continue imploring Harrisburg to increase the minimum wage for the entire state — it’s long overdue.
While our focus is often on investing in Philadelphia’s people, our administration is also keenly aware of the need to invest in places.
Support for neighborhood commercial corridors, housing, infrastructure, and public spaces is essential to driving economic growth.
Through Rebuild — made possible because of the Beverage Tax — we’ve committed hundreds of millions of dollars to improve our parks, recreation centers, playgrounds, and libraries. Work has now begun at more than 60 Rebuild sites across the city, representing more than $120 million of new investment, mostly in high-need neighborhoods.
The Department of Commerce has dedicated $2.1 million to improving more than 218 facades on commercial corridor businesses, plus an additional $1.6 million dollars incentivizing nearly 700 businesses to install security cameras, and that’s just since the start of our first term.
In an increasingly global economy, we also have to travel to faraway places to get people to think about Philadelphia as the place for their next business location or to open up new markets for our local companies.
With Philadelphia International Airport setting passenger records, more airlines are investing in our city, with new flights connecting us closer to places all around the world.
City staff — including the Commerce Department’s International Business Development team — are dedicated to increasing Philadelphia’s global connections in order to elevate our presence around the world and grow our economy.
Every day, in government, we’re working hard to ensure that Philadelphia is improving.
The final priority identified for our second term is to make our local government more diverse, efficient, and effective.
This means we will build upon the City’s current financial stability to modernize services, further diversify our workforce and contracts, prioritize quality customer service, and adopt a racial equity lens across City policies and services.
I am excited for the future of Philadelphia.
It’s a new era and we’re moving in the right direction. Philadelphia is a dynamic, diverse city with an economy that is stronger than it’s been in decades. We should be shouting that from the rooftops.
If you take away nothing else from today, take this: We are a great city, and we can be even greater by working collaboratively to address our challenges.
I often say that no one is harder on Philadelphia than Philadelphians, but I believe now is the time to celebrate what makes us a world class city.
Let’s keep building on our successes together. Our neighbors are counting on us, our kids are counting on us, and the prosperity of our city depends on it.