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cherelle / Philadelphia / Politics / workforce development

Mayor Cherelle Parker’s plan to bring Philly’s business community together and increase economic opportunity

Speaking at her first Chamber luncheon, Parker described initiatives to support diverse entrepreneurs and doubled down on her belief that return-to-office is necessary for the city’s success.

Mayor Cherelle Parker speaks at the 2024 Chamber of Commerce Mayoral Luncheon on Wednesday, Feb. 29, at the Pa. Convention Center (Technical.ly / Sarah Huffman)
In a long and characteristically energetic speech, Mayor Cherelle Parker on Wednesday expounded on her vision of a “safer, cleaner, greener” Philadelphia, proclaiming that the only way to bring her ideas to life is to work collaboratively.

“We’re working together to unlock economic opportunity for all and we position Philadelphia as an attractive and an equitable place to do business,” Parker said in front of a capacity crowd at the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia’s Mayoral Luncheon. “How? By building a strong rapport with the business community.”

The annual event at the Pa. Convention Center is put on by the economic development organization to bring together members of the region’s business community and hear from the mayor about business initiatives.

With over 2,000 attendees, this year’s was the largest luncheon the Chamber has put on, according to CEO and president Chellie Cameron.

Backlit by her signature orange color, Parker went into some detail about the business roundtable her administration is developing. Led by Donavan West, a North Philly entrepreneur who ran last year for City Council, it will comprise representatives from all of the chambers of commerce in the city, broken into working groups and an executive committee.

The roundtable is not intended to replace any of the local organizations already working on creating economic opportunity, she clarified, but to offer a space for the administration to develop policies and build support.

“I would not be a responsible mayor if we were trying to move the city forward and grow the economy without having the business community at the helm of making that happen,” Parker said.

The mayor also doubled down on her push to bring back to in-person work, calling on Philadelphia companies to follow her lead in expanding a return-to-office policy — for the good of the city.

New initiatives to support diverse businesses

Parker described plans to support businesses owned by people of color in Philadelphia, something she emphasized during her campaign.

She teased an initiative called PHL Open for Business, promising details at her first budget address to City Council in a few weeks, saying it will be focused on “addressing the barriers that often make it difficult for small, diverse businesses to access opportunities” in Philadelphia.

Her administration is also launching an Office of Minority Business Success, with longtime corporate business lawyer Rachel Branson as director and serial entrepreneur Darnell Thomas as the deputy director. This new office will work with the Department of Commerce and the Office of Economic Opportunity to provide resources for diverse businesses.

Helping businesses of all sizes to grow and thrive “includes providing access to the capital that they need in order to survive,” Parker said at the Chamber event.

Workforce development, with a focus on biotech

The Parker administration is focusing on workforce development to help Philadelphians become self-sufficient and access economic opportunity, the mayor said.

She shouted out existing workforce development organizations such as Philadelphia Works and the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, and then highlighted the growing opportunities in life sciences and biotech. Currently ranked as the sixth best life sciences market in the country, according to CBRE, Parker said her goal is to make Philly number one.

“Companies like Spark Therapeutics, based right here, are creating cutting edge technology to allow blind people to see, curing cancer and creating working class, family sustaining careers for Philadelphians,” Parker said.

She also announced a $100,000 donation from Amazon to help expand PHL Taking Care of Business (PHL TCB), a commercial corridor cleanup program Parker proposed as a councilmember in 2019 and launched in 2020 in her former Northwest Philly district.

This program not only cleans the streets of Philadelphia, but also offers cleaning ambassadors training and pay of $15/hour — which Parker said should be the statewide minimum wage.

Return to in-person work

Parker announced last week that senior city staff members would be required to return to in-person work full-time starting in March, saying Philadelphians deserve a city workforce they can “see, touch and feel.”

Parker commended the private sector for already bringing employees back in person, shouting out big companies like Comcast, which requires staff to work from the office four days a week, and Independence Blue Cross, which requires three days of in-office work per week.

“If you want to get my attention,” the mayor said to the assembled business leaders, “tell me your plan for bringing your workforce back to in-person work.”

The recent return-to-office moves have been met with some consternation by workers, but Parker made the case it’s critical to the city’s economy. Return to in-person work will contribute to more sustainable jobs in fields like security and janitorial services, improve safety and improve SEPTA’s services, she said.

“80% of the city workforce is already back in person,” Parker said. “And I’m here to formally and officially say … we will be calling the rest back to work.”

Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Companies: City of Philadelphia / Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia
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