The Mayor wants you to know he’s trying.
At Monday morning’s Mayoral Tech Town Hall — back for its second year as part of Philly Tech Week 2017 presented by Comcast — Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney fielded questions from Technically Media cofounder Chris Wink (plus a few from a plugged-in audience at PHL Next Stage Med).
“You’re sitting at the epicenter of what the future of healthcare is going to look like,” Kenney hyped about the space before kicking off the event. “Drexel University and Brandywine [Realty Trust] are moving us in the right direction.”
The conversation ranged from national politics to the ghost of former mayor Frank Rizzo. Here’s what we thought stood out:
Diversity, diversity, diversity
Mayor Kenney kicked off his remarks noting what the experience of attending SXSW had yielded. At the Austin innovation conference, flanked by a healthy contingent of Philly’s tech ecosystem, the mayor was concerned about the lack of diversity. “It’s not diverse at all,” Kenney said. “And it’s the fault of us leaders and government.”
And so, Kenney pitched what may be the city’s first foray into the tech conference game. He announced “The North Star Conference,” the first draft of which is a city-backed tech conference focused on technologists of color. More details TBA.
Digital education is key
When prompted on what his role was in fostering tech growth, Mayor Kenney pointed at examples like Coded by Kids and TechGirlz, which aims to create a fertile ground for a tech-savvy workforce in the future.
“When we create spaces in that area that people want to be in, we can get the resources to the tech side,” Kenney said. “The earlier you start with children in tech, the quicker they’ll pick it up. Our kids are really smart, they’ll pick it right up and we’ll be a less poor city in the next generation.”
On the city-suburb divide
The Gateway Philly program, meant to help suburban companies launch city beachheads, was noted by Kenney as one approach to retaining tech talent in the city. Kenney also talked about “hip stuff.”
.@PhillyMayor on suburbs/city divide: "Young people want to ride their bikes to work and have hip stuff to do" #PTW17
— Technical.ly Philly (@TechnicallyPHL) May 1, 2017
On tech and immigration
Kenney shared the story of Keriton founder Vidur Bhatnagar (one of our immigrant founders to watch) and how immigration policies almost made him go back to his native India.
“I want that Indian man who came up with that company [to stay],” said Kenney. “The best thing that I can do as Mayor is set a tone that juxtaposes to what we hear at a national level. This has to be an open welcoming and progressive city or we’re not going to be successful.”
But will Mayor Kenney stand his ground on the sanctuary city policy when funding is at stake? “We’ll have to look at the numbers,” he said.
On the OIT/ODDT narrative
When prompted on the state of the city’s flagship tech departments (namely the Office of Information and Technology and the Office of Open Data and Digital Transformation) his eyes scoured the room for data chief Tim Wisniewski.
“His group is like a young innovative group that wants innovation,” Kenney said. “The problems is that IT bones were rotting. What we did was allow them to do what they want while while OIT is working to fix those bones.”
“We’re closer, but we’re not there yet.”
It appears that Mayor Kenney is getting more and more cozy with the tech scene.
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