- Pennsylvania Among 'Terrible 10' Most Regressive Tax States
- February 4 Non-Partisan Training: HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013: HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Republican Governors Opt-In to Medicaid Expansion
- The Reports of Unions' Death Are Greatly Exaggerated
- Ask Allyson Schwartz to run for Governor
- Mind the gap: Opting Out of Medicaid Expansion Leaves Low-income Families Behind
- Jan. 14 Workshop:HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013; HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Seth Williams on Guns, Jasmine Rivera on School Closures @PFC Meetup Wednesday
- PA Revenue Strong Midway Through Year; Tax Cut Could Have Big Impact
- What to Make of the Fiscal Cliff Deal?
Paging through the business section, finding our economic way
Lately, the business section of the Inky seems to be sending a pretty clear message that Philadelphia’s biggest economic asset is its location. Though location alone may not be enough to attract the best employers here: We also need to create a highly skilled and versatile workforce.
The fact that the Inky keeps producing stories about business people who are creating or taking away jobs in the region based on these simple ideas means there are important lessons to learn. The question is whether or not the Nutter administration is heeding them.
First, let me share a few of the articles I’m talking about.
On Tuesday, December 1st, Governor Rendell made a deal with a Greek start-up to open a solar panel factory at the Navy Yard. They will provide 400 jobs and get $49 million in state and city incentives (including stimulus money). But, according to the article:
Panos Ninios…said the company chose the Navy Yard site after reaching out to eight states and visiting 35 locations. He said that that the quality of Philadelphia’s workforce, the proximity to transportation, and the government incentives sealed the deal for the city.
On January 6th, it was reported that “at least 65% of all Chilean fruit to the United States comes through Philadelphia, Gloucester, and Wilmington. The remaining 35 percent goes through Los Angeles.”
Evidently, there are excellent cold storage facilities in South Jersey and southern Chester County that make it easy to store large amounts of fruit for transport. But the article suggests another reason for Philadelphia’s winter fruit dominance, our geographic location and market density:
”We are centrally located to many major markets, with second-day truck delivery to two-thirds of U.S. consumers,” said Robert C. Blackburn, senior deputy executive director of the Philadelphia regional Port Authority.”
And on January 11th, the Inky reported that “chemical companies have slashed 43 percent of their Pennsylvania workforces in the last 10 years.” This includes all but four of the workers at DuPont’s gigantic Gray’s Ferry Ave. complex.
According to Pam Witmer of the PA Chemical Industry Council, there are a variety of reasons for this decline, including mergers, environmental regulations and a high cost to do business in the state. However, according to the article:
Pennsylvania chemical plants have lost geographic competitive advantages as manufacturing in the Northeast has faded. Chemical plants supply other manufactures. Computer, cell phone and other electronics manufacturing has migrated to Asia. So have the chemical plants that supply them.
And for many years chemical plants have been built near sources of raw materials, mostly oil and natural gas. Chemical companies have set up facilities in Texas and along the Gulf Coast, close to U.S. sources of crude oil.
There’s not much we as a city can do to change the global economic conditions that helped us lose chemical jobs. However, if we want to keep the companies that still have some operations going on here, there are things we can do. According to the Inky:
Andrew Liveris, Dow’s chief executive officer and chairman, says specialty chemicals and innovation will drive the company’s growth. He views the former Rohm and Haas labs in the Philadelphia area [including one in Bridesburg] as important to transforming Dow into a specialty chemical company.
So here’s what I take from all that:
- For one, location matters. Being within a two-day drive of 2/3 of the country’s consumers is a really big asset.
The quality of our transportation infrastructure, our rail lines, highways and ports, is crucial. Regardless of where the money might come from to fund specific expansions and innovation, it is largely up to us locals to come up with new ideas to improve the infrastructure.
- But even if you build it, and they do come, in the face of the fast-moving global economy, a well-trained, smart and versatile workforce is also necessary to get business to stay here.
- And then you gotta sell it. Our geographical proximity, transport infrastructure and the qualities of our workforce might will probably need to be spelled out, indeed, marketed. for prospective new employers.
- While taxes and incentives do come up in conversations about economic development in the region, they are clearly not the only economic development tools at our ready. There are other important ways—ways equal in importance to cutting taxes or incentivization strategies—to help the city create high-quality, sustainable jobs.
So again, the question is whether or not the Nutter administration is working on them.
In some cases, the answer is a resounding yes...
The number of Philadelphians applying for federal financial aid has increased significantly in the past year. The Free Library has redefined its mission to include targeting entrepreneurs. A green jobs training program funded by stimulus dollars and developed by the city recently started.
And, according to the Inky way back in November, a new city website has opened up (www.phila.gov/business). which has, according to Sara Merriman, director of policy for the Commerce Department, “now captured all of the city business information, the forms, the permits, the direction you need to go and we’ve put it all in one place.” (The site does not yet accept online payment for taxes or collect online applications for certificates.) This is a small, but practical step that will help make it easier for people to do business here.
But when it comes to aggressively marketing the city as the jumping-off point for shipping and commerce along the East coast, it’s not so clear what the Nutter plan is...
More time and energy seems to have been spent on commissions and debate about tax reduction strategy than on a strategic plan to leverage our central location for shipping. And the most important factor in terms of workforce development is a stronger School District of Philadelphia. That’s definitely a weak point for the Nutter administration.
As the Mayor begins to shift into campaign mode, I hope he can figure out ways to build some solid accomplishments on these fronts. Even with another messy budget on the horizon, and an uncertain economic recovery, it is imperative that we do a better job on strategic economic development.
Our path to continued economic stability may be difficult, but it is a path that can be easily charted: Turning out more smart and skilled kids from our public schools, sending a lot more of them to college, finding the growth industries for which it would make the most sense to locate here, and making it easier for businesses already here to innovate will create a new economy in Philadelphia.