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To this story in CitizenCast

Welcome to the spoken edition of Devi Ramkissoon’s guest commentary

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Guest Commentary: The Next Mayor Must Prioritize Sustainable Businesses

The Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia on how our elected leaders can support values-driven small businesses in Philly

Guest Commentary: The Next Mayor Must Prioritize Sustainable Businesses

The Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia on how our elected leaders can support values-driven small businesses in Philly

Values-driven small businesses are pillars of our communities. Research shows that locally-owned small business communities can offer higher incomes, reduced economic inequality, stronger community cohesion and wellbeing, and improved environmental sustainability. Yet, often, their needs and concerns go unnoticed.

We’ve heard from our members at the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia — local, values-driven businesses who care about using their business for good for the planet, people, and their profit — throughout this election cycle. Their concerns and experiences inspired us to draft an open letter to City officials on strengthening investments in policy and programs that support equitable, sustainable economic growth. We urge our next Mayor, City Council, and other elected officials to help us to get there.

Here’s what we’re proposing:

Elected leaders must address and prioritize public safety

Crime is among the top issues for many business owners and residents in Philadelphia. A 2023 poll from SSRS found that 89 percent of respondents reported crime as the number one issue that needs to be addressed by the next Mayor. Gun violence and other violent crimes harm our communities and economically burden local businesses. City leaders can build on the deep knowledge and trust local businesses have developed in our neighborhoods to disseminate tools and resources to our most-impacted communities.

It is also important that the City prioritizes projects that make it safer to commute, work, and live in Philadelphia — such as strengthening SEPTA security personnel, investing in training and technology to improve safety for passengers on public transportation, and addressing open-air drug use and distribution in parks, recreation centers, libraries, and other public spaces.

SBN member and co-author of our open letter, Lou Rodriguez, CEO and founder of Rodriguez Consulting, LLC, believes that “a lack of public safety, combined with unsanitary conditions, particularly on public transit, has had a significant impact on our business.” His business is located in the Olde Kensington section of the City near the Girard Station of the SEPTA Market-Frankford El. Since signing his lease in February 2020, he’s witnessed a high rate of crime and trash at the station, making it extremely difficult for staff, clients, and students to utilize public transportation.

This issue became even more concerning when one of his female students who attends Rodriguez University was robbed in broad daylight while attempting to enter the station. Despite notifying a nearby officer, no immediate action was taken. “These unsafe and unsanitary conditions, along with the lack of swift response, have hindered our ability to attract new talent and operate smoothly. The new Mayor and Council must prioritize immediate action and create safer, cleaner, and more responsive transit conditions in Philadelphia,” said Rodriguez.

Stories like Lou’s are far too common and illustrate how a lack of investment in public safety impacts not only our citizens but our businesses and ultimately our local economy.

Small business owners must participate in City contracts

Small, diverse businesses deserve equitable opportunities to compete for and win City contracts. Our elected leaders should consider creating a Small Business Set-Aside program, through which City departments are required to “set-aside” a portion of their contracts to certified small businesses. The City’s Procurement department currently has a Local Business Entity Certification Program that aims to promote economic development by increasing the City’s use of local businesses for goods and services. With the institution of a “set-aside” program, small businesses that meet this certification could be made eligible to receive set-aside contracts. To ensure access to contracts by small, diverse businesses, the City should also explore avenues to streamline the registration process for minority-owned, women-owned, and disabled-owned businesses.

Workforce development and equity are important pathways to economic mobility

Increasing access to capital, opportunity, and education for workers in Philadelphia is essential for sustained, equitable economic growth. The City has made record investments in workforce training, innovation, and small business development in recent years and has demonstrated a commitment to providing a living wage for municipal employees and the broader Philadelphia workforce.

The City’s recent investments in equitable wages and family-sustaining jobs are encouraging and must continue to grow to meet our communities’ needs. The City must continue strengthening partnerships with local business owners and other community leaders to develop an integrated and community-informed approach to workforce development and wage equity, prioritizing investment in historically under-resourced communities and climate-resilient industries.

Many small, local businesses are taking it upon themselves to invest in equitable workforce development, despite limited government resources. Both Micah Gold-Markel, and Jared Pashko, CEO & Founder and Residential and Commercial Sales Manager, respectively, of SBN member business Solar States, shared that by paying a higher minimum wage, they are committed to ensuring all employees have a living wage. “I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t! It is just the right thing to do. It helps to retain entry level folks, so they stay around as they get more skills. It means being able to work a normal work week and being able to financially support yourself and your family,” says Gold-Markel. “[As a result of paying a fair wage] employees stay with us longer. They are less likely to leave, and experience is priceless when it comes to quality solar installations. There is no time like the present to pay a fair wage.”

Not only is investment in equitable workforce development the “right thing to do,” for City leaders who care about our local economy, as Gold-Markel put it, but it is an invaluable way to ensure worker retention, workforce growth and foster a worker-friendly environment in Philadelphia.

Local investment in sustainable businesses ensures a sustainable future for all

Local businesses must have opportunities to invest in sustainable practices that ensure economic longevity and better serve community needs. In the past, the City has incentivized the growth of local businesses committed to improving their environmental and social impacts. However, many of these initiatives, such as the Sustainable Business Tax Credit and Sustainable Jump Start Tax Credit, have expired in recent years.

Elected officials can champion investments in sustainable economic growth by revitalizing, streamlining, and expanding upon existing supports and incentives, as well as developing new programs that prioritize climate resiliency and sustainable business development in underserved neighborhoods. With lessons learned from environmentally-focused efforts adopted in recent years, the City can continue to identify community-informed, evidence-based, and equitable approaches to local, sustainable business investment in Philadelphia.

It is critical for incoming government leaders to act

Philadelphia will make history in whichever candidate it elects to be the 100th mayor of our city. It’s more important than ever for the next mayor, as well as our new Council leaders, to commit to fortifying our local economy by making significant investments in the safety, sustainability, and equity of our diverse, local communities. As Philadelphia recovers from the pandemic and prepares for a looming recession, it is up to our future and current elected officials to invest in responsible economic development. Our local businesses, workers, and communities deserve it.

Devi Ramkissoon is the executive director of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia. The Citizen welcomes guest commentary from community members who represent that it is their own work and their own opinion based on true facts that they know firsthand.


Owner Melanie Hasan inside her Fishtown naturally-dyed clothing and accessory boutique and studio, Modest Transitions. | by Kira Luxon Photography

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