Good afternoon, Chairperson [Mark] Squilla, Vice Chairperson [Allan] Domb and fellow members of the Committee on Commerce and Economic Development.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today about this important matter of increasing access to City of Philadelphia contracting opportunities for local businesses. Thank you, Councilman Isaiah Thomas for your work bringing the issue to the forefront and making Keep It Local law.
It is good to see how well City Council is working together to build upon the November 2019 Home Rule Charter change that raised the threshold for when a formal Request for Proposals is required from $34,000 to $75,000 for all businesses and from $34,000 to $100,000 for certified Local Business Entities (LBEs). As a local, woman-owned business, I personally have much appreciation that this is not only a priority, but also a clear process.
Gig work, platforms and robots are here to stay. Artificial intelligence is jet fuel for opportunity and disruptions. No one person or organization, no matter how powerful, can solve modern problems alone.
My testimony today is in no way meant to disparage the great work, ongoing. However, in my former role at the Office of Workforce Development, from 2017-2020, leading a future of workers’ policy response, many worthy public servants worked to try and build an economic development vision, mission and strategy. We knew a transparent and accountable economic development strategy would be more likely to galvanize energy, funding, and staff capacity to sustain momentum.
Many colleagues also knew that operational initiatives like the LBE preference and the Keep It Local policy, are the tactical means of executing on a broader strategic vision. Policy and actions should align with long-term strategic goals to maximize impact. But shortly after the release of the City’s 2019 Growing with Equity, the pandemic hit, followed by a leadership change at the Commerce Department.
Because the government cannot do everything for everyone, the question remains: What are the City of Philadelphia’s collective economic development “North Star” strategies?
- Are we focused on supporting job growth or growth of quality jobs? (Perhaps use the Job Quality Index ?)
- How can we shepherd treasured commercial corridors through the violence epidemic in an ongoing era of rising e-commerce?
- Are we focused on building higher average incomes or reducing income inequality? Who is funding what programs and how is it going?
- Do we want to become a wealthier city or have a smaller racial wealth disparity? How do we best support either one?
- Do we want to support the creation of more women, immigrant, minority-owned businesses? Or simply support more sustainable businesses?
- Does population growth matter? If so, how do we best support it and for whom? Immigrants or top talent? Empty nesters or young families?
- Is the explosive growth of gig workers and solopreneurs a strategic strength fueling the creative class or a cause for concern because many lack safety net protections and health insurance? How to know?
- Are small businesses able to become medium-sized businesses here? Does it matter? Why?
- Should we focus on retaining and attracting more corporate headquarters here? Why? How?
- Regarding the well-known “cluster strategy”: Should we add public support to the cluster or leave it alone? Should we somehow support the talent and diversification needs of this world-renowned cell and gene therapy cluster?
These are just a few key strategic questions about how public dollars should or should not support private sector momentum. Multiple institutions, hundreds of people and the City are doing great work but currently operating without a clear overarching economic development strategy. This is a lost opportunity for greater efficiencies and longer-lasting impact of initiatives like Keep it Local and LBE. Imagine if we track progress transparently towards well-organized, realistic economic development and talent supply strategic goals?
All too often, published “strategic plans” are really glossy press booklets because they lack the following: demonstrated consensus from multiple sectors; specific and measurable strategic goals with accountable owners; a realistic timeline for reaching key performance indicators; the necessary supporting budget and appropriate staff.
What Council should do
At this historic time, as we emerge from the economic reallocation shock and public health crisis, I ask this Committee:
- Lead as a co-convener. Bring together at least the entities listed below to efficiently build the most valuable and viable economic development strategy. Many experts and citizens care deeply about creating an economic development strategy. We have incredible brain power and need to set ego aside to collectively and efficiently make the map to the future.
- Utilize the most cutting-edge strategic collaboration methodology. This process was also employed by the Obama White House to craft the Obamacare legislative strategy. We can easily include diverse perspectives and co-create a consensus-driven and equitable economic development strategy, all under the privacy protection of a secure non-disclosure agreement. This process produces real results and I am now trained to conduct it.
Why should this City Council Committee leverage your leadership continuity to co-create this now? Top reasons:
- The post-pandemic landscape demands a fresh look at all previous published vision papers.
- Commercial corridors are arteries of our neighborhoods but at serious risk due to e-commerce trends, same-day-delivery behemoths and severe public safety challenges.
- Workforce development and talent supply strategies are far more successful when nested in and aligned with a clear economic development strategy.
- A data-driven and agile strategy is how multiple entities can adapt and adjust rapidly, together during good times and crisis conditions.
- There are human costs to waiting any longer. Hundreds of thousands of Philadelphia’s workers’ jobs are vulnerable to technological disruption and the pandemic has accelerated this trend.
- Opportune timing: several key local institutions now have or will soon have fresh, new leaders.
- A refreshed strategy will shape the civic dialogue and sustain progress through key state and local political transitions on the near horizon.
- A transparent strategy, developed inclusively by diverse voices of informed citizens, can get better results from the influx of federal funds.
- Strategic clarity and public articulation will demonstrate our capacity to work together. It will help retain and attract more people of all kinds.
Collaboration is the key
But how? Entities do their best to collaborate. However, collaboration often depends on the personal charisma of specific leaders. When a charismatic leader retires or moves on, collaboration falters.
Meanwhile, the world is changing more rapidly than ever before in history. Gig work, platforms and robots are here to stay. Artificial intelligence is jet fuel for opportunity and disruptions. No one person or organization, no matter how powerful, can solve modern problems alone.
Diverse and inclusive groups of all sizes can rapidly bridge the gaps in understanding, gain necessary alignment, execute strategies with confidence and move ideas to impact, on time and on budget.
Old-school “collaboration”, fueled by ever-growing political polarization means the loudest voices dominate important discussions and problems become intractable. Antiquated collaboration methods fail to deliver results, frustrate people and undermine trust in democracy.
Authentic strategic collaboration is the key to success but very difficult to do. Emotions and power dynamics are often obstacles. As humans, we all prefer agreeing with one another rather than discussing more difficult — but essential — topics.
I have personally experienced this transformational collaborative technology and it works. Secretary Jennifer Berrier at the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry recently released the Five Year Future of Workers Strategy for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is a statewide strategy created by 60 participants from business, labor and academia from all political stripes and regions of Pennsylvania. It will also serve as the workforce transition document from Governor Wolf to the next administration. In the summer and fall of 2021, the PA Department of Labor and Industry partnered to rapidly pinpoint the most necessary discussions and collaboratively design acceptable solutions.
Diverse and inclusive groups of all sizes can rapidly bridge the gaps in understanding, gain necessary alignment, execute strategies with confidence and move ideas to impact, on time and on budget. We can respond to the massive economic shifts and historic technological changes underway with a strong and clear economic development strategy. We can conduct authentic strategic collaboration, create opportunities for leaders, spark innovation and see more people and neighborhoods thrive. The future is now. We can create it. Let’s get to work. Thank you.
Anne Gemmell was the City’s first pre-K director and then led the “future of work” policy response. She founded Future Works Alliance PHL and is now a certified collaboration architect at A.Gemm Consulting, a business specializing in strategic collaboration for innovative leaders.
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