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Guest Commentary: Businesses, Step Up in the “New Normal”

A City Councilperson issues a call to arms for the business class: What are you doing to make a more equitable city?

In April, I told the Juniata News that Philadelphia cannot afford to return to the Old Normal. In this New Normal, our resilient residents are stepping up to care for each other. But after decades of deeply rooted racial, economic and public health inequalities, our Black and Brown neighbors deserve far more than temporary relief for renters, workers, and small business owners that gets us back to the Old Normal.

During the next three months, I led City Council’s New Normal committees on Appropriations, on Small Business, and on Planning and Development towards the restoration of unprecedented investments in affordable housing and workforce development.

But during the next three years, I will lead a more difficult fight to make these investments permanent—through a Black Stimulus that directs $500 million to rebuild neighborhood homes and businesses, and a Philadelphia Poverty Action Fund that leverages private investment, national best practice and independent outcomes measurement to support people, not programs, through basic income, rent subsidy, workforce training and access to untapped benefits.

Today, I ask the business community to join me in the fight for real, long-term investments in Black and Brown communities. I am encouraged that local companies are reckoning, publicly, with failures to confront inequality and to incorporate real diversity and inclusion in every workplace.

I am hopeful that the Chamber of Commerce’s Philadelphia Region Recharge and Recovery Taskforce will encourage more businesses to acknowledge industry shortcomings and recommend a more equitable path forward.

But actions speak louder than words. At this crossroads moment in our city’s history, Philadelphians deserve real million-dollar investments and real data reporting that show results in the following terms:

  • Diversity among the Board of Directors and Executive Staff, that is representative of the city, that is supported by training and reorganization at every level, and that is achieved swiftly in accordance with a timeline that does not wait for board terms to expire or employee attrition.
  • Family-sustaining jobs with access to health care that pay no less than $15 per hour to every single employee and contractor, with time-oriented payroll adjustments that do not wait for contracts to expire.
  • Procurement reforms that empower small and mid-size locally-owned businesses to access new and existing contracting opportunities, paired with meaningful financial supports that help minority vendors grow within and beyond the corporation.
  • Relocation and expansion of businesses within Philadelphia’s commercial corridors, supported by the business community’s renewed attention to neighborhood corridors beyond Center City.
  • Realignment of philanthropic contributions to support a sustainable Poverty Action Fund, that independently directs investments in anti-poverty programs with demonstrated return.

This is a call to action for business leaders to demonstrate a commitment to meaningful reform. The road ahead is difficult, but it will pay dividends for future Philadelphians.

In the past decade alone, City Council’s business tax reform movement has supported thousands of workers and locally owned businesses. During that time, I led the legislative passage of a $100,000 Small Business Exemption, a $2,000 Use and Occupancy Exemption, a Single Sales Factor for Manufacturers, and tax credits for New Businesses and Sustainable Businesses.

This fall, as City Council takes on another uphill battle—a notoriously volatile business tax structure that has hampered regional competitiveness since the 1990s—we seek meaningful partnership with local business leaders to secure economic justice as the New Normal for Black and Brown communities.


Maria Quiñones-Sánchez is in her fourth term as City Councilperson for North Philadelphia’s 7th District. You can read more about her here

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Header photo by Hafiz Issadeen / Flickr

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