By Guy Ciarrocchi
Only the shortsighted believe that a failing Philadelphia could benefit the suburbs. A vibrant region requires a vibrant Philadelphia. Thoughtful civic and business leaders know that Philadelphia’s decline will harm our region and state—even if, occasionally, a city business moves to Exton—or Conshohocken, Havertown or Levittown.
Years of misguided policies, coupled with outrageous taxes and regulations—and now lockdowns—have forced many to close or move. Those businesses that remain are usually the ones that “need” to be in the City, feel obligated to be there, or are run by millennial-entrepreneurs who want to call a city home.
Despite some positive indicators, the City is on the brink. Philadelphia entered the pandemic with a rising crime rate, poor student test scores and among the highest poverty in the nation. It’s annual budget has a $425M hole, and the school district—already facing academic shortfalls—is a financial conundrum. Even when the national economy was booming, too many citizens were in poverty, too many students were falling behind, and too many citizens sat trapped in their homes for fear of crime.
Even when the national economy was booming, too many citizens were in poverty, too many students were falling behind, and too many citizens sat trapped in their homes for fear of crime.
Add to these crises a historic murder rate, store-theft being made all but legal, a summer and fall of unrest, and schools that have been closed for almost ayear, and it’s obvious that there is an economic, academic and, yes, a moral crisis in Philadelphia.
And this isn’t a problem solely for Philadelphians. Shrinking city revenue means more aid from suburban taxpayers. Higher unemployment means more unemployment checks paid for by other taxpayers. A less-vibrant Philadelphia means that fewer companies may move or grow in our region—and some may leave.
But fiscal issues are only part of the problem. The greatest harm to the economic future of the City and our region is that the public schools are still mostly closed. The district talks. The teachers’ union talks. The politicians talk. Meanwhile, 200,000 students are sitting at home. Most not learning much at all.
These children are being failed by the grown-ups entrusted to educate and lead them—to show them a path forward. Thankfully, most parochial and independent schools are open. Many charters are operating in hybrid models that operate successfully and most are working to re-open.
When the class of 2021 graduates from the Philadelphia School District this June, what are their chances for success in college or in the job market? When thousands of students leave middle school to enter high school next fall, how prepared will they be?
The greatest harm to the economic future of the City and our region is that the public schools are still mostly closed. The district talks. The teachers’ union talks. The politicians talk. Meanwhile, 200,000 students are sitting at home. Most not learning much at all.
Meanwhile, city hall remains focused on taxing and micro-managing business. They want to dictate what job applications may look like, what work schedules must be, and how much people have to be paid. A City Council filled with some who have never “signed the front of a check” is telling restaurants, retailers and family businesses how to operate.
No similar government effort is being given to crime, though. The district attorney has engaged in a four-year social experiment. Spoiler alert: it’s failed. His approach to fighting crime defies all common sense and has created deadly results.
Philadelphia had enormous challenges going into 2020. Now, the City’s misguided approach to last year’s challenge has likely made those challenges almost insurmountable.
I do not have all the answers. But the first steps are obvious. Let business owners run their businesses. Ask them what they need to grow and hire—and do it. Put criminals in jail, especially the violent ones. Make center city safe for employees, customers and visitors. Protect the neighborhoods, too. And, open up the schools.
READ MORE — A year of lockdowns, a horizon of hope
Guy Ciarrocchi is the CEO of the Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry. Follow them @ChescoChamber