The invitation to join Mayor-elect Jim Kenney's transition team arrived by email, and with it came invaluable recognition for the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia, said its executive director, Jamie Gauthier.
"It was validation of a lot of hard work we have done . . . to really build our policy and advocacy infrastructure," Gauthier said recently.
Even harder work is ahead: leveraging her new access to City Hall to actually erase some of the misery of life for the small-
business owners of Philadelphia.
old advocacy organization for small, locally owned businesses first outlined that agony in 2011 with the release of its 41-page report, "Taking Care of Business; Improving Philadelphia's Small-Business Climate."
Based on interviews with more than 100 of the city's estimated 93,000 small-business owners, the report concluded, "Philadelphia is a tough place to do business."
It hasn't changed much, the Sustainable Business Network (SBN) suggested with its nine-page Good Economy Challenge, issued in January as a way of engaging in the primary-election conversation.
The call to action identified five policy priorities: improving the city's small-business climate; bolstering local- and sustainable-business procurement by city government, universities, and other institutions; advancing Philadelphia's Green City, Clean Waters plan; ensuring that Philadelphia has 20,000 solar homes by 2025; and strengthening the partnership between the city and B-lab certified businesses. So-called B Corps are those that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability.
Among SBN's specific recommendations: adopt conduct requirements for small-business inspections akin to New York's Business Owners Bill of Rights; improve the city's business-services portal to enable the purchase of licenses and permits online and the tracking of their status; create a concierge-like service to help businesses navigate the city's approval process; pledge support for the Green City, Clean Waters program to meet the EPA Clean Water Act; amend Philadelphia's 10-year tax-abatement for new real estate development to incentivize energy efficiency and solar-panel installations; and double the maximum tax credit for sustainable businesses to $8,000.
SBN's entire wish list can be found at http://www.sbnphiladelphia.org/initiatives/the_good_economy_challenge.
"We're well-poised to see wins on things we've been pushing for a long time," said Gauthier, 36, of West Philadelphia, who took the helm at SBN in March 2013 and is serving on the environment and sustainability committee of Kenney's transition team.
Some of SBN's proposals are in Kenney's Neighborhood Economic Development policy paper, including a small-business resource center and a pledge to expand the tax credit for B Corps. (As a councilman, Kenney sponsored the city's original Sustainable Business Tax Credit, which was passed in 2009 for tax years 2012 through 2017. Under it, 25 eligible businesses would receive a credit of $4,000 to be used against the gross-receipts portion of the Business Privilege Tax.)
"The small businesses that line our neighborhoods' commercial corridors are as critical to the health of our economy as the businesses in skyscrapers downtown," Kenney spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said. "As such, the city has a responsibility to provide better small-business support by connecting small-business owners to resources offered through city government and local anchor institutions."
Gauthier is a valuable part of the transition team because she "leads a 400-member business organization that is committed to getting the business community to embrace their roles as corporate citizens," Hitt said.
"That's essential not only toward Jim's goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent in 2050, but in making our city a better place as a whole," she said, adding that the business community must "contribute to making our education system better by supporting the expansion of pre-K and community schools, and by paying their employees a living wage so that a quarter of our citizens are no longer living in poverty."
While grateful for Kenney's attention, Gauthier is taking nothing for granted.
"Our job is to activate our community," she said.