Following high-profile clashes between the business community and City Hall in recent years, Mayor Jim Kenney made the case Tuesday that Philadelphia’s government is pro-business, touting efforts to cut regulations and lure companies to the city.
“Let’s please put to rest once and for all that Philly is bad for business," Kenney said in his annual speech to the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia. “Companies, including those who have the power and money to be anywhere in the world, are investing in Philadelphia like never before. That’s why I’m asking you to join us as we continue to change the narrative and show the world that Philadelphia is in fact open for business.”
But, Kenney said, growing the city’s economy must involve more than cutting red tape for businesses.
“Our administration is pro-growth,” Kenney said. “But it is important that we harness that growth in a responsible way. We need only look at the homelessness and housing crises in cities like San Francisco and Seattle to see the potential impact of growth that is not inclusive of everyone.”
Kenney’s defense of the city’s business climate effectively served as a rejoinder to comments made last year by Comcast executive and political power broker David L. Cohen, who told 6ABC that recent “pro-worker” legislation approved by City Council and supported by Kenney is “hostile to business.”
Cohen, who announced last year he will be stepping back from his operational role at Comcast to become an adviser to CEO Brian Roberts, is a former chair of the chamber’s board. Comcast is seen as the most influential company in the chamber.
The mayor’s speech during the chamber’s luncheon at the Convention Center is often a preview of sorts for the administration’s budget proposal to City Council. Kenney will deliver his budget address to Council on March 5.
Kenney, who coasted to reelection last year, reiterated many of the goals he laid out during his inauguration for a second term last month: reducing violence, improving schools, and bringing street sweeping to every neighborhood.
Many in the business community are attempting to recalibrate their relationships with City Hall by taking a more collaborative approach and changing the perception that the chamber is out touch with regular Philadelphians.
Independence Blue Cross CEO Dan Hilferty, the current chair of the chamber’s board, said Kenney’s goals align with recent initiatives like the chamber’s Neighborhood Growth Project.
“We must reduce not only the burdens on business, but also the burdens of crime and poor health,” Hilferty said as he introduced Kenney. “It is very clear we have a shared destination.”
Despite the notes of harmony at Tuesday’s event, there are several policy debates in which the business community may again clash with city officials. On the first day of their new four-year term, councilmembers last month introduced proposals to strengthen enforcement of rules meant to protect workers, to require employers to offer paid family medical leave, and to consider rent-control legislation.
The most sought-after attendee of the chamber luncheon did not give a speech. Glad-handers swarmed new Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, who was on her second day on the job, as politicians and business leaders mingled before the mayor’s address.
Kenney jokingly thanked her for being the center of attention.
“It’s the first time in five years no one’s talked to me. They all came surrounding her,” Kenney said during his speech. “I could eat my lunch.”