Anticipating new mayor, Philly business leaders begin charting five-year course for growth

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 Daniel K. Fitzpatrick, chairman of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, introduces the Roadmap for Growth, which the organization hopes will influence the decisions of the next mayor of Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Daniel K. Fitzpatrick, chairman of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, introduces the Roadmap for Growth, which the organization hopes will influence the decisions of the next mayor of Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

When Philadelphia’s next mayor takes office in 2016, he or she will face daunting challenges: high taxes, unemployment and widespread poverty, to name a few.

The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce says it wants to help. 

On Thursday, the business group announced plans to start a citywide discussion about improving Philadelphia’s economy. The campaign, known as the “Roadmap for Growth for Philadelphia: 2015 to 2020,” will begin with a listening tour this fall, in which neighborhood leaders will be tapped for ideas about how to cultivate jobs and small businesses.

The chamber will also solicit ideas at forums in upcoming months and stage a debate among mayoral candidates next spring. It expects to present the best policy recommendations to emerge from the process to Philadelphia’s next mayor and City Council, and make experts available to help implement them.

“Our purpose isn’t necessarily to influence an election,” said Rob Wonderling, chamber president. “It’s to be a gathering of people and ideas that are part of the electoral process. We hope new individuals that have never been involved in a public policy discussion around a mayor’s election will say, ‘I want to get involved.'”

With Philadelphia’s population on the upswing and its “eds and meds” industries growing, Wonderling said the timing is right to sketch out a grand vision for the city’s future.

“We think the city is at the proverbial tipping point,” he said.

In past elections, Philadelphia’s business community has at times tried, but failed, to unite around a single candidate.

David L. Cohen, Comcast executive vice president and a chamber board member, stressed that the “Roadmap for Growth” is not political. He said that will make the city’s business leaders more likely to get involved.

“I think many members of the business community are going to be a lot more comfortable engaging in the process through a vehicle like the ‘Roadmap’ than they would be in the political campaign,” said Cohen, “because this plays to the sweet spot of what business leaders do. They have to develop visions for their own companies.”

The chamber also released a report Thursday outlining the state of the city and providing a taste of what the group’s recommendations to Philadelphia’s next mayor may be. It suggests reducing local business taxes, improving the city’s infrastructure and emphasizing “STEM” education in public schools.

Several rumored mayoral candidates were at the chamber’s announcement, which was held at the Independence Visitors Center, including City Controller Alan Butkovitz, Councilman James Kenney, former Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority director Terry Gillen, attorney Ken Trujillo and state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams.

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