Philadelphia mayoral candidate Doug Oliver says the way to create jobs and improve education is by making it easy for technology start-up companies to grow in the city.
In front of a group of supporters at an office-share startup space in the Brewerytown neighborhood Wednesday morning, Oliver outlined a plan that included revising business taxes and starting a business innovation fund.
“It’s not any one thing you do to create a technology hub in the city, but a series of small decisions that you make that show you have a support for, an infrastructure for tech startups and small businesses in general,” Oliver said.
The candidate said a combination of heavy wage and gross receipt taxes doesn’t allow Philadelphia to compete with other cities where technology businesses are growing.
“We tax the things that are on roller skates and going downhill, people and business,” said Oliver. “Things that are the most mobile and can exercise that mobility, we tax them and encourage them –oh so much — to leave the city.”
Oliver suggested that some business tax burden could be shifted more to undervalued properties around the city, and though he didn’t have specific numbers said that perhaps some portion of gross receipts could be exempted.
He would also like to start a $1 million business innovation fund – similar in structure to the current StartUp PHL program co-sponsored by the Department of Commerce and in the Industrial Development Corporation.
Oliver said the mix of public and private money would go first to small businesses that create the most jobs or help solve government problems. He even suggested that businesses opening in certain up-and-coming neighborhoods could receive additional benefits. He anticipates that startups will invest in these neighborhoods, which increases foot traffic, provides jobs and boosts safety.
“When people start taking ownership of where they live and work, they start to think differently,” said Oliver. “That’s why having these businesses in communities like Brewerytown, North Philadelphia, Southwest Philly, it’s a good idea.”
Oliver discussed his proposals at Turnkey Startup, which rents unlimited desk and businesses services in a shared office space on the second floor of a remodeled Brewerytown factory, for about $400 a month.
Owner Brad Baldia said the company just moved in five months ago, and doesn’t even open until April, but has already rented five of the 12 open desks. He’s worked in the industry for a couple of years and said there was definitely a need for cheap rental spaces like this in the city.
“Co-working spaces create a community among entrepreneurs, and they’re continuing to grow in cities all over the country as larger companies have more virtual workers or freelancers looking for flexible space,” Baldia said.
He said it is tougher to start a business in Philadelphia than other cities but he sees some changes on the horizon.
“I wouldn’t have started this five years ago,” said Baldia. “The business wage tax, it’s painful. It should be about creating business taxes and revenue to support the city in a smarter way that allows the business community to also thrive and want to stay here.”
He said he doesn’t currently live in the Brewerytown area, but was planning to move there soon.
Oliver added that in his opinion, in the so-called “New Philadelphia,” the reality is that the manufacturing and antiquated agricultural jobs are gone, yet the city doesn’t do enough to encourage entrepreneurship or a sense of creating your own way.
“This whole push for technology and innovation is less about being a mayor for young people,” said Oliver. “But understand that it is in fact about young people in the city of Philadelphia solving all of the challenges we have including pensions, education, public safety, jobs and everything else.”