New effort aims to make starting and building a business in Philly easier

The goal of the "PHL: Open for Business" effort is to make starting or keeping a business easier for people, especially disadvantaged communities who need help.

Mayor Cherelle Parker

Mayor Cherelle Parker announces plan to make Philadelphia more business-friendly. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY News)

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Philadelphia is moving forward with a plan Mayor Cherelle Parker says will make the city more business-friendly.

Parker announced her “PHL: Open for Business” effort with a goal to support and foster small business in the city.

“I want a revival in City Hall. I want a revival that brings out and supports the best that our good city has to offer with a more efficient government, one that listens to residents and the businesses,” Parker said as she unveiled the plan Monday morning.

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Her plan would streamline the process of working with municipal government. She said supporting businesses helps generate more tax dollars for the city.

“We don’t want you having to work on trying to get access to licenses and permits and get over other administrative hurdles. We want you increasing your bottom line and in improving your business so that you can contribute more to our economic pie,” Parker said. “What does it matter? Because the more people buy and spend, the more revenue we collect.”

She added that more revenue will help the city better tackle the challenges it faces.

Commerce Director Alba Martinez said during the first 100 days of the administration, the city has reviewed the 96 different permit processes “across 53 business types, identifying several pain points that need addressing.”

Alba Martinez
Commerce Director Alba Martinez (Tom MacDonald/WHYY News)

Martinez said the first move will be making it easier for small businesses to navigate food service hurdles. That will help “reduce unnecessary paperwork, steps, approvals and delays that businesses and front-line city workers currently face.”

She added the city will establish “a centralized digital platform for businesses to access relevant resources, information and training anytime anywhere to deliver customer-centered service that is responsive and supported by resourceful advocates for businesses.”

The changes include creating a specialized unit within the mayor’s business action team to focus on accelerating efforts to resolve issues with permits, licenses, taxes and payments.

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She drew a round of applause when she added one of their goals was to “accept credit card and digital payments across city platforms.” That is something that has not been done in the past, forcing owners to come to City Hall with a check in hand to pay for something as simple as a permit to maintain a dumpster at a business.

The city has been working with businesses to streamline the system, and Martinez said it’s especially important for small businesses started by disadvantaged groups.

“We know these complexities disproportionately affect small businesses, sole proprietors and enterprises owned by minorities, women and people with disabilities.”

Jennifer Rodriguez of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said this is what these businesses have been calling for for years.

“If the administration makes it easier for you to start and grow your business, you can get to work and make money,” Rodriguez said.

Irene Council-Grant almost gave up on running the city gauntlet of permits and licenses for the business she owns, Platinum Fruit Creations, on Girard Avenue. She said at first the myriad of permits and the like were mind-boggling.

“When I opened up my business, it was crazy. I had to run here to get that. I had to run there to get that. I had to go back to the same man that told me to go over here. It was crazy and I almost gave up,” Grant said. “I put my $30,000 back in my pocket. I was thinking about some trips.”

But help from the city changed that and now her business is doing well, even after a setback when crews tore up the street to do construction work.

“They knew that we needed some money on that. We had taken a real hit and so the money came through. I was able to get some mailings in the mail and I started seeing people again, so I thank you all so much for what you guys did for the corridor of Gerard Avenue.”

The mayor signed an executive order which renames the Office of Business Services to the Mayor’s Business Action Team.

The change is part of an effort to break down silos and bring efforts to help businesses together. The team is housed in the Department of Commerce and provides one-on-one help for businesses that need assistance navigating city services.

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