Philly says Forbes asked for $2M to bring Millennial summit back – UPDATED

    Monica Lewinski speaks at the Forbes Under 30 Summit in Philadelphia in 2014. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Monica Lewinski speaks at the Forbes Under 30 Summit in Philadelphia in 2014. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    The Under 30 Summit from “Forbes Magazine” that showcases the talents of millennials is headed to Boston this fall after officials in Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration say they wouldn’t commit $2 million Forbes asked for to stage the event here. Forbes says it didn’t ask for a city contribution.

    Philadelphia hosted the Under 30 Summit each of the last two years, and I reported in January that a city-funded non-profit paid the magazine $1.7 million for privilege.

     Mayor Kenney’s Chief of Staff Jane Slusser told me she and other city officials spoke to Forbes executives about hosting the 2016 event, and were concerned when she asked them for information about the economic benefit to the city from the previous summits.

    “The review of the local economic impact that we were given was not incredibly detailed, and so that was something that gave me some reservations,” Slusser said.

    The city’s $2 million financial commitment was to be a guarantee, Slusser said, with the hope that private sponsors could be recruited to cover the cost and get taxpayers off the hook for the money. But few sponsors signed up for the previous summits, and Slusser said when the city sounded out potential sponsors for this year’s event, it wasn’t clear they’d get anywhere near $2 million worth of support.

    “I wouldn’t say there was a total lack of interest,” Slusser said. “There was some interest, but it just wasn’t really secure yet, and I think Forbes was really looking for a firm commitment at this point in the year so they could get on with their planning.”

    Slusser said the administration has important spending priorities, and had to consider the financial risks and benefits.

    “When there’s actual city money going into it, you need to make sure that you can count the dollars and cents that are getting spent here and the economic benefits that are coming to local businesses,” Slusser said, “and that just wasn’t very clear.”

    Slusser said Forbes also made it was clear it would be talking to other potential host cities, and that they informed Philadelphia recently the summit was headed to Boston.

    I contacted Forbes spokeswoman Wendy Furrer Egan, who emailed that Forbes “made it clear in writing and in person [to the city] that Forbes was not seeking any taxpayer dollars to underwrite the summit, but rather that the event needed to be funded privately.”

    When I asked in a follow-up email if Forbes had asked the city to sign a guarantee for the $2 million in case not enough sponsors were found, she replied, “No, not true.”

    “We wanted Philadelphia to help convene and rally the local business community to support the Summit,” Furrer Egan wrote. “We did not expect or want the city of Philadelphia to guarantee.  We expected them to help us connect with and secure support from the business leadership who would provide private sector sponsorships. Forbes neither asked for nor received any guarantee from the city of Boston.”

    When I asked Slusser about this, she sent a copy of the contract for the 2014 summit in Philadelphia, which clearly places the responsibility on the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia to meet the financial commitments to Forbes or find others who would.

    Slusser wrote that the only discussion about the 2016 summit which would have indicated a different arrangement was in her last conversation with Forbes executives “when I proposed finding a cosponsor to cosign the contract, which Forbes was open to, but which still would’ve put the responsibility with the City to secure some funds.”

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