Good things are happening in Philadelphia, but the city needs more job opportunities to keep it going.
That was the message delivered Tuesday morning during a Center City District discussion on the state of Center City. First, the good news: The population of greater Center City increased 13 percent between 2000 and 2013.
Center City District President Paul Levy said 44 percent of the city’s jobs are focused downtown, the largest employment center in the region.
“There are 288,000 jobs, 40.7 million square feet of office space, 11,000 hotel rooms, 3,200 retail premises, 11 colleges and universities, five hospitals, 409 cultural institutions and, now, 178,000 people,” he said. “We squeeze all that into a very small and dense place, but it’s a place that’s rapidly expanding at this point.”
Levy said that expansion includes jobs in hospitality, education, health care, retail and government.
Still, he said, there are problems. The city’s economy is still not growing as fast as that of the region and the nation.
“Our unemployment rate has been higher than all of our peers’. We just … surpassed Baltimore. That is, our rate came down, but we have an unforgivably high unemployment rate in the city and an even higher poverty rate,” Levy said.
Center City’s office occupancy rate in 2013 ranked high among the nation’s largest downtown markets, yet rents remained low.
However the total amount of downtown office space has not increased in the last two decades, as many buildings have been converted into housing.
Philadelphia’s Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Alan Greenberger said the city is working to build jobs in locations outside Center City such as the Navy Yard.
“We’re actively talking to four or five major firms who have an interest in locating at the Navy Yard,” he said. “Now these are not Center City firms looking to bail on Center City, these are firms from the suburbs — New Jersey suburbs, western suburbs and southwestern suburbs who have an interest in coming here.
Greenberger said the businesses want to be a part of the city so they can hire from Philadelphia’s pool of tech-savvy, young people.
With more competitive tax policies and more assured funding for schools, Philadelphia could enjoy even more dynamic job growth and opportunity for all, Levy said.