Our job: Growing small businesses

Posted: March 16, 2004

ON THURSDAY, Mayor Street will formally share with City Council his latest vision for his two-term mayoralty.

The mayor will offer a partial blueprint for economic growth and will call for an Economic Development Summit to be held this spring. Economic development is a new strategic focus for this administration. But it has always been mine.

As a result of my legislative initiatives, on March 25, Council's Commerce and Economic Development Committee will hold hearings to update the status of lending goals submitted by banks holding city money.

In particular, these hearings will examine small business lending patterns in lower-income and minority neighborhoods (target areas). The hearings will focus on the implementation of strategies that I have developed over the last four years.

The committee will take testimony from the city controller, the Finance Department and the Small Business Lending Taskforce of the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition (GPUAC). The taskforce was formed 15 months ago as a result of hearings that I held in Council.

GPUAC's taskforce is expected to recommend, among other things, the diversification of loan products and the establishment of a loan guarantee fund for target areas. The Finance Department will update Council on small-business lending goals submitted by city banks. And the city controller's office will comment on its most recent study of small-business lending patterns in target areas.

The study shows little change in lending disparity from 1998- 2002. Lower-income and minority areas are still not getting their fair share of lending and investment. That continued disparity, in light of the changing demographics in Philadelphia, obviously contributes to the flat economic growth in this city.

As Council considers the fiscal and economic state of the city, we must directly address the reason for our flat revenue growth over the last few years. Beyond the national economic slump, Philadelphia is responsible for not having developed a comprehensive strategy for business and economic growth.

As the national economy begins to improve, we must be poised to attract new businesses and large-scale development.

But, more important, small businesses must be better positioned to start, grow and create new jobs. The bulk of job growth has always come from small business growth. Therefore, our new public policy needs to address small-business development as the cornerstone of economic growth including the creation of a loan guarantee fund that will fill the credit gaps that exist in target areas.

Our new economic vision must potentially include every neighborhood - instead of separating our economic agenda from our neighborhood agenda. *

W. Wilson Goode Jr. is a councilman at large.

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