Chamber of Commerce maps plan to guide city growth

Posted: August 02, 2014

Another day, another road map.

The day after a City Council contingent presented plans for an ambitious data-driven program to guide city spending, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce announced its own ambitious data-driven program to guide economic growth to pay for that spending.

Both initiatives involve deep statistical dives into the city's health, listening tours, and final reports. While Council hopes to affect the spending habits of future mayors, the chamber wants to put its imprint on the coming race for the city's next chief executive, as well as on his or her first term in office.

Its plan includes sponsoring a mayoral debate before next year's May primary.

'Shape the dialogue'

"We have an opportunity to help shape the dialogue that will take place in the 2015 mayor's race," said David L. Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast Corp. and chief of staff for former Gov. Ed Rendell when he served as the city's mayor.

To underscore that point, chamber president Rob Wonderling noted that the packed audience at the Independence Visitor Center was sprinkled with potential mayoral candidates. Among those in attendance were State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams (D., Pa.); City Controller Alan Butkovitz; City Councilman James Kenney; former City Solicitor Ken Trujillo; and Terry Gillen, the former executive director of the Redevelopment Authority.

Step One in the chamber's "Roadmap for Growth" campaign was the release Wednesday of an inventory of how the city stands in terms of demographics and economic health.

The study was produced by Econsult Solutions, which also is under contract with Council to help with its initiative announced Wednesday to link existing databases to offer real-time rankings of city neighborhoods by quality of life.

Current fiscal health

While illuminating of the city's current fiscal health, the chamber's study did not necessarily break ground.

It noted approvingly the well-reported upturn in the city's population since 2005. Other shifts of note were the rise in foreign immigration to the city, the growing number of Asian and Hispanic or Latino residents, and the boom in twentysomethings and Philadelphians ages 50 to 65.

Economically, the city has continued to lose manufacturing and financial-services jobs, while higher education, health services, and tourism remain on the rise.

The chamber plans to hold a series of public meetings and, later, forums on issues before producing its own "must-do" list for the next mayor and Council.

While all of the event's speakers lauded the effort to lead civic discussion, one suggested he was as interested in producing civic leaders.

Ajay Raju, the chairman of Dilworth Paxson L.L.P., offered a sneak preview of his "Germination Project," which will seek to identify the next generation's leaders in the city's high schools, and offer them top-shelf mentoring and guidance.

Using $500,000 from his charitable nonprofit - the Pamela and Ajay Raju Foundation - Raju said the effort would initially focus on 10 schools, but would eventually include all city high schools.

"When I was in school in India, the smartest kids in the class were the cool kids. Here, they get beat up," he said, explaining his motivation. "I want us to make as much an effort finding and mentoring the next leaders as we do finding the next LeBron James."


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