(Photo by Danielle Corcione)
Again, again, again: Philadelphia is the poorest big city in America.
But the city’s business leaders want to change that, including the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, which on Tuesday hosted a conference around its cross-sector economic development initiative, Roadmap for Growth.
“Over the past year, we have transitioned the Roadmap from a communications-based campaign into a more permanent initiative within the Chamber,” said Kate Hagedorn, the Chamber’s director of civic affairs. “This has meant moving from conversations about what the business community broadly can do to improve economic growth to implementing actionable items.”
In other words, it’s more than talk.
“We are working on creating a pilot program for low-barrier employment opportunities for those who may be panhandling or homeless, mapping out how our membership’s knowledge and expertise can be of use to smaller, more neighborhood-based businesses, and exploring how the Chamber can support education disruptors and entrepreneurs who are serving Philadelphia’s students,” she said.
The event included a panel discussion moderated by WURD Radio President and CEO Sara Lomax-Reese with some leaders in the Philadelphia business community about how they recruit immigrants, veterans, homeless youth, those from lower socioeconomic households and those who have been incarcerated.
Here are some pointers from the panelists:
Establish public-private partnerships.
Saxbys founder and CEO Nick Bayer has integrated employing homeless youth into his business model. To reach out to this population, his coffee company has partnerships with YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School and Covenant House. Currently, the business employs less than 10 percent of homeless youth, but he hopes to double that number in the next two years.
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Saxbys also runs a Café Executive Officer (CEO) program, which trains staff to become the leaders of each café, beyond the basic role of a manager.
“We can be everyone’s first job,” he said. “You don’t need a Ph.D from Penn to be the CEO.”
While he said that companies doing social good should have a bigger spotlight, Bayer also stressed the need for private-public accountability.
“Companies need to be held more accountable,” he said. “There needs to be an evaluation process to be objectively evaluated on what they do.”
Be an advocate for unfamiliar communities.
There are over 60,000 veterans living in Philadelphia. Comcast, one of the city’s largest employers, realized it had a problem when it didn’t employ many veterans, said Carol Eggert, Comcast’s senior VP of military and veteran affairs.
“We understood it was a channel of talent we [hadn’t] developed in an organized way” before her office was formed, she said.
When asked how the business community can improve, she told the audience to be an advocate for the military community. Rather than just thanking a veteran for their service, Eggert encouraged non-veterans to ask about that service, including the soft skills they learned along the way.
“People won’t talk about their experience until they are asked,” she said. “We need to look beyond their job in the military and look at their skills.”
Recruit from the neighborhood your business resides.
Michael Robinson knows this lesson well.
“North Philadelphia has a lot of challenges,” said Temple University’s director of community outreach and hiring. “We cover the university and the hospital in eight different ZIP codes. Out of those eight ZIP codes, five are in extreme poverty.”
According to Robinson, North Philly sees over 30,000 people returning from prison each year. As of 2011, about 40,000 people total return to Philadelphia from state and federal prison annually.
That’s why his department focuses on recruiting from the immediate area surrounding Temple’s campus and hospital, rather than the city at large. He said professional development can help underserved communities get employed.
“If we did not hire from North Philadelphia, that would be an indictment on our organization,” he said.
And Temple doesn’t always ask people to come to the Ivory Tower. It’s equally as important to go into the community beyond campus and work with community organizations to conduct outreach — and pay a living wage, Robinson said. While Pennsylvania’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, the minimum living standard of Philadelphia is $11.59, as of 2015.
“CEOs can do more by leveraging money they make and putting it into the company so [their] workforce can make a living wage,” he said.
Promote your outreach.
Michael Pearson, president and CEO of Union Packaging LLC, has a background in military service, so he understands how difficult it is for veterans to return home. Immigrants, on the other hand, leave oppression from their native countries, so they don’t have a home to return to.
His company recruits from the Welcoming Center for New Philadelphians, because he thinks anyone, even recent immigrants who may never have held a job in the U.S. before, can find a home at his manufacturing plant.
“Partner with nonprofits and make it easy for nonprofits to sell your opportunity,” Pearson said, “by focusing on a livable wage and employee education to manage their home finances. Partners cut administrative HR time to integrate these folks in your business.”