Bullish on Philadelphia: New mayor wants to reverse population outflow, attract more businesses
July 3, 2008
Greg Robb, MarketWatch
WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- The new mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, thinks the city is going places and wants people to get on board.
"Our major goal over the next five to ten years is to net increase our population by 75,000 people. We want to stop the population and job loss and reverse it and have people move into the city," Nutter, 51, said in an interview with MarketWatch.
"It has been a challenge over the past 50 years as manufacturing has gone to the south, gone to the west or been exported abroad," Nutter said.
He said the city has slowed down the loss of population but hasn't turned it around." The city, which at its peak in 1950 had a population of 2.5 million, has shrunk to 1.5 million. See our story on Philadelphia's economic challenges.
Nutter, a Democrat and graduate of the highly-respected Wharton business school, said he planned to attract workers and businesses by "cutting taxes, creating more jobs, and focus on education so people can put kids in public school."
Experts said the goal was a tall order.
"It is great to have ambitious goals," said Steve Wray, executive director of the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia.
At the moment, Philadelphia's population trend is about flat, with as many people coming as are going. But this is better than the outright loss of population from the 1950s until the late 1990s.
"We've seen is not a reversal of the trend of the past, but at least a stopping of the trend of the past," Wray said.
Nutter said the Philadelphia economy was holding up even as the national economy weakens.
"We could certainly be doing a lot better, but I'm not complaining where we are," he said.
Hospitality and tourism are helping prop up other sectors, he said. The sector employs 10% of the town's workforce. More than 2.3 million visitors visited Independence Hall in 2007.
International tourism was up 26% in 2007, according to a federal government report.
The city is expanding its Convention Center and as a result, there are six hotels planned for the city "and a couple of others on the drawing board," Nutter said.
Over the course of his administration, Nutter said he wants to "capitalize on our natural assets of education, medicine and life sciences.
"But certainly, we're also looking to encourage the creative class to open more small businesses, and have more micro-loan products for people," he said.
Nutter has smoked the peace pipe with suburban communities, ending the beggar-thy-neighbor policies of competing for businesses.
"We're aggressively looking at financial services and venture capital firms. Some are moving in from outside Pennsylvania and others from our suburbs."
"We're encouraging them to open satellite offices right in the city even if they want to keep their headquarters or plant in a suburban location," he said.
So far this year, a Harriburgh ad agency and several South Jersey law firms have increased their prescence in the city. Nutter has had talks with Toronto-based TD Bank Financial Group about moving the headquarters of its U.S. branch into the city.
Philadelphia's proximity to New York and Washington is a tremendous asset.
"We're livable, walkable and more affordable. The dollar literally goes a lot farther," he said.
On education, Nutter says he wants to cut the drop-out rate in half in the next five-7 years and double the college degree attainment rate. More than 40% of the high school students in Philadelphia leave school without a diploma.
The city is also starting a program to get workers who started college but never finished to go back.
"When people are educated and get good jobs, you attack poverty directly," he said.