The Roadmap for Growth Conference highlighted how businesses can transform Philadelphia neighborhoods through economic growth, community involvement, arts and culture, and job creation.

The event, held Tuesday by the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, drew a mix of attendees from the business, civic and nonprofit sectors.

The event featured three panels of business and civic leaders who addressed topics ranging from incentivizing neighborhood economic development to building healthy communities and the role arts and culture can play in marginalized communities.

The opening panel addressed how city, state and federal incentives could spur neighborhood revitalization.

Anne Bovaird Nevins of PIDC, Philadelphia’s economic development corporation, highlighted how the new federal Opportunity Zone tax incentive will impact the city.

An Opportunity Zone is an economically distressed community where investors who make investments in qualifying development projects can receive tax benefits.

There are 82 designated Opportunity Zones in the city, which are located across West Philadelphia, North Philadelphia, the Northeast, South and Southwest Philadelphia and the River Wards.

Nevins said PIDC seeks to attract capital to the city’s Opportunity Zones, connect capital to the areas that need it the most and align the corporation’s lending resources to maximize and incentivize investment.

“We are going to be working in partnership with the city and with others to put Philadelphia’s best foot forward to attract our fair share of capital that’s going to be flowing into opportunity zones across the country and we want to bring that here,” Nevins said.

“We are trying to identify businesses that are already operating in these zones and figure out if there is a way for the businesses themselves to take advantage of those tax benefits and work to build a pipeline of investment-ready projects and enterprises.”

Gregory Reaves, co-founder of the real estate development company Mosaic Development Partners, said these zones are going to “shift urban centers in a way that is very positive for those who are already wealthy.”

Reaves’ company has four projects in communities designated as Opportunity Zones.

“If you don’t own an existing real estate asset, you are not going to be able take advantage of an Opportunity Zone,” Reaves said, speaking on a panel on building healthy communities.

“This is why we talk about how do we build communal wealth. How do we get communities back working together around common ideas that are really looking at business entrepreneurship and cultural equity in addition to economic equity.”

“When we think about what real estate developers do in these neighborhoods and what’s coming with the Opportunity Zones is they’re not building buildings — they are building legacies and the legacies tend to transfer to their own families,” Reaves continued.

“Unless we build our own family legacies in the communities that we care about, we’re not going to see any real change.”

Panelists also addressed how to strengthen the city’s independently owned small businesses.

Nestor Torres, owner of Casa Papel and managing partner of Myriagon Consulting Group, LLC, spoke about converting Main Street businesses into mainstream entities.

“That’s very, very important because the minute they become mainstream, they become competitive,” Torres stated.

“They’re able to sustain their operations because their products and services become attractive to broader audiences.”

Philadelphia Commerce Director Harold Epps talked about supporting businesses located in the city’s commercial corridors. When he encounters residents while touring those shopping districts, he shares this message.

“If you care about your corridor, spend as much of your money in the corridor as you possibly can,” Epps said. “Be intentional about where and with whom you spend your dollars.” (215) 893-5747

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