2020 Spring Cleaning Photogrpahy by Peter Tobia

A crew cleans up an area of City Center whose merchants have been affected by the pandemic closures. The "State of Center City" report says Philadelphia is primed for a rebound from the coronavirus upheaval. - Photo by Peter Tobia

The latest "State of Center City" report highlights how downtown Philadelphia is well positioned to rebound economically from the coronavirus pandemic.

The 64-page report focuses on where Philadelphia was just before the crisis struck locally and reflects on how the city responded to its financial crisis in 1991, then its struggles in the aftermath of 2001 terrorist attacks and how it fared in the Great Recession that started in 2007.

Philadelphia was in its 11th straight year of growth when work started on the report. Prior to the global pandemic striking locally in March, Center City was experiencing an upward trajectory as development was surging and the population was growing and becoming diverse.

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Paul Levy, president and CEO of the Center City District, is optimistic that the nation's sixth most populous city will recover from the recent upheaval.

“There are really strong fundamentals that we built as a city in Center City and University City over the last two decades that are going to help us get into recovery,” he said.

“It’s our diversification of our economy that is going to help us, just as it did through the 2008 and 2009 recession,” he added.

The new report notes that expanding jobs, sales and construction boosted municipal tax revenue by 39%, from $2.95 billion in 2009 to $4.11 billion in 2019. It has allowed increased funding for education, housing, social services and other municipal programs.

The report outlines Philadelphia’s strengths and challenges as the city officials and leaders create a roadmap for recovery. One major strength is its diverse mix of employment such as business, education, health care and hospitality sectors that are accessible by public transit.

Center City holds 42% of Philadelphia’s jobs and provides 25% of the employment for residents across the city, it noted.

Levy says two-thirds of all jobs in Center City do not require a college degree, about a third require a high school diploma and a third require an associate degree.

“You put that together with the transit system and you’ve got accessible jobs for people of all educational levels across the city,” he said.

However, a major challenge is that many entry-level jobs in the restaurant, hospitality and retail sectors – positions most accessible for those without college degrees – have been the hardest hit due to the pandemic, which has forced the state and cities to close businesses and schools.

On the flip side, Levy says that when office buildings are up and running again, they will need security, janitorial and technical staff.

“Unlike Orlando or Las Vegas, where all of the lower or mid-skilled jobs are 100% vulnerable, our health care jobs and our office jobs are going to rebound as we come out of this,” he said.

“I think those are the kind of strong points for us.”

But while focus is on recovery from this current crisis, Levy says the city needs stronger job growth to address its 25 percent poverty rate.

“We still have a city with a high unemployment rate, which from my perspective means, we need to come out of this not just with recovery, but with stronger job growth,” he said.

“We need to be a faster growing city.”

Levy says Philadelphia has been “very good at creating lots of entry level jobs in home health care and the restaurant and food service, but not so good at creating the family sustaining jobs, which other cities are creating.”

According to the report, since 2009, 60.5% of the jobs created in Philadelphia were in sectors that pay on average $35,000 or less and only 26% were in sectors paying between $35,000 to $100,000.

“Every one of our strengths is there to be activated and that’s the strong point, but the challenge is not just restarting the economy and getting past this crisis, it’s still to address the underlying challenges that this city faces,” Levy added.

To view the "State of Center City" report, visit www.centercityphila.org/socc.

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