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Hispanic Chamber weighs in on Kenney's immigrant-friendly business plan

Hispanic Chamber encouraged by Kenney's initiatives but say time will tell.

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Encouraged. That was the word on the lips of Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce leaders Wednesday afternoon after they, along with other business community members, heard Mayor Jim Kenney speak at the Downtown Marriott.

“I was encouraged that there was an acknowledgement, which I haven’t heard in a really long time, about the contribution of immigrants and Latinos in the business community,” said Jennifer Rodriguez, president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber.

The event was the annual mayoral luncheon hosted by the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. Traditionally, the chamber invites the mayor to speak to the business community on what he sees on the horizon for the city. It gives the mayor a chance to pitch his proposals to business community.

And that is exactly what Kenney did. You can read the full text and some takeaways here.

“For too long, this address was essentially seen as the mayor’s to-do list for the business community,” said Kenney. “But if Philadelphia is to succeed, the relationship between government and business cannot be based on a list of demands, it has to be a true partnership.”

What members of the Hispanic Chamber were happy to hear about were initiatives which the mayor promised would help with inclusion in the business community.

“The fact that they are beginning to tailor programs to the needs of Latinos and all immigrants is significant,” said Jennifer Rodriguez. “He has mentioned documents in more languages and that has always been a challenge.”

Along with a campaign to promote federal Earned Income Tax Credits in multiple languages, Mayor Kenney also announced the Department of Commerce will be adding two new bilingual Business Services Managers: one in Spanish and one in Korean.

“When you talk to immigrant entrepreneurs and immigrants in general and try to get them to interact with city government and business, language is a really major barrier,” said Jennifer Rodriguez. “Over 21 percent of Philadelphians do not speak English at home and government must recognize that.”

The mayor also offered some hard numbers. Working alongside the new Chief Diversity Officer, Kenney said he would work to increase how much minority and women-owned businesses get from city and other public contracts. He promises an increase of $48 million by fiscal year 2019.

“So this is what I’ll say,” said Jennifer Rodriguez. “I think the information needs to trickle down more efficiently and effectively. Clearly at the leadership level there is a lot of excitement and anticipation for what the new mayor and administration will bring. However, right now our members are in the mindset of, show me, don’t tell me.”
She also mentioned concerns about how these new resources and programs will be distributed considering the geographic distribution of the Latino business community. This includes the introduction of eClipse, an online system for business owners to obtain licenses and permits.

“They’re moving towards a more technology heavy way to communicate between commerce and government,” Rodriguez added. “That is a challenge in our Latino and underserved communities. How is the administration going to fill that gap? How responsive will that system be to different languages? That is something the [Hispanic] chamber is ready to help the administration with if asked.” 

Additionally, the mayor said that his administration will make “unprecedented investments” in commerce in Philly neighborhoods. This will come in the form of increased funding for neighborhood organizations to appoint corridor managers, continue matching grants to community development corporations for improvements and launching commercial outreach in the neighborhoods.

“I know he has pointed out before how strong corridors like Fifth and Ninth Streets are,” said Lou Rodriguez, chairman of the Hispanic Chamber. “I do appreciate the attention in there specifically since a significant number of our members are along those corridors.”

As a member of the business community, Lou Rodriguez mentioned he is glad the mayor has tried to be more inclusive.

“But I think it is still early to tell or judge,” he said. “So far so good though. He’s making people feel like they have an opportunity to be involved and that is key.”

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