Don’t Blame Philly for Being So Small-Business Unfriendly

Blame me.

I must apologize to the City of Philadelphia. Just this week, a new survey put Philadelphia #27 out of 30 cities as “friendly” for small-business employees. Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Cleveland actually ranked higher than us. Can you believe that? Cleveland! It’s better to work for a small business in … Cleveland … than in Philadelphia. Hard to believe, but true.

Hard to believe because, as much fun as I poke at our city, it really is a great place to work for a small business. Sure, there’s a high level of crime, our transit system is bankrupt, our schools are falling apart, and since 1970, Philly has lost 25 percent of its jobs even as Boston, NYC and D.C. grew, which many blame on our excessive income and property taxes. So I can understand why some may feel that Philly isn’t the best place to work.

But wait.

Philadelphia is home to some of the best universities in the country, like Penn, Temple, Villanova, Haverford, Bryn Mawr and many others. Quite a few of these colleges are very active in the entrepreneurial community, sponsoring events, funding ventures and providing resources for new entrepreneurs. We have a huge healthcare industry here, led by giant nearby pharmaceutical companies like GlaxoSmithKline, J&J and Merck, not to mention dozens of famous hospitals like CHOP and Jefferson. By 2020, one in every five Americans will be over 65 years old and many regional businesses are poised for significant growth because of this.

Our tech community, led by investors like First Round Capital, LLR Partners and Ben Franklin Technology Partners, and organizations like all the sponsors at the recently sold out Philly Tech Week have created one of the best environments for startups in the country, according to CIO magazine. Philadelphia is located so close to New York and D.C. that many of my neighbors actually commute to those cities and are still able to afford a home and a lifestyle that won’t kill them by the age of 50. And our location near so many airports, highways and rails makes the city extremely easy to move people and goods.

So a small business in Philly can’t be that bad to work for, can it? Well, maybe there was a mistake. Maybe too much weight was given to my survey responses. And I was the one who screwed up their methodology.

For example, cities were judged on the variety of their industries. Philadelphia is well represented of course. Besides education and healthcare, there are plenty of manufacturers, distributors, and service and retail companies spread out from Passyunk to Germantown avenues. My small business has more than 500 active clients in the area. But when asked what industries they represent I said that most of them were deadbeats and jerks that wrung hours from me, beat me up on pricing, and were always looking to take advantage of my good nature. So I guess the CardHub guys just classified them all as attorneys. It wasn’t a fair representation of our city, and I’m very sorry for the comments that I have made.

Another methodology used was determining the number of hours worked by employees at small businesses. For this metric, the lower numbers of hours worked were viewed more favorably. So I screwed this one up too. Look, I realize that a 40-hour work week is the norm, but who works 40 hours any more? And who’s going to hire more people in this environment of rising healthcare and benefit costs? I expect my people to give it all to my company, regardless of their families, friends and social lives. Chargeable hours means money, and last time I looked there were a potential 168 chargeable hours in a week, not 40, am I right fellow business owners?

The survey also looked at each city’s unemployment rate. And here’s where I let everyone down again. I’ve had the same 10 people in my company for going on seven years. When I need help I don’t hire. I contract. It’s too easy to find outside labor at reasonable hourly rates to perform specific tasks rather than bring on another full-time employee. I’m really no different than most small-business owners, even those jerks in Pittsburgh who are allegedly so much better to work for. The result is, unfortunately, that I’m doing nothing to reduce our region’s unemployment rate. And for that I also apologize.

Average disposable income was also analyzed, and of course, the more an employee of a small business had, the better ranking the city received. Want to take a guess where my employees fall in that category? I’ll give you a hint: Who needs disposable income when you’re working 80 hours a week? And what are they going to do with all that extra cash anyway? Buy Phillies tickets? Waste money on an overly priced restaurant on Rittenhouse Square? I feel like I’m doing them a favor. But unfortunately this is reflected on the survey and that’s not what I intended. My bad.

The survey also evaluated the cost of living in various cities. My business is actually located in Lower Merion, right outside of the city. That’s the Main Line. People there have a lot of money. Don’t believe me? Check out the scene in the jewelry department at Saks on any weekday morning after the nanny finally got the kids dressed and off to school and mommy’s looking for something to wear to the horse show this weekend. Who can afford this stuff? Apparently the people living near my business. And that’s not good for my employees either, because the cost of everything near me is higher than usual. The price of a tuna sandwich in nearby Haverford is equivalent to a full dinner at most restaurants in South Philly. So my business is definitely skewing the results.

Finally, there was a “stress index.” Is it more stressful to work in my company? Well, here’s a hint: We sell Microsoft business software. If that doesn’t sound stressful, then you’re clearly an Apple user.

I feel terrible. Philadelphia is my hometown and now it’s the laughingstock of the country because CardHub claims it’s one of the least friendly places for a small business employee to work. I want the world to know: Philadelphia is a very friendly city for small businesses here and their employees. Just don’t include mine.

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