During the past few years years Mayor Nutter has taken over six international trips including visits to China, England, Israel, Italy, and now this past week … Paris. Last week’s trip, according to this report, was “meant to attract new business to the city and promote Philadelphia as a cycling mecca and tourist destination.
Let’s turn the tables. Suppose the mayor of Paris visited Philadelphia to promote his city. Would that persuade you to go? Or would your decision to visit be because Paris is just Paris — a great, vibrant capital of art, food and commerce in Europe. Do you visit a city just because the mayor asks you to? Does a business move to a city for the same reason? When you think of a mayor, any mayor, do you think of him (or her) as a salesperson? A world traveler? An ambassador of the city? I don’t. It’s nice to have a mayor that we’re all proud of. And I’m proud of Mayor Nutter. He’s professional, honest and capable. He reflects our city well.
I don’t mind our mayor visiting other cities. But unfortunately, he’s visiting the wrong places. And he has the wrong agenda.
The Mayor goes on international trips to sell Philadelphia. He wants to bring new business to the area. He’s trying to promote Philadelphia as a place of tourism, a region where companies should consider re-locating or opening up operations. But what are the results? Have we seen anything significant come from these visits? Big new contracts? Jobs? Commerce? The problem is not that the mayor isn’t a good salesman (I once watched him take over as auctioneer at a charity dinner and persuade a few attendees to pay more than three times their final bids). It’s not that the mayor isn’t earnest in his love for the city and desire to bring more business here. It’s just that he has a mountain to climb. He’s selling an uncompetitive product.
He’s selling a product that was just ranked as one of the worst cities for small business in the country. A city with one of the highest tax burdens in the nation. A city whose public school system is bankrupt and whose finances are in disarray. A city that is likely facing bankruptcy unless there’s a miraculous solution to pay for its unfunded pension liabilities.
Can’t the companies that tag along with the Mayor on these trips (among those that joined the Mayor on his trip to France were representatives from Advanced Sports International — a supplier of bikes, parts and accessories — and the Parx Casino Philly Cycling Classic. For China, he was joined by people from the Fox Chase Cancer Center, the Philadelphia Orchestra, a local law firm, and Drexel University) fend for themselves? Do they really need the mayor to make an in-person introduction? And also … what company would want to move here, given all of this? As a business owner, how could I convince my employees that relocating to Philadelphia would be a good thing for their families? Even the greatest salespeople in the world need a decent product to sell. And this is not a decent product. I love this city. And I’m not that bad a salesman. But I would sooner be able to sell ice cream to an Eskimo than to persuade some Chinese owner to invest here.
However, this doesn’t mean that the Mayor shouldn’t be traveling. Because he should. He just needs to change his agenda. He shouldn’t be “selling” Philadelphia. He doesn’t need to go overseas. He can stay right here in the U.S. and visit a few cities that are doing things better. And he can ask why.
-Why are the school districts in neighborhoods like Saratoga, California, or Fairview, Texas, considered by the real estate site Trulia to be one of the top ten school districts in the country? Is it just money? Is it something else?
-Why are cities like Madison, Wisconsin, and Lincoln, Nebraska, so well run? Is it all because of their local universities? Don’t we have local universities? What are they doing that we can be doing?
-Why do cities like Miami, Los Angeles and New York have lower debt loads per capita than Philadelphia? Is it just driven by population? What are they doing better than us?
-What are the managers of Detroit and Fremont, California, doing to emerge their cities from bankruptcy? Can any of these practices be considered now before we reach that inevitable point?
Companies will be attracted here if it’s a good place to work and live. Those companies will bring their own partnerships with other companies around the world. They will be the city’s salesmen, not the mayor. Good cities, like products, sell themselves. The mayor’s job is to make this city a better product. Promoting ourselves as a tourist destination to a few French people is not doing much to achieve that end.
Follow @GeneMarks on Twitter.