The 7 Problems Holding Back Philly Businesses

From homelessness to talent attraction, here are the biggest challenges the region’s business leaders say they’re up against.

Getty Images | Alejandro Sanchez Fuentes

As we make our way further into 2019, we asked local business leaders about the biggest challenges facing their businesses today. Attracting and retaining talent, helping people experiencing homelessness and staying relevant are all top of mind for these business leaders. Here’s why they’re constantly up against these issues and what they plan to do about it.

Douglas Green, managing principal, MSC Retail

The growing costs of the city

Doug Green. Courtesy photo.

Construction costs in Philadelphia have reached untenable levels. As we try to attract national and regional retailers, we get compared to other cities in the Northeast and are our clients are telling us it is simply more expensive to build in Philly. Without an opportunity to generate significantly higher sales than in those cities, it makes for a very tough business proposition.

In addition, our homelessness epidemic is first and foremost, a social and humanitarian issue. Yet, it has started to directly affect my company’s ability to attract companies from outside of our region. This not only affects the growth of retail and restaurant businesses, but it also serves as a barrier to residential growth.

Unfortunately, there are other more monetary-centric issues (taxes and regulation) that have taken the priority over issues like homelessness within the business community. The business community needs to take a hands-on approach: intellectual capital and resources from the private sector need to be moved into the public sector.

Brittany Nisenzon, vice president, Robert Half Technology

Attracting talent

Brittany Nisenzon. Photograph by Alan Brian Nilsen/©AlanBrianNilsen

According to a Robert Half Technology survey from December, 90 percent of technology leaders in Philadelphia said it is challenging to find IT talent in the area. Many are looking to upgrade hardware and operating systems, as well as develop web and mobile applications, which takes specific skill-sets. However, in a tight market, it is difficult to find those individuals.

There are a few ways companies can expand their search. Many organizations will look outside their geographic area for talented professionals. About 34 percent of companies have increased their relocation benefits packages to entice employees to come to the city. We’re also seeing many organizations turn to specialized consultants for these projects and implementation.

Laura Jacoby and Sal Trovato, owners, 701 Creative

Evolving with technology

Laura Jacoby and Sal Trovato. Courtesy photo.

One of the largest problems facing businesses in Philadelphia today is keeping up with rapidly changing technology and marketing strategies. You can no longer rely solely on traditional marketing techniques if you want to be competitive, and Philadelphia has unfortunately seen more and more businesses forced to close their doors because they are unable to adapt to new marketing trends.

Technology is always evolving, and businesses need to take advantage of the latest selling and marketing techniques to adapt. It is vital to adopt a well-rounded approach which includes an SEO optimized website, targeted digital marketing components and an engaging social media presence in order to be competitive.

Cassandra Georges, principle, Above and Beyond Dispute Resolution

Representation in the workplace

Cassandra Georges. Courtesy photo.

One problem that plagues businesses at the city level, state level and beyond, is the lack of diversity and inclusion. It can create challenges when the people that you interact with as co-workers, vendors, customers and clients do not reflect the community as a whole.

There are countless ways to approach this problem. Start by gathering the numbers for your office or customer base. Then, create a proactive plan for changes, track your progress and reevaluate your next steps. Whether you try out three ideas or three thousand ideas, your efforts can help.

Amanda Chevalier, vice president of operations and owner, CFI New Jersey

Keeping local businesses visible

Amanda Chevalier. Courtesy photo.

A large issue for businesses in Philly is penetration from other regions. The world is becoming a much smaller place, and purchasing goods and services from anywhere in the world can be accomplished with one’s fingertips.  

Businesses can address this in multiple ways, depending on their goods or services.  Being active and involved in the community is an excellent way to know your market and promote your business.  Diversity and inclusion in your hiring practices and supply chain promotes value to your employees and customers, and companies that embrace this in all aspects statistically outperform their peers. Differentiating your company, whether it’s through marketing, customer experience, or unique products, is another way to set yourself apart from online or competitors outside of our region.

Kathy Bellwoar, president, PPT Consulting

Retaining talent

Kathy Bellwoar. Courtesy photo.

As a consulting company, the most critical issue we see for ourselves and our clients is the challenge of finding and retaining talent. Multiple pressures are at work here.  During the economic downturn, there were far more resources available with lots of talents and skills, so it was easier to find people with the right experience. That’s just not the case anymore.  Additionally, as buyers we all assume we can order exactly what we need and have it on the doorstep in 24 hours. Human capital just doesn’t work that way!

It’s time to get back to investing in and developing our human capital. Jobs that stay unfilled for months hurt business productivity, growth, and morale.  Hiring managers should focus on the few key attributes that will make someone successful for the long term, rather than searching endlessly for the perfect combination of specific technical skills. There may even be someone already in the company who could take this on with some training or mentoring.  It’s going to take creativity and out-of-the-box thinking to solve this challenge, but it results in building a team that wants to stick around and continue to grow with you.

Michaela Althouse is an intern at Philadelphia magazine.