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Mayor Jim Kenney Meets with SBN Members at R2L Restaurant for 2017’s Final Entrepreneurs’ Roundtable Policy Breakfast

“Cities will save the country.” –Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney

The Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia (SBN) welcomed Mayor Jim Kenney to meet with members at the final Entrepreneurs Roundtable of the year on November 15 at R2L Restaurant. Thirty-seven floors up, R2L was a fitting venue, presenting views of the entire city as members enjoyed exclusive access to a conversation with the Mayor about what lies on the horizon for Philadelphia.

This past year, the Mayor’s actions have struck a chord with the local impact economy. His pledge to protect our sanctuary city status, to invest in the education of our region’s future workforce, to uphold the values of the Paris Accord on a local level, and to improve energy use and costs for government buildings with the Philadelphia Municipal Energy Master Plan for the Built Environment demonstrates his commitment to a more sustainable Philadelphia.

Before discussing education and the city’s Amazon HQ2 bid, he began by addressing the public health crisis on many people’s minds: opioid addictions.

Throughout the city, there were 907 opioid related deaths just last year, a number almost 4 times the homicide rate, and that rate is projected to have another staggering increase in 2017, expected to reach up to 1,200 annual deaths.

To begin remedying the problem, Kenney implemented solutions that include providing treatment as well as permanent housing facilities for those struggling with addiction. After realizing the challenge of making those in need aware of the recovery services available, and being left with nearly 1,200 empty beds available in rehabilitation facilities, local government and Septa are now taking action to bring the solution directly to them. By creating a “Hub of Hope” inside the concourse of Septa’s regional rail facility, the local government hopes to supply those struggling with homelessness laundry facilities, a safe place to stay, and needed medical and mental health support.

“We are trying to get people to a point where they recognize there is an end to the tunnel they are in, and get them some treatment.”

With an anticipated completion in mid-December, the Mayor is hopeful these small local initiatives may begin to rectify the issue

To combat this issue from gripping the next generation, Kenney expressed that education must be the top priority. In order to begin implementing direly needed improvements, the mayor continues to defend the city’s Beverage Tax to provide funding to Philadelphia’s struggling educational system. Although the American Beverage Association (ABA) issued a subsequent lawsuit that has already been dismissed by both the Common Pleas and Commonwealth Courts, it may very well continue to the Supreme Court. By perpetuating a legal battle reminiscent of the days Big Tobacco fought in court, the ABA has effectively delayed many of the city’s anticipated improvements made possible from the beverage tax, namely increased educational opportunities for our youth. Prior to this encumbering legal battle, the city was expecting to be able to enroll nearly 4,000 students in quality Pre-K programs, but have only been able to provide for half of their projections while the continued funding for these programs remains uncertain until the cessation of the ABA’s lawsuit.

Despite the delay, the Mayor is still dedicated to providing opportunities for children in our cities public educational system. Throughout the economic downturn before his election, local schools took major hits in funding, resulting in the closing of 24 schools as well as huge losses in nearly every available service from the number of nurses and social workers to instructors and principals. Having now been able to replace these workers, the district has seen an increase in up to 5% in student’s standardized test scores for the first time in over a decade.

“If turning our schools around and fixing education gives me one term instead of two, bye!”

Kenney is determined to keep education a priority and vows to never permit similar educational funding cuts.

This dedication to education not only helps our children, but our city as a whole. With far reaching systemic impacts, it allows for a strong and forward-thinking community to continue growing and improving. By creating an educated and capable work force, Philadelphia has the opportunity to flourish in today’s technologically driven economy.

“We need to express to students that we believe in you — that your zip code doesn’t determine the services you receive.”

Despite the challenges, the mayor sees the possibilities through it all. Sharing his vision for under-served areas throughout the city, it is clear the Mayor has a hopeful outlook for all of our city’s neighborhoods. One example: the community at Broad and Erie. Although currently not on the map of must visit neighborhoods for retail or fine dining, Kenney sees immense potential for the area to become a new hub of commerce and community and stresses the importance of investments in these communities to allow them to realize their potential.

His inspiring, forward thinking mentality no doubt extends to the looming prospect of the Amazon move into Philadelphia as well. If chosen for the company’s new headquarters location, more than 50,000 jobs are expected to become available and Kenney and his entire team have been worked tirelessly to prepare proposals. Although faced with strong competition from cities nationwide, the mayor still retains his signature optimism.

“Even if we don’t get it, we’ve put in tremendous effort and improved our data, our videos, our websites, and everybody worked together.”

Whether or not Philadelphia becomes home to Amazon’s newest headquarters, our city has clearly made extensive advancements throughout the past two years, and our Mayor seems to have no shortage of innovative ideas for the future.

“You’re truly never happy until you’re in service to others”

It is evident how personally dedicated the Mayor is to his work and how he strives to understand what every citizen experiences, from those facing homelessness to students trying to succeed in underserved schools. While he is all too aware of the immense challenges facing our communities, it appears as if Kenney holds nothing but optimism for the city to be able to overcome them.