CEO to government: 'Get the hell out'

At the Urban Land Institute's meeting at the Union League Club this morning, corporate movers and shakers (some of whose whose institutions have taken advantage of government aid in the past) were asked (by moderator Steven Wray of the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia) how government budget cuts would affect business.

"The best thing government can do is get the hell out of the way and decrease regulations," said Richard Hayne, founder and head of the Urban Outfitters women's clothing stores group, which left Center City for expanded quarters at the government-backed Navy Yard redevelopment five years ago.

Hayne counterpointed Jeff Bartos, chief executive of British home-insulator Mark Group's US operation, also based at the Navy Yard. Bartos said state programs helped him "figure out the myriad of federal and state regulations and licenses" needed to do business in Philadelphia. He urged the state to keep its network of assistance and incentives to bring in more companies.

But Hayne said Mark wouldn't have needed Pennsylvania's help if there weren't so many superfluous rules companies had to comply with. He said people in government are always looking to expand their operations, and he doesn't blame them: "They're like any business" - except that, in government's case, "it's usually at the expense of other businesses" and taxpayers who finance public works.

"I'm not suggesting government has no role," Hayne added. "I'm suggesting government have a lesser role."

Craig Carnaroli, executive vice president at the University of Pennsylvania, said government usefully handles "externalities," like transportation systems and security, leaving universities to focus on their core work. He defended Penn's tax exemptions, noting it's Philadelphia's biggest private employer and its scholars create new firms that may enrich the city.

Reminded that Penn also thrives on federal research dollars, Carnaroli complained "the government gets involved too early in the licensing phase" of bringing drugs and other therapies to market.

Carnaroli said public funds should be the "last dollars" invested to close a government-backed business deal after private money has filled most of the gap. When cutting, he added, "cut wisely."