Center City is the center of Philadelphia's work world

Show me an office high-rise, and I’ll want to know which companies are in it.

Show me a luxury condominium building, and I’ll want to know how the residents who live there earn their living.

A new report by the Center City District may not name names, but it reinforces how important Philadelphia’s central business district is to the region as a whole. (Read it here.)

After years of guesstimating that between 250,000 and 300,000 people work in the neighborhoods squeezed between the rivers and Spring Garden and South Streets, the nonprofit group has an exact number: 216,937 private-sector employees as of 2008, based on data collected by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Center City accounts for the most private-sector jobs - 38.9 percent - and $12.13 billion in earnings, or 43.6 percent of all salaries earned within Philadelphia’s borders. After decades of suburban migration, the compact central business district still accounts for 10 percent of all jobs and 15 percent of all salaries.

Center City District president and chief executive officer Paul R. Levy said the new analysis allows him to confidently place Philadelphia’s central core behind only the downtowns of New York and San Francisco in terms of percentage of their cities’ total employment.

However, remember that original guesstimate range? That hard number is much lower than 250,000 jobs.

Well, that reflects the limitations of the data collected by those federal agencies. First, they exclude all those employed in the public sector. Second, the self-employed and those who get compensated through partnerships, such as lawyers and accountants, also aren’t counted.

So the Center City District’s researchers worked the phones and made some estimates based on square footage of federal office space to determine that 43,394 federal, state, and city employees work downtown.

Using city tax data, they estimated that an additional 7,000 people worked in Center City as partners at 895 firms in the law, accounting, finance, real estate, retail, and hospitality fields. They earned $1.1 billion in partnership income in 2008, and the verdict is that law-firm partners took home 70 percent of that total.

Add it all up, and the Center City District says 267,331 people work for private- and public-sector employers in the central business district - right in the range it had been estimating.

The real power in the new data, however, is that they can show where city residents work - and where those who work in the city live.

Puncturing one myth, Levy said, the data show that less than half of the jobs in Center City are held by suburbanites. Philadelphia residents hold 51 percent of Center City’s private-sector jobs. About 21,600 people who live in Montgomery County and 20,221 from Delaware County make the daily trek to jobs in the central business district.

Though 43.3 percent of employed Center City residents can apparently roll out of bed and hit their desks, many residents of the city’s other neighborhoods also depend on the businesses in the central business district for work. For example, 26.9 percent of employed South Philadelphia residents work in Center City.

Using that kind of analysis, the Center City District is advocating that planners direct new infrastructure spending, and that Mayor Nutter restart wage- and business-tax cuts to support the major “employment nodes” of Philadelphia. Though Center City is the biggest node, the University City section of West Philadelphia has 55,187 private-sector jobs, the Navy Yard contains 4,097, and Temple University’s main campus and hospital complex employ 15,301.

The Center City of today is the beneficiary of the major infrastructure spending of previous generations, Levy said. It and the rapidly changing areas around the city’s largest universities and the Navy Yard need nurturing, he said, because they are the “future of the city.”