Judging by reader reaction to my column last week on the delays holding up construction of Philadelphia’s two casinos and a major hospital expansion, the city would be better off without them.
The reasons varied, although ire over increased traffic was common to all three projects. Fox Chase Cancer Center, Foxwoods Casino and SugarHouse Casino were seen as something to be repelled at all cost.
A rule of thumb for successful economic development is: Make sure you don’t lose the employers you have. It’s better to help existing firms deal with the problems they encounter, because attracting new companies is hard and expensive.
Some readers, tired of the “game” played by local and state governments of cutting deals in the name of job creation, argued for a fairer approach: Fix the bureaucracy and tax issues that drive business out of the city.
Philadelphia is not an easy place to do business, and the Nutter administration is trying to change the status quo. But I’ve seen other good government pushes go nowhere in the two decades I’ve been here.
With the United States in a recession and Philadelphia stuck in a budget tar pit, I really worry about a renewed flight by business to friendlier areas. Whether that’s the suburbs or out of the tristate area altogether, who knows?
I, too, dislike deals cut by economic development officials to attract big companies to their regions. But you need only glance at Site Selection trade magazine to see the horse-trading at work nationally and realize how vulnerable Philadelphia is.
Quite frankly, there may no longer be financing to build two casinos in Philadelphia. And the specialty cancer hospital model faces serious challenges from academic medical centers.
Even if preventing these three developments is the right thing to do, such victories can only perpetuate the city’s image as hostile to business. Well-intentioned neighbors and advocacy groups may have faith that the city will be just fine without the tax revenue they would generate, but the Nutter administration’s budget projections tell a different story.