Center City District annual report highlights Philadelphia’s economic recovery
Philadelphia’s rate of job growth from 2009 to 2022 placed it 25th out of 30 among major cities across the country
(Philadelphia Tribune photo)
By Alec Larson
As Philadelphia continues to rebound from the economic crash associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Center City District (CCD) has released their annual “State of Center City” report for 2023.
The report, which examines the latest trends in both in Center City and in the broader Philadelphia economy, highlights the resilience of the city’s housing markets and the continued confidence of investors and developers in Philadelphia’s downtown despite some ongoing challenges.
“Center City is rebounding well from the turbulence of the last three years, but full recovery is constrained by challenges that were left unresolved at the start of 2020,” CCD President Paul R. Levy said. “Philadelphia is a city with extraordinary assets, amenities and advantages, but only committed, proactive private and public leadership will enable the city to realize its full potential.”
As far as the ongoing recovery, the report shows that there have been a number of promising statistical markers that the city has hit on its way to a full economic rebound: the average volume of pedestrians downtown in March 2023 had returned to 77% of the levels found in March 2019, there were actually 35% more residents living in the core of downtown in March 2023 than in March 2020, and ground floor occupancy has rebounded to 83% in 2023.
In addition, after a 15% decline in private sector employment from 2019 to 2020, by February 2023 Philadelphia had regained all of the jobs it had previously held in February 2020.
On the other hand, the report also highlighted some of the ongoing challenges that the city continues to face in its attempt to make a complete economic recovery. Vacancy rates in the downtown office district have increased to 18.6% as the city continues to struggle with the lack of in-person office workers, as many employers have moved forward with work-from-home policies.
In fact, the report notes that Philadelphia’s rate of job growth from 2009 to 2022 placed it 25th out of 30 among major cities across the country.
According to Levy, there have been two major challenges that the city has faced as it works itself back to previous economic levels: the negative public perception that the city has as a result of the ongoing gun violence crisis and the shift to remote working in the business sector.
“This is a city that has had a serious challenge with gun violence, which is concentrated in a handful of neighborhoods within the city and yet it’s such a serious challenge. It’s been covered so extensively in the media … and that’s created for many people a negative image of the city. So for example, we know within the downtown that in 2022 crime is down 12% below where it was in 2019 before the pandemic. But the perception is a challenge. … A lot of cities are facing this. It’s not Philadelphia alone,” Levy said.
“Challenge No. 2 is simply: a lot of people got very comfortable working remotely. We think it’s important that people have the freedom to work how they want to work. But from the point of view of the vitality of the downtown, the opportunities it creates, … we are certainly major promoters of maximizing the number of people who come back to work because we just think the benefits to the rest of the city, to other people in the city, to job opportunities to tax revenues for the city is really key.”
At the end of the day, Levy said that it’s important to note that while employment has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, just getting back to that level should not be where the city’s economic recovery ends.
“Getting back to where we were in February of 2020 is an important benchmark, but we’ve really got to get beyond that. We need many more jobs of all different kinds. That, I think, is the most profound challenge for the city to be a much more dynamic city in growing many more family sustaining jobs and get over a pessimism that a lot of people feel. This has been a very disruptive three years in everybody’s life. But I think the cities that are going to be successful are the ones that are going to innovate and really grow and create opportunity. That’s what Philadelphia’s big chance is at this moment,” Levy said.
Alec Larson is a staff writer for The Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.
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