Philadelphia's Anchor Institutions Are Stepping up

As Economy League research has shown, 99.7% of local businesses employing the majority of the region’s workforce are small by federal guidelines, and given that the overwhelming majority of minority-owned firms are small, we are in real danger of emerging from this pandemic with far fewer small businesses and even fewer minority-owned firms.  And since minority-owned firms are more likely to hire Black and Latino workers than majority-owned firms, we are also in danger of creating more structural labor market dislocation along racial and ethnic lines.  And finally, since business formation and growth are a critical pathway to wealth creation in the US, a significant contraction in minority business ownership will be tantamount to increasing the already substantial racial wealth gap in Philadelphia and in the US more broadly.    

There are already some bright spots. Even in the current “response” phase, several of our anchor institutions are stepping up.


The pandemic and resulting shutdown of exports caused shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) for many hospitals around the country, including Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. 

CHOP’s supply chain team “worked quickly to identify gaps in our flow of products by turning to businesses in our community,” said CEO Madeline Bell. “When we identified the most critical needs, we turned to a local distillery to produce hand sanitizer and three local suppliers to produce clinical masks. Our next challenge was finding storage space.  Through an arrangement with EMSCO Scientific Enterprises, Inc. of Philadelphia — first introduced to CHOP through our participation in the Economy League’s PAGE initiative — we were able to overcome this challenge.”


Drexel University's Rapid Response Research & Development Fund was designed for urgent action, short-term projects focused on COVID-19 related health and health-related research and development.

“Communities around the country are turning to colleges and universities for support and for answers,” said Drexel President John Fry. “Even while we face our own challenges, Drexel University’s response underscores the critical role that we can play here, nationally and globally.” Faculty are also working on producing personal protective equipment and respirators, and alums are helping to redistribute surplus food from closed bars, restaurants, and hotels that would otherwise go to waste.


The University of Pennsylvania has been working on multiple levels to support workers and small businesses impacted by the crisis. As part of an overall $5 million commitment announced by President Amy Gutmann on March 30, Penn donated $250,000 to the University City District for small business support. 

“The UCD has been our trusted partner in community development for more than 25 years, and they can get the funds to the businesses enduring financial disruption during the pandemic,” said Penn Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli. Penn’s commitment also extends to financial support for the hundreds of employees laid off by university contractors.  


As the City sought space to house overflow COVID-19 patients, Temple University stepped up in a big way by making the Liacouras Center available as a field hospital.  With beds for more than 200 patients, this overflow site has been used since April 20 for patients recovering from the virus. 


The nurses of Jefferson Health’s “Swab Squad” made national news when a video of them dancing to Ciara’s “Level Up” went viral. “The TikTok dances are a hit for a reason — when so many are down in the dumps, they make us smile,” said Jefferson CEO Dr. Stephen K. Klasko. “All of our employees are change makers and demonstrate so much creativity as they address the issues we face. At the heart of creativity is optimism. I know this is a hard time, but our employees make me optimistic.”

To support employees and students impacted by the pandemic, Jefferson has established the COVID-19 Better Together Fund, which to date has raised $4.7 million. 


As we transition into the “recovery” phase, institutional spend will be an incredibly important source of demand for our local diverse businesses, which have been disproportionately impacted by the social distancing and shelter-in-place rules that have been so crucial in keeping down the death toll.  If we are to capitalize on this crisis and emerge from it with a more robust and equitable and resilient local minority business sector, we must start working on recovery now.  (ICYMI, we laid out some concrete ideas on May 5 in Billy Penn.)