Voice of the Community: Looking at a Competitive Environment in African-American Neighborhoods
The author is the new Republican leader for the 22nd Ward.
As I was conducting research the other evening for a consulting assignment that had to do with community and economic development, I wondered why the City of Philadelphia has—over the last half century and particularly in the African-American community—consistently loss jobs, businesses and skilled workers.
I asked myself if it was simply an economic reality that businesses, large or small, which create jobs and wealth, were not attracted to the African-American community. But after contemplating the matter, I thought better of the question, because as a banker, entrepreneur and politician, I understood quite well that businesses will locate in any neighborhood where it has a sufficient supply of skill workers, a relatively low investment threshold, and it can generate a profit.
Take for example, our own community here in Mt. Airy; it has a thriving small business and residential community that is comprised of a variety of labor sources , investment vehicles (like banks and like Mt. Airy USA) and many quality food markets. By this example, Mt. Airy is a shining neighborhood of exceptionalism on the side of the city's hill. It brings economic, political, social diversity and competitiveness to its environment.
During the mid-1990s, during a deindustrialization of the major urban areas which was caused, in large measure, by a shift from a manufacturing base to a service based economy, the federal government created an earlier stimulus package known as the Empowerment zones [EZs] for urban areas. The EZ process, which was created in 1994 and expired on Dec. 31, allowed cities to receive tax incentives to support business growth and expansion. EZ facilitators offered low-cost loans and tax deductions as a way of inducing businesses to locate or relocate in underserved communities.
During this period, business creation and location/relocation was fairly evident. As a result of the EZs, the Empowerment Communities were able to create, attract and fund, where necessary, businesses in its community. But why, then, aren't more businesses being created or moving into the African-American neighborhoods, creating more jobs and producing more wealth?
As an economic purist, one may speculate that the answer to the above question may lie in the fact that the African-American community, as a whole, lacks the basic essential of "competition." Webster's New World Dictionary defines "competition" as "the competing; rivalry; a contest, or match; rivalry in business, as for customers or markets." This obvious lack of competition is manifested not only in the choices we have to select from but in the opportunities that are presented to African-Americans.
Let's look at several areas of non competitiveness, such as education, politics and business, which currently exist in the African-American community.
Education: School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman said last year that based on the school district's strategic plan (which focuses on excellence, equity and accountability) and the progress it's making with its students, it will take about 114 years to bring all of our students into competitiveness. Shouldn't we have an alternative or options, like private, parochial and/or more charter schools, if we do not want to wait a century to be able to close the educational, skills or achievement gap that exists not just between whites and blacks, but in the world at large? Isn't competition in our primary and secondary education system necessary to maximize educational achievement for our children?
Politics: In 1980, Jesse Jackson astutely raised the question of why blacks should be in the outhouse just because there is a Republican in the White House. While I don't pretend to speak for Reverend Jackson, I do believe that he was raising the question of competition. African-Americans should analyze what over a half-century of loyalty to one party has brought upon us. Specifically, Democrats have controlled the mayor's office in Philadelphia for approximately 60 years, and in that time, what has happened to our once-thriving African American business centers and communities like 52nd Street and Germantown Avenue? Because of our loyalty to one party, we must ask ourselves and our community, have we achieved the necessary support, financial or otherwise, to continue to grow the existing businesses or create newer ones in our community? Have we achieved economic or political equality as a result of our political loyalty?
If the answer is yes to one or both of these questions, then competition is the least of our concerns. But if the answer is no to one or both of these questions, then we must create a new political strategy that is fundamentally sound, competitive and results-oriented in order to achieve real change for our community. This new strategy should be measured, at least, by the number of new businesses and the resulting jobs that are created.
Business: There are dollar stores in almost every African American neighborhood. Where are the food markets, sit-down restaurants, quality clothing stores, Saladworks and CVS Pharmacies? Don't get me wrong, I am a free enterpriser who believes that the practice of allowing private industry to operate under freely competitive conditions with minimum government interference is great for our markets. But the true economic concern is whether our community is experiencing the benefits of diversified price competitiveness. Let's explore what I mean by price competition, and this is only hypothetical: If Kim's corner store charges $1.29 for a can of corn and Young's fish market offers the same can of corn for $1.33 in an African-American neighborhood, but the Pathmark or Acme, which is outside of the particular neighborhood, offers the same can of corn for, let's say, around $1.05, is this true market or price competition for the neighborhood? If the demand/supply curve exists in a particular neighborhood that is only being serviced by higher priced providers, does true competition coexist in that neighborhood? If not, then one should believe the reason lower cost providers are not attracted to the African-American community has to do with the amount of start-up or expansion capital or investments required to attract those providers. We must create an environment where competition, in its purest form, is allowed to grow and attract the necessary capital base to prosper while benefiting our neighborhoods.
Let us remember that competition is more constructive to our well-being and to community survival than it is destructive to others. On this note, with respect to competition, philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche says: "The higher we soar, the smaller we appear to those who cannot fly."
Should we invest in the future of our community by creating a more competitive environment?
Calvin R. Tucker is the new Republican leader for the city's 22nd Ward, which covers the bulk of Mt. Airy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 215-694-9278.