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Mayor Jim Kenney delivers his budget address to city council Thursday, March 3, 2016, at City Hall in Philadelphia. Kenney is expected to ask for a soda tax to help fund several new initiatives including universal pre-K in his first budget address to city council. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Mayor Jim Kenney delivers his budget address to city council Thursday, March 3, 2016, at City Hall in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke/File)

Much has been discussed of how Rebuild, the city’s seven-year, $500 million program to improve parks, recreation centers, and libraries, will enhance the quality of these public neighborhood facilities. But the impact of this program, funded by the Philadelphia beverage tax, stretches far beyond a face-lift – it is a critically important opportunity for our local, small businesses.

In total, Rebuild [Rebuilding Community Infrastructure] is expected to drive 150 to 200 construction projects, each one representing opportunities for local contractors and professional services firms in Philadelphia. The city is particularly committed to ensuring local minority, women and disabled-owned businesses (M/W/DSBEs) can benefit from the economic opportunities that will be created by the initiative.

Over the last six months, we have spoken to numerous M/W/DSBE contractors, especially smaller ones, to better understand why they have historically faced challenges trying to work on public construction projects. Many contractors cited struggling to make payroll because they haven’t been paid quickly enough by the city or the primary contractor. Others said they had trouble affording the insurance coverage required to work on larger projects.

We are using this feedback from M/W/DSBE contractors to create a Rebuild business supports program that will enable these contractors to get meaningful, well-paying work on Rebuild projects. This program will help guarantee faster payment, facilitate access to loans, and address insurance challenges. The city will also give these contractors access to business coaches and peers who can advise them on how they can use Rebuild’s seven-year pipeline of projects as a way to gradually grow their business.

By the time Rebuild is completed, we expect to have M/W/DSBE contractors that are stronger and more competitive. Not only do we expect that they will be able to work on large, non-Rebuild City projects, but we expect they will also have the capacity to take on large private projects, inside and outside of Philadelphia.

This is an unprecedented opportunity to level the playing fields for minority, women, and disabled-owned businesses who have long been passed over for lucrative work, and it is all made possible by the Philadelphia Beverage Tax. While the beverage industry claims this tax hurts minority communities, the reality is that for years soda companies have targeted minority-low income communities and made millions off of them, while giving little back in return. This tax, imposed on beverage distributors and not customers, finally gives that money back to the community and gives its small businesses a chance to grow.

Jim Kenney was elected mayor of Philadelphia in 2015. 

Mary Stitt is Rebuild’s deputy director for workforce diversity and inclusion.

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