Global Conversation with Jabari Jones

Jabari Jones is the President of the West Philadelphia Corridor Collaborative (WPCC,) where he is the convener of both small and large businesses. As president, Jones spends a lot of time speaking with businesses about the problems they are facing in growing, getting contracts, and generating revenue. 

The more public part of the job, Jones said,  is advancing West Philadelphia as a whole. Jones represents a community in high-level conversations throughout the region and grows its presence globally through WPCC’s relationship with Global Philadelphia.  

Peak Johnson: It's been a while since Global Philadelphia last talked with you, how are things going at the West Philadelphia Corridor Collaborative?

Jabari Jones: Despite the challenges of this last year, our Collaborative is stronger than ever.  The effects of the pandemic have hit every corner of our district, and we have been working to help meet the needs of the surrounding community more thoroughly.  For example, we partnered with a great foundation to provide free technology repair services to residents, job seekers, current employees, and students.  We also created a virtual program to help seniors sign up for Medicare and residents to sign up for the Affordable Care Act so they could get help in meeting the coverage deadlines.

PJ: What's the most challenging about your role?

JJ: The most challenging thing about the job is managing the budget of our attention.  There is so much need in our district and as someone who cares about this neighborhood beyond this just being a job, I find that I naturally try to solve every problem and be involved in every project.  Our work in strengthening our ecosystem has been crucial because it allows me to direct other organizations and companies to focus on problems without the WPCC using its limited capacity to be involved everywhere. We take a collaborative role in putting together teams to face problems and support those teams with financial resources, connections, and outreach. 

PJ: How have things changed in West Philadelphia over the past few years? 

JJ: Over the last few years, West Philly unfortunately has seen some unequitable growth.  Some parts of our district are flourishing with billions of dollars in new investment, new high-paying jobs, opportunities, and strong business growth.  Other parts of the district have high poverty, unemployment, and high rates of business failures.  There is a historic lack of intentionality sometimes in making sure that investment is distributed fairly across the district.

It is why we continue to work hard to advocate to our institutions, participate in advisory and oversight boards on new construction and investment to better align that investment.  We have also had some great new companies come in like Brandywine Realty who have made equitable investments in West Philadelphia communities and found unique ways to give back. We must keep at it to steer more investment to benefit the forgotten parts of West Philadelphia.

PJ: Have you been able to continue assisting small businesses during this time of COVID? How?

JJ: We have had several initiatives to help small businesses.  We created a landing website page that was updated daily, sometimes even hourly with information on changes to the government’s restrictions on businesses, grants, and funding programs, and anything that could help businesses stay afloat through the pandemic.

We also hosted a few virtual small business grant workshops to help businesses apply for often confusing federal aid programs. After civil unrest hit out the district’s historic neighborhood corridors, we created a virtual insurance clinic with Councilmember Allan Domb so they could get free help from attorneys and volunteer insurance agents to help them assess damages and file insurance claims.

We were also active in advocacy work – I testified before a Congressional Committee on Science, Space, and Technology on how the federal research the guides relief programs can be more inclusive so the relief programs themselves can be more useful to small and minority companies.  I also testified before City Council’s Committee on Commerce and Economic Development to keep our elected officials informed on the state of commercial corridors.  We were also one of the strong voices pushing the City to ultimately create the Restore and Reopen Fund which granted $1.4 Million to small businesses.

PJ: How important is it to support local and small businesses during this time? 

JJ: Extremely important.  You have to think that these businesses have gone somewhere between five and eight months without any income and at the same time they’ve been hit with all the normal bills like rent, utilities, and insurance.  Right now, they need shoppers more than ever to keep them in business.  It’s going to come down to all of us to try to be a little more conscious in making our purchasing decisions and support some of those local companies that we all enjoy in our neighborhoods.  That’s the only way these businesses will survive.

PJ: The last time we spoke it was mentioned that your goal was to bring economic growth to West Philadelphia. Has that goal changed at all or has it remained the same? 

JJ: Our goal for economic growth is still the same.  In the short-term, we’re focusing on an inclusive economic recovery.  We want to make sure that our neighborhoods that are sometimes the last to see resources and recovery can recover in step with every other neighborhood in the City.

PJ: Do you still see diversity to increase tourism to West Philadelphia?

JJ: Yes, diversity is key in increasing tourism.  Think of it this way, the more diversity you have, the more diverse crowds you can attract.  To give a concrete example, right now in Southwest Philadelphia, there is a project to develop Africa-Town, a project to highlight the diverse African and Caribbean immigrant communities and their cultures.  A project like that gives our district a new tourism point, something to attract African and Caribbean individuals to spend time here as a form of tourism. 

PJ: Some readers may be unaware, but what is it about West Philadelphia that makes it global?

JJ: West Philadelphia is global because of the residents and businesses that call West Philly home.  Each year our three major Universities bring thousands of international students that will call West Philly home throughout their academic career.  West Philly is home to thousands of immigrant residents.  Our businesses do business internationally, connecting with other companies in foreign countries.  Our religious institutions and churches do service projects abroad.