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Mayor Cherelle Parker's new initiative looks to make it easier to start, grow business in Philadelphia

Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker unveils new business initiative
Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker unveils new business initiative 02:13

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- It can be challenging opening a business anywhere. But leaders in the business industry have long complained about the red tape in Philadelphia.

"Consistently they tell us that the ease of doing business is one of the most important priorities if you want to make Philadelphia a thriving place for entrepreneurs," Jennifer Rodriguez, with the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said. 

Take Sherri Ray, for example. She owns Festique Accessories Boutique on North Philadelphia's 22nd Street Business Corridor. But a few years ago, she had plans to open an ice cream shop in the neighborhood. But it all fell apart when she started the process.

"It was just the paperwork, the food licenses. I got denied and then I had to wait. It was just a long process," Ray said.

Former standup comedian Irene Council-Grant turned her side hustle of creating fruit bouquets in her home into her full-time gig, opening Platinum Fruit Creations near 27th Street and Girard Avenue a year and a half ago. But she faced plenty of challenges in even getting her doors open.

"I thought I was going to be able to just come in here, make fruit bouquets, sell them, and go on with my life. No," Council-Grant said. "It was a whole red tape event."

Council-Grant still keeps a binder of all the steps she had to go through to open a business in Philadelphia. From licenses to inspections, paperwork and more, it's all housed in a book she keeps to help others looking to start a business.

"All this stuff is really crucial to being able to get a business started. So I keep this because I want to help people," Council-Grant said.

Now, city leaders are looking to step in and help people like Ray and Council-Grant. On Monday, Mayor Cherelle Parker signed an executive order, kicking off the PHL Open for Business initiative.

"We don't want you having to work on trying to get access to licenses and permits and get over other administrative hurdles, we want you increasing your bottom line," Parker said.

City officials say the program aims to streamline the licensing and inspection process, remove unnecessary regulations, and speed up timelines. The order also renames the Office of Business Services the Mayor's Business Action Team and plans to create a one-stop-shop for business owners with questions or seeking guidance.

City Commerce Director Alba Martinez said so far, they've reviewed 95 licenses, permits and other hurdles business owners may face, to find out where they can improve. And they're starting this plan with a specific focus on food-related businesses, saying they require the most steps to open and keep open.

"Our large restaurants need to go through 26 steps to open and operate," Martinez said.

Jennifer Rodriguez, president & CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, attended Monday's announcement to show support. She says the process is one of the biggest complaints they hear from businesses, and it stood out to her that business owners could get answers from multiple agencies in one place.

"It's going to get L&I to talk to the Commerce Department to talk to the Health Department, so that there's not that complexity and jumping from one department to the other," Rodriguez said. "Let's make it easier and streamlined to start a business, to expand a business, so that it's not as onerous and really costly, because time and complexity mean dollars and cents for small businesses."

While Rodriguez says she backs the initiative, she says the various Chambers of Commerce across the city will act as "watchdogs" to make sure the program is running as smoothly as city leaders hope it does.

Council-Grant was also at the executive order signing in West Allegheny and hopes the plan can be a success for others like her. It also means she can put away her binder.

"I don't have to pull this out, unless they want to see it," Council-Grant said with a laugh. 

But will Parker's announcement lead Ray to take another run at opening her ice cream shop in the neighborhood?

"Absolutely, yes!" she said. 

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