The Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority has hired a private management firm.
The PCCA board voted on Wednesday to select SMG to manage the center’s operations.
Based in West Conshohocken, SMG is regarded as a world leader in venue management. The firm has more than 30 years of managing 200 facilities and 70 convention centers.
“The Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority looks forward to working with SMG to enhance the experience of our customers and increase the number of events we host on an annual basis, which will have a significant impact on the Philadelphia region’s economy,” PCCA Chairman Gregory J. Fox said in a press release.
“The meetings and convention industry has become much more competitive in recent years which is why we are undertaking a number of strategic initiatives designed to improve our ability to compete with other venues on a national and international level.”
Fox said the decision to bring in a firm to privately manage and operate the Pennsylvania Convention Center is the first step in a targeted effort to modernize operations, reduce costs and improve future bookings at the center.
“The staff is firmly committed to the success of the Pennsylvania Convention Center and to the positive economic growth of the city and the region through job development and entrepreneurial opportunities,” said Ahmeenah Young, PCCA president and CEO.
The center has seen a slump in booking for large conventions and shows and has been plagued by labor union issues.
SMG has extensive experience working with organized labor in Pittsburgh, Providence, Chicago and Detroit.
“We see collective bargaining units around the country as business partners. There are two sides to any business relationship and we really need sort of a philosophy of constructive engagement. One of the best things about Philadelphia and about labor is that we have an incredibly skilled and capable workforce here in Philadelphia which is critical to the success of the center,” said Gregg Caren, senior vice president, strategic business development, SMG.
“The key for us will be to really address the factors that will really drive exhibitors and shows back to Philadelphia and give people less reason to consider any obstacles to doing business here. At the end of the day, if the focus is on the customer and running it like a business, then there has got to be a positive way forward for management and labor.”
Caren said SMG has partnered with Synterra Ltd., which is a minority-owned firm headed by Bill Wilson, to assist its efforts in recruitment, training, purchasing and subcontracting for the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
“Bill and his group already have a team established that has shown a proven value to the community in making sure that any projects — whether it’s a short term or long-term project — reflects the diversity of the community,” said Caren.
Caren said SMG has beat national averages within the hospitality industry for diversity on every level in the facilities it manages.
By bringing in a private management firm with extensive experience managing and operating convention centers across the country, the authority is looking to SMG to implement industry best practices, achieve operational cost savings and enhance the center’s ability to compete with other major facilities in the increasingly competitive trade show and convention industry.
SMG will assume responsibility for managing the operations of the Pennsylvania Convention Center within the next three to four months. SMG was awarded the contract over Global Spectrum, a subsidiary of Comcast Spectacor.
A resident of West Philadelphia is alleging that a debt collector has engaged in unlawful practices.
Kimmel & Silverman, P.C. has filed a complaint against national debt collection company Virtuoso Sourcing, Inc., on behalf of Crystal Monroe. The lawsuit was filed on May 21 in United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
The complaint alleges that the Aurora, Colo.-based company violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
“The FDCPA is really written towards explaining the rules of the game for debt collectors — what they can do, what they can’t do and what they must never do,” said Monroe’s attorney Craig T. Kimmel.
“Some of the things that must never do is to be abusive, harassing, deceptive and misleading or raise their voice.”
Beginning in February and continuing through May, representatives of Virtuoso Sourcing continuously contacted Monroe in an attempt to collect a debt. Monroe, who is legally blind, said the debt collection stemmed from a Sprint phone bill that ballooned to more than $2,000. She disputes the charges.
Virtuoso’s representatives attempted to collect the debt by calling Monroe’s cell phone on average one to two times a day, causing her to receive more than 10 collection calls a week. Monroe asked Virtuoso to stop calling her, however the calls continued.
The complaint alleges that the debt collectors would speak to Monroe with raised voices when demanding payment, causing her to feel degraded and humiliated.
According to the complaint, Virtuoso collectors claimed they could “make a deal” with Monroe to settle but only if payments were made immediately. Monroe was told that if she did not make payment on the debt, her credit report would be adversely affected and she wouldn’t be able to buy on credit anymore.
Kimmel said if Virtuoso is found to be in violation that the company may be required to pay Monroe as much as $1,000, forgive the debt and report to credit reporting agencies that there is no debt and pay his attorney fees.
Monroe said she turned to Kimmel for assistance after she learned about the free assistance provided by the firm when she attended a community meeting at West Philadelphia High School.
“I was looking for someone who understood that every mistake is not the client’s, businesses make mistakes too,” Monroe said.
Kimmel’s firm has been conducting community outreach to let consumers know that free legal services are available to handle these types of cases.
“This is a free legal service provided for by private attorneys because the law encourages pursuit of unlawful debt collection,” Kimmel said.
Virtuoso could not be reached for comment as of the Tribune’s deadline.
The FDCPA penalizes debt collectors up to $1,000 per violation, gives the consumer the right to stop the calls and requires them to pay any and all attorney fees and costs incurred on behalf of the consumer.
Philadelphia elementary school students are tapping into a public-private collaborative program designed to combat childhood obesity.
Developed by Johnson & Johnson, in partnership with the National Minority Quality Forum and Microsoft Corporation, the Gateway to a Healthy Community (GHC) — Healthier Kids program recognizes that schools can serve as a catalyst in the effort to reverse childhood obesity.
“Schools are where children spend the majority of their time and therefore any effort to address childhood obesity and diabetes must include schools as the fundamental point of entry to prevent and decrease excess weight problems and the unhealthy outcomes associated with them,” said Anthony Carter, vice president of global diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, Johnson and Johnson.
Philadelphia is one of the program’s four target cities. Through Healthier Kids, 50,000 children in nearly 2,100 classrooms in Grades K-3 in school districts in Philadelphia, Newark, N.J.; Houston, Texas and Atlanta, Ga., have exercised for 712,789 hours and burned 150 million calories.
Healthier Kids is being offered in 517 classrooms in 25 schools in grades K-4 throughout the Philadelphia School District. When the program was first offered in the district, the focus was on students in grades K-3, it has since been expanded to students in fourth grade.
The program uses Activity Works, curriculum-based video and audio kinetic learning episodes that deliver 12-minute exercise bursts in elementary school classrooms to increase physical activity. Activity Works helps schools meet state mandates for physical education and contributes to maximizing academic performance since the children continue to learn the instructional curriculum as the exercise.
Bettyann Creighton, director of Health, Safety and Physical Education, Philadelphia School District said the district created a wellness policy in 2006 that calls for “movement breaks” for children.
“The Johnson and Johnson Gateway to a Healthy Community — Healthier Kids is very much aligned with that movement break in the classroom,” said Creighton.
“Our teachers have really taken off with this. This whole project has not only a movement and fun component it also has a curriculum and activity component. It’s just been a win-win.”
Creighton said on average, participating students do movement breaks four times a week at 10 to 12 minute intervals.
Microsoft serves as GHC’s strategic technology partner. Microsoft’s cloud-based delivery enables automatic, real time tracking of usage, minutes and calories burned by classroom, school and district.
“Public and private innovative and collaboration allows us to focus on the difficult-to-solve issues together,” said William O’Leary, executive director, policy, health and human services, Microsoft.
“Our work with organizations like Johnson and Johnson and the National Minority Quality Forum on Johnson & Johnson’s Gateway to Healthy Communities program, allows us to help create healthier communities and make a real impact to improve childhood obesity.”
Johnson & Johnson utilized the Childhood Obesity Index (COI) , a web-based tool developed by the NMQF, to determine where to launch Healthier Kids. The COI — www.mapchildhoodobesity.com — is used to target and map the prevalence of childhood obesity down to the zip code level and by gender/ethnicity.
“It pinpoints with a great deal of accuracy and focus on where we need to be by state, by county, by congressional and state districts and it cuts across gender and ethnicity,” Carter says of the COI.
Philadelphia, Atlanta, Houston, and Newark were selected because the COI enabled Johnson and Johnson to determine that the overall prevalence rates for childhood obesity in those cities exceeded the national average. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that approximately 17 percent or 12 million children ages two to 19 are obese.
“We are excited to help Johnson and Johnson respond to the call to reduce childhood obesity with the Healthier Kids program and anticipate that the COI will be part of the arsenal to pinpoint where the problems are, discover innovative ways to address them and measure and track their impact,” Gary Puckrein, Ph.D., NMQF founder and president said in a press release.
“We encourage local leaders, policymakers, health and medical professionals, advocacy groups and organizations who should be at the table to help address this problem to use the COI and maps to strategically create awareness and develop intervention programs in their communities.”
Because childhood obesity increases children’s risk of developing heart disease, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes in later stages of their lives, Johnson and Johnson has targeted childhood obesity as an entry point to achieve significant, measurable results in health across schools, homes and communities.
Carter said external and internal collaborations are at the core of GHC’s success.
“I think that the thing that has made us successful is that we’ve been able to build relationships with huge organizations and other companies. The underpinning here is this huge collaborative effort. We believe if we all rally in the same direction to combat an illness or any significant target, we do it better if we work in concert,” he added.
While many executives spend the bulk of their time in corporate offices, Tim Smith prefers to be out in the field interacting with his technicians, sales and management team.
As the region president for consumer and mass business markets, Verizon Pennsylvania/Delaware operations, Smith is responsible for the company’s operations and service delivery, revenue generation and meeting strategic business goals. With more than 4,100 employees, he focuses on driving customer satisfaction and revenue growth for the telecommunications company.
Over average, Smith is in the field three days a week where he spends his mornings speaking with Verizon’s service technicians about what is happening in the business and his afternoons visiting the company’s call centers throughout Delaware and Pennsylvania. During his visits to the call centers, Smith listens to customer calls and interacts with representatives.
“I do that because when you’re giving direction to a large team, the key in my opinion is to sort of make sure that you can see they get your vision and that they understand what is really going on,” said Smith, who is based at Verizon’s Fort Washington offices.
“We have credo at Verizon that says ‘My best is good for today, tomorrow I will do better.’ I want my team to do the best job that they can do every day. My vision behind that is to be the broadband, TV and phone leader in Pennsylvania and Delaware. Customer service is going to be the differentiator between my products and my competitors. My products will be better, but unless the customer service is there, no one will experience my products and services because they won’t come.”
When addressing his team members, Smith hones in on the importance of good customer service, particularly in a competitive environment.
“What I try to get across to my team is everything you do every day counts. Every customer you get in front of counts. If you want those folks to really get your vision, you have to keep talking about it over and over again because they are working everyday but what I’m trying to make them understand is that we need to retain every customer that we have,” he stressed.
“What I share with them is I’m here to grow our business and growing our business means we have to have outstanding service, we have to deliver outstanding products and we have to talk about them.”
Smith also spends time engaging area business leaders and building key relationships.
“One of the things that I discovered, especially in a city like Philadelphia, is nothing gets done unless you have a relationship. Once you have a relationship, it seems like doors open up for you,” said Smith who is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Verizon has been ramping up its efforts to engage the small business community. The company has served as a sponsor for the Pennsylvania New Jersey Delaware Minority Supplier Development Council’s(MSDC) business forums.
In May, the company partnered with the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce to present Philadelphia’s first Small Business Week. The week served to recognize the critical contributions of the region’s 150,000 small businesses. The week closed with a keynote program led by Jonah Berger, author of “Contagious: Why Things Catch On” who spoke on viral marketing.
“It was almost a double play for me to be able to work with the small business community to show them the products and services and services that will help their businesses become more innovative and be more profitable and also be able to take that same technology and use that technology in their homes,” said Smith.
Smith plays a significant role in the company’s philanthropic efforts. He spoke at the Concerned Black Men, Inc. Philadelphia Chapter’s 38th annual African American Youth Recognition program on May 18 in Flourtown, where he presented the organization with a $15,000 grant from the Verizon Foundation. The funds will be used to benefit African American students in the pursuit of a college degree. During the event, 15 local students were presented with college scholarships.
“What I loved about it was when they came to us and asked if we wanted to participate in the event, we jumped at the chance to say yes and the reason why we wanted to do that is because we are very concerned about the young, Black men in our community. We want to make sure that they have good mentors and that they are on the right track to go to college,” Smith said.
Smith says it is important for Verizon to support such efforts in order to make a difference in the city.
When he joined Verizon back in 1999, Smith saw an opportunity to utilize the contract negotiation skills he garnered during the 20 years of working for the Raytheon Company, which specializes in defense and aerospace systems. He was also drawn by Verizon’s progressiveness.
“I like the fact that it’s a really progressive company — meaning that we focus on technology, we focus on what is really going to drive the customer not only to buy our products and services, but how they can use our products and services to enhance their lives,” said Smith.
Throughout his 14 years with Verizon, Smith has held a variety of leadership roles. Prior to his current position, Smith was vice president of operations in Florida and Texas for Verizon’s South/West Area. As vice president of operations, he led 3,100 employees in the delivery and maintenance of over 1.8 million residential and business copper and fiber access lines through the construction, installation and maintenance processes.
Prior to that, Smith was director, customer operations, construction and FiOS/core installation and maintenance in the South/West area where his area of responsibility encompassed more than 75,000 square miles, 1.2 million access lines and 960 management and associate employees in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.
Smith, a married father of five, currently serves as a member of the Urban League board, Mayor’s Literacy board, Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce executive board and the Philadelphia Chamber CEO and Council for Growth. He is also a member of the Delaware Business Roundtable, the Nemours Campaign Business and Foundation Committee, Consortium of Information and Telecommunications Executives and Developmental Roundtable for Upward Mobility.
Headquartered in New York, Verizon Communications, Inc. specializes in delivering broadband and wireless communications services to consumer, business, government and wholesale customers.
U.S. Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. is calling for more diversity in corporate boardrooms.
On May 21, Casey wrote a letter to Mary Jo White, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission raising concern about the lack of diversity on America’s corporate boards and asked the SEC to take steps to address it.
In his letter, Casey cited a recent report by the Alliance for Board Diversity which found that only 13 percent of board seats among Fortune 500 companies were held by minorities. The report also indicated that women were seriously underrepresented in Fortune 500 boards, with men making up almost 85 percent of the seats.
“This troubling under representation of women and minorities on corporate boards is unfortunately present in Pennsylvania as well,” Casey wrote.
“A December 2010 report by the Urban League of Philadelphia surveyed the top 108 public companies in the Philadelphia region and found that African Americans only make up four percent of board directors. This is in spite of the fact that African Americans make up 44 percent of the city of Philadelphia’s population and 20 percent of the region as a whole.
“In the Pittsburgh region, the 2011 Allegheny County Annual Report found that even though women represent a majority of the population in the region, they held only 14 percent of the board seats of Pittsburgh’s top 50 public companies. Clearly, we must do a better job of encouraging companies to select board members with a variety of different backgrounds and experiences,” his letter said.
During an interview with the Tribune, Casey said that it’s important to be vigilant on the issue of ensuring that corporate boards have a diverse makeup.
“The interesting thing about this is it’s not asking all that much to make sure that corporate boards are diversified. It’s important to have diversity in corporate leadership, but sometimes that takes longer. You have to find someone who is in a fairly high level in a corporation before they are made a CEO or a high level executive — that’s more of a challenge. With corporate boards, I just think that you have a lot more opportunity,” said Casey.
“It’s not a heavy lift to say there are plenty of African American businessmen and businesswomen that can contribute to any board and you ought to try to find and place them.”
In his letter, Casey noted that the SEC has taken steps in recent years to promote diversity in corporate boardrooms, including requiring companies to disclose any diversity policy they have with regard to the selection of board members. He asked the SEC chairman to provide an update on efforts that the SEC has taken so far, the effectiveness of the efforts and what additional steps are being considered.
As of May 31, Casey’s office did not receive a response from the SEC. Casey said it was too soon to expect feedback from the agency. When contacted by the Tribune, SEC spokeswoman Florence Harmon said that the SEC would not be commenting on the matter at this time.