In '08, Phila. civic leaders will check out Atlanta for ideas

December 7, 2007

Athena D. Merritt, Philadelphia Business Journal


The desire to improve Philadelphia led more than 70 government, business and nonprofit leaders to Chicago in 2005 to exchange ideas with the city's leaders. Next September, another group will converge on Atlanta for the same purpose.


Spearheaded by the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, the Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange is aimed at learning from the success of others. This time around, participants will actively explore issues in the city before they leave to gain a better understanding of the challenges before them, whether it's navigating Philadelphia as a tourist or getting from Philadelphia to a job in the suburbs.

Among the themes being considered for the trip include race relations, politics and business, facing challenges as a region and thinking big. The trip will follow much of the same format as the Chicago excursion in which leaders met over two-and-a-half days, Economy League Executive Director Steven T. Wray said.

"It's an opportunity to see what a competitor region, in terms of business and talent, is doing," Wray said. "The general theme and attitude is understanding what being a world-class region is going to mean today and is going to mean in 10 years."


The efforts are meant to complement the Economy League's goals of making Greater Philadelphia a world-class region through researching the city's strengths and weaknesses and collaborating with regional stakeholders to implement a shared vision for its future, Wray said.


Atlanta, which is facing water shortages and a transportation system that is overwhelmed, could teach Philadelphia about how to deal with a regional crisis, Wray said. Philadelphia could also take a page from Atlanta when it comes to growing minority businesses to scale, said Urban League of Philadelphia President and CEO Patricia A. Coulter, who participated in the first leadership exchange in Chicago.


"Some bold moves were made to position that city so today it is a catalyst for minority business and I just think Philadelphia could learn from that because that to me is where we can see more growth," Coulter said.

The cities also share similar demographics, with Atlanta having a sizable African American population and African American leadership, Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition President Sharmain Matlock-Turner said.


Those returning from Chicago's trip helped rally voters to approve an election ballot question that cleared the way for ethics reforms in the city and have undertaken the causes of transit and increasing minority business development and growth in Philadelphia. With Mayor-elect Michael Nutter, a participant in the Chicago leadership exchange, taking office in January, the potential for more progress lies ahead, Matlock-Turner said.

"We are in a new era in Philadelphia, we are looking at a new leader and new possibilities," Matlock-Turner said.