10 Signs of Global Progress in Greater Philadelphia

In 2009, the Economy League launched World Class Greater Philadelphia with the goal of developing and sustaining a new way of working together to achieve big goals for our region. From the beginning – as exhibited by its very name – the World Class agenda has sought to expand our region’s global orientation and presence. We’ve prioritized strategies to grow global export and investment opportunities, educate and train a workforce that can compete internationally, and increase connections to the largest and fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the world.


As the world’s eyes turn toward our region for next month’s World Meeting of Families, it’s a good time to take stock of ongoing efforts to boost Greater Philadelphia’s global competitiveness. While much remains to be done, here are 10 promising ways that business, civic, and public sector leaders are putting our region on the international map:


1) Reemergence as an Immigrant Gateway

Over the last two decades, Greater Philadelphia has resurfaced as a destination of choice for immigrants and refugees from across the globe. Immigrants are driving city population growth and are responsible for a staggering 96% of Main Street business ownership growth since 2000 with support from organizations like the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians.


2) Foreign-Born Student Boom

As recently as 10 years ago, only a handful of universities in Greater Philadelphia had strategies to recruit international students to their campuses. Today, it’s rare to find a university in the region that doesn’t have one. Between 2008 and 2012, nearly 25,000 – or 21 out of every 1,000 – students studying at Greater Philadelphia universities were foreign-born. Forty-eight percent of these students remained in the region to work immediately after graduation.


3) Growth in International Tourism

Despite a decline between 2013 and 2014, international visitation to Greater Philadelphia has grown by 45% over the last decade. The Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau has played a crucial role in boosting global tourism, teaming with Brand USA and National Geographic Traveler magazine to encourage individuals and families to visit our region.


4) Seizing the Export Opportunity

For a region that has struggled with slow post-recession economic and employment growth, selling goods and services to the world is a crucial pathway to boosting our regional economy. Other regions have embraced export growth as an economic development priority, with nearly 30% of post-recession economic growth in the US attributable to exports. Recognizing the opportunity to take our region’s export outcomes to the next level, the Economy League and the World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia are leading a coalition of partners in developing a customized, data-driven metro export strategy for our region and will be releasing the results of an in-depth market assessment this fall.


5) Attracting Foreign Investment

With 700 foreign-owned enterprises employing 112,000 people in the region, Greater Philadelphia is already a leading destination for international business investment. Foreign-owned firms provide crucial links to other countries, are more likely to export, and can attract additional foreign direct investment to the region. Select Greater Philadelphia, the business attraction marketing arm of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, promotes the region nationally and globally as a top location to do business along with the many bilateral chambers of commerce, foreign consulates, and international community groups that operate in our region.


6) Trade Missions with Results

Pennsylvania officials and the Nutter administration have proven that trade missions to strategic markets – when implemented effectively – can yield significant returns. Recent visits to such places as China, Israel, Germany, the United Kingdom, Brazil, and Chile have led to innovative partnerships, reciprocal trade missions, and international business relocations.


7) Connecting to International Markets

Greater Philadelphia’s airport and ports provide crucial ties to international markets. Philadelphia International Airport, which offers nonstop service to 25 countries, is currently undergoing an unprecedented expansion while building off of specialized assets like temperature-controlled warehousing for perishable airfreight. Likewise, the Port of Philadelphia is undertaking its first major expansion in over 50 years, and the deepening of the Delaware River navigation channel to accommodate larger cargo vessels is increasing Greater Philadelphia’s global trade capacity.


8) Foreign Capital for Infrastructure Investments

Given the ongoing challenges associated with sufficient infrastructure funding, Greater Philadelphia – like many regions – has benefited from international investment in key projects, a process made possible by the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program. In Greater Philadelphia, EB-5 investments have been used to help fund connecting I-95 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the Convention Center expansion, and Philadelphia Navy Yard improvements, among dozens of other regional projects.


9) World Heritage City Status

One of the key lessons that emerged from Philadelphia’s 2016 Olympics bid almost a decade ago was that our region did not have a globally recognizable brand. Philadelphia is poised to gain another tool to raise its profile this November when it is expected to be named the first World Heritage City in the United States. This UNESCO designation will provide a globally recognized marker that Philadelphia – the birthplace of American democracy – is a major player on the international stage.


10) Papal Visit

And, of course, in four weeks, Philadelphia will find itself the center of international attention as the city hosts an anticipated 1.5 million visitors for the 8th World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis’ first-ever trip to the United States. This historic event offers a unique opportunity to showcase Greater Philadelphia as a truly world class region.


To learn more about these and other ways that our region is expanding its global footprint, check out this fall’s GlobalPhilly 2015 International Exposition. Hosted by the Global Philadelphia Association, GlobalPhilly 2015 will feature more than 120 internationally oriented business development, educational, social, and cultural events across the region between September 15 and November 15. The full events calendar and registration is here.