Exploring Our Own Backyard

“Reply hazy, try again.” Such was the wisdom imparted via a Magic Eight Ball to Mercator Advisors Principal and Economy League board member David Seltzer when he was asked a pointed question about transportation funding in Pennsylvania during a panel at the Economy League’s recent Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange.


In 2005, when we took our first group of Leadership Exchange participants to Chicago, a question to the Magic Eight Ball about where the Leadership Exchange would be in eight years would have merited a similar response. There was no way to know that this October we’d still be going strong, gathering nearly 200 business and civic leaders from across our region for the seventh iteration of the Exchange, or that there would be more than 500 GPLEX alumni working in and leading organizations and institutions all over Greater Philadelphia.


If you ask me, this staying power is due in no small part to the unique combination of innovative ideas and bright, passionate leaders that makes for the energy and excitement that we all experience during a Leadership Exchange. We saw this alchemy at work again this year – whether during Q&A with our presenters and panelists, informal conversations between peers during breaks or at our dine-arounds, or the #lexPHL conversation on Twitter, the trademark GPLEX energy is all around, and it’s infectious.


Of course, pulling off an event like this takes a team effort. The Exchange couldn’t happen without the generous support of our sponsors and the Economy League board, as well as the tireless GPLEX staff team, led by Allison Kelsey, Sara Manning, Rachel Shelar and Jen Egmont. And I am always impressed by the ability of the volunteers on our Recruitment and Selection Committee to attract such a great network of passionate and engaged leaders brimming with energy and enthusiasm. I was excited to see so much of our region represented this year – we had record numbers from southern New Jersey, Delaware and the Pennsylvania suburbs.


We devoted this year’s Exchange to the topic of collaborating and innovating around shared agendas. This was no accident – we’ve been working to seed and encourage an ethos of focused collaboration through the World Class Greater Philadelphia initiative because we firmly believe that it’s the key ingredient to our region’s success moving forward. That being said, making collaboration productive and impactful is no small feat. It’s dangerously easy to get caught in an endless cycle of chatter, or, as Exchange presenter Chris Thompson from Cleveland’s Fund for Our Economic Future would say, “co-blab-oration.”


So we decided to do something a bit different with this year’s Exchange and take participants out into the field where they could see examples firsthand of people and organizations working together to advance specific parts of the World Class agenda. In Regional Explorations to Camden, Chester, the Lower Schuylkill, Parkside, Philadelphia International Airport, and University City, an impressive collection of our partners and friends organized sessions, gave tours, spoke on panels, and even set stuff on fire (Thanks, Mark Gale!). They’re all due a big thank you for helping inform, entertain, and inspire Exchange participants with current and future stories of collaboration and innovation in our region.


To spread some of the knowledge and insight we gained during these visits, today we're posting recaps of three of these Regional Explorations: CamdenParkside, and the Lower Schuylkill. In the coming weeks, we'll have recaps of the remaining three tours, so stay tuned to learn about how folks in Chester and University City and at PHL International Airport are working together to advance shared agendas to make our region a better place. Check out the map below to get a sense of where we went and find links to our recaps.


Of course, as soon as one GPLEX ends, planning for the next begins. For the 2014 Exchange, we’ll be making the trek up the East Coast to get to know one of Greater Philadelphia’s biggest “frenemies”: Boston. Yes, witnessing the glow of a recent World Series victory may be difficult, but there’s little doubt that there is much we can learn from and share with our New England counterparts. We’ll be announcing details on the application process within the next few months, so be sure to stay tuned.


Consulting the Magic Eight Ball once again, is next year’s Leadership Exchange going to be our best yet? “Signs point to yes.”