Leaders Convene to Launch Greater Philadelphia Export Initiative

Strong regional assets and sustained public investments have helped contribute to export gains for Greater Philadelphia. Even with these gains, however, our region has ranked last out of the 10 largest U.S. metros for annual export growth in recent years. Catching up to the pack would have a dramatic impact on our economy - if Greater Philadelphia doubled its annual export growth rate to be on par with competitor regions, it would translate into 37,000 new jobs over five years.


Recognizing the tremendous opportunity to spur business growth in our region through exports, last week, the Economy League and the World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia launched a new export initiative at a World Class Council forum. More than 70 business and civic leaders from across the region gathered at Urban Outfitters’ headquarters at the Navy Yard to hear from national and local leaders about industry-specific opportunities and strategies to drive significant export growth in Greater Philadelphia.


Insights from DC, San Diego and Our Own Backyard


The evening began with opening remarks from Antwaun Griffin, Deputy Assistant Secretary for U.S. Operations at the International Trade Administration, who provided a big picture overview on the export imperative and opportunity at the national and metro levels. Griffin noted that, in 2013, exports of goods and services supported an estimated 11.3 million U.S. jobs. In Pennsylvania alone, merchandise exports totaled $41.2 billion. Drilling down to the metropolitan level, the total value of exports from Greater Philadelphia in 2012 was $29.1 billion, making the region the 12th largest export market in the U.S.


Economy League Managing Director for Regional Engagement Josh Sevin pointed out that 56% of Greater Philadelphia’s exports are goods – including pharmaceuticals, aircraft products, petroleum and coal products, precision instruments and basic chemicals – and 44% are services – such as higher education, healthcare, financial services, research and development, architecture and engineering. Our share of services exports is significantly larger than the national average of 29%, suggesting that this could be a promising area for regional export growth in the future.


Contributing a peer region’s perspective to this discussion was Sean Barr, Vice President of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, who offered insight about the development and implementation of San Diego’s metro export plan. At first glance, it may not seem like Philadelphia and San Diego share many similarities, but in fact, these two regions are roughly the same size and have similar industry strengths, particularly life sciences. In reflecting upon San Diego’s own metro export plan, Barr shared several key lessons, including the need to define the purpose and value of an export strategy early in its development as well as the importance of creating a “bigger tent” of stakeholders who are all working in a coordinated way. It is also crucial to embed conversations about exports, foreign direct investment, and global engagement into ordinary industry parlance – these topics should be central to any business or regional economic growth strategy.


Following Sean Barr’s presentation, a panel of experts offered a local perspective on how export growth can benefit our region. Bob Kritzer of Harold Beck & Sons, Inc. and Leonard Karp of Philadelphia International Medicine explained how exports benefit their business models and lead to bottom-line growth and more jobs for regional residents. Linda Conlin of the World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia highlighted the resources that are available to help area firms – particularly small and mid-size companies – boost exports as a share of their overall revenue.


Developing a Metro Export Plan


Looking ahead, the Economy League and World Trade Center will lead a coalition of regional partners for a 12-month project to develop and disseminate a customized, data-driven metro export strategy for Greater Philadelphia. A detailed market assessment will be released in summer 2015, setting the stage for the completion of a metro export plan by the end of 2015 along with the announcement of initial implementation efforts. In launching this initiative, Greater Philadelphia joins 20 other U.S. metros representing 19 percent of the nation’s population that have completed or are in the process of developing metro export plans to achieve ambitious growth targets.


The export initiative is being supported in part by a new U.S. Economic Development Administration grant awarded to the Economy League to advance the World Class Business Growth agenda. The two-year, $200,000 matching grant will also fund in-depth analysis and strategy development for a priority industry sector as well as the formation of a World Class Business Growth Network in the region. This is the EDA’s second award in support of the Economy League’s World Class Greater Philadelphia initiative, following a 2011 grant that assisted with regional priority-setting and creation of the World Class GPSes.