Setting 2026 Civic and Business Goals for Philly Region

February 2, 2012

Mike Armstrong, Inquirer Columnist


Is the Philadelphia region world class?


For that matter, what does world class mean? Is it like Philadelphia Eagles president Joe Banner calling his team the "gold standard"?


Well, the Eagles aren't in the Super Bowl, and Philadelphia isn't on many short lists as the Athens of our time.

However, a new report and multiyear effort by the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia aims high in trying to get the region to lift itself onto the world stage. The report sets out three priorities and a bunch of goals for civic and business leaders to shoot for by 2026.


Those regional priorities - educational and talent development, business growth, and infrastructure - will not surprise anyone who has read a policy paper released here over the last 25 years.


Still, the nonprofit Economy League, whose roots stretch to 1909, wants to create some urgency over long-standing problems such as low educational attainment, aging roads and rails, and lagging progress on business formation.


"If our companies aren't able to compete in the global marketplace, if our talent base isn't globally competitive with other regions, we run the risk of falling behind," said Steven T. Wray, executive director of the Economy League. "We need to be doing those things that put us ahead of the game, that allow us to anticipate the change that is happening."


The germ for it all emerged from the region's short-lived effort in 2006 to bid on the 2016 Olympic Games. If you remember, the knock wasn't that the city had a negative image - it had no image at all in the international Olympic community, an American city indistinguishable from so many others. (Who's hosting in 2016? Rio de Janeiro.)

That got board members of the Economy League, including now-chairman Rick Altman, thinking about why Philadelphia isn't the type of region the spotlight seeks out on the world stage. What followed was an exploration of what it means to be world class - a region that's not competing with Boston, New York, and Washington, but Beijing, London, and Paris for jobs, talent, and capital.


Starting in 2009, the Economy League organized 26 events for its World Class Greater Philadelphia effort that attracted and involved more than 1,000 leaders from the business and nonprofit worlds, government, labor, and community groups.


Some were quite thought-provoking, such as one in September 2009 that featured Saskia Sassen, a sociologist who urged the audience to think of regions as networks to connect with a wider world.


There's no denying that the effort attracted considerable interest and support from big companies and other employers. World Class Greater Philadelphia was cochaired by Steven M. Altschuler, chief executive officer of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia; Jane G. Pepper, former longtime head of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society; Wendell E. Pritchett, chancellor of Rutgers University-Camden; and Gerard H. Sweeney, CEO of Brandywine Realty Trust, one of the region's biggest office landlords.


The Economy League estimates it spent $400,000 to $500,000 on World Class Greater Philadelphia, with much of that coming from the private sector and a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

Though the Economy League will release a 40-page report, "Focus 2026," on Thursday evening, the prime movers behind it say the real keys are the partnerships that have been established to tackle each of the priorities.


On education, the Economy League is teaming up with United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania; on infrastructure, it will work with the local chapter of the Urban Land Institute; on business growth, it will partner with the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce's CEO Council for Growth.


Each of the three strategy teams will have actionable goals that will be measured annually. So if a goal is to make sure every 5- or 6-year-old is ready to learn by the time he or she goes to school, it will want to be able to show progress has been made in boosting educational attainment in Philadelphia.


Why the focus on 2026? "Fifteen years is long enough to see change, but short enough that if you don't start today, you won't get there," Wray said.


To Altman, who is chief risk officer at Radian Group Inc., simply aspiring to be world class is not the main draw for business leaders he knows.


"We are concretely looking at doing things that will make this a better place," he said.


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