Philadelphia Proves Economic Development is a Team Sport

Leaders in Philadelphia are in the throes of activating a regional scale economic development agenda. World-Class Philadelphia is not much different than our region’s Next Economy. Their plan contains many of the same strategies and is championed by many of the same entities. Their success is notable and marked by an unfettered commitment by Philadelphia’s leadership to getting things done.  They possess an ever-present team–minded approach to execution and accountability across the entire economic development community.

The Sacramento Metro Chamber’s Study Mission delegation of 77 regional leaders returned from Philadelphia last week inspired and impressed by the caliber of leadership, focus and collaboration. We also brought back an unquestionable belief that the time is now to get things done of own.

Like Sacramento, the east coast city sits in the shadow of larger, more famous metropolitan areas and has long competed for jobs, investment and attention. The city’s economy was hampered by a perception of lesser status, or no perception at all—a stigma that the IOC cited for declining the city’s 2016 Olympic bid.

But like Sacramento, Philadelphia has a high quality of life, is more affordable than its neighbors and offers many competitive advantages that just needed to be tapped.

On this annual leadership exchange between our region’s stakeholders and those making things happen in another metro area, the trip proved its value by delving into common issues, exploring possibilities for tackling challenges and generating shared interest in working collectively.  Philadelphia also showed us what is possible when a whole region comes together around a shared vision and offered a solid glimpse of what success can look like if our leadership jointly focuses on shared economic development priorities.

It was the lessons about attitude, however, that had the most impact on our learning.

John Fry, president of Drexel University, described their approach to economic development as a team sport. Tom Morr, CEO of Select Philadelphia (our SACTO counterpart), hammered home the team sport analogy by describing Philadelphia’s mentality around collaboration and public/private partnerships as fixed on the belief that “your success is not my failure”.

This demonstration of leadership is a carryover theme from last year’s study mission to Denver and New Orleans before that. In each case, the cities credit success to a clear vision, commitment and rigor from elected and private industry leaders alike.

Philadelphia responded to the IOC’s assertion. They promptly mobilized to improve the city’s world-wide perception and what resulted was not a logo or a tagline, but an organic story of a shared vision that quickly unified civic leaders with an infectious energy and a renewed sense of regional pride.

The brand building effort—we were told many times—works because it is embraced by all, but owned by none.

This is the premise that Next Economy sets forth. It is not simply a plan laying out a set of tactics for a select few; it’s an all-hands-on-deck call-to-action and provides the platform to parlay our collective strength into meaningful outcomes achieved more quickly and more dramatically. It’s the framework for advancing common goals and for amplifying our story.

It is not owned by any one entity, and its success is absolutely dependent on being supported by all.

From what we saw and learned in Philly, the inspiration is already taking hold and ideas are being activated: a comprehensive regional student retention effort modeled after Campus Philly; a local tech and innovation tour to show off how cool our region is; a makers movement to draw deserved attention to our locally-made products; a gathering of health and bioscience leaders to organize and propel this powerful cluster; and a global messaging platform to celebrate and amplify who we are. These are all activities already in motion.

If there’s one message to pass along, it’s summed up in the mantra of Alex Hillman, the young and spirited founder of Indy Hall. One of the world’s oldest and respected co-working communities, it has spawned vibrant growth and hundreds of new businesses.

His slogan, minus a colorful adverb, is “Just do it!”

Hillman is so committed JFDI that he’s tattooed it on his forearm for all to see. It’s the sort of attitude that has the power to change the landscape and character of a community. It’s a bold call-to-action and Philadelphia is answering the call. We can gain much by following their example.

We have the tools. Let’s abandon parochialism. We can adopt an attitude.  The time is now. Together, let’s just do it.

Christine Ault is the 2013 Study Mission volunteer Trip Chair, member of the Metro Chamber board and project manager for Next Economy. Tim Murphy is Director, Corporate Responsibility for GenCorp / Aerojet Rocketdyne, serves on the Metro Chamber executive committee and will chair the 2014 Study Mission.

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