December 18, 2009
Boil down the lessons we learned at the 2009 Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange in September, and that’s what you get. Don’t think of a region as a factory cranking out products, the experts tell us. Think of a region as a network, a hub, a circuit board – pick your metaphor, as long as it reflects that Greater Philadelphia can thrive only by connecting people and businesses with a global economy that is far bigger than any one city or region.
That’s why “connectivity” is the theme of this edition of Insight. It’s what everybody wants. Start with businesses: they want to connect along what sociologist Saskia Sassen calls “specialized circuits” that span the globe. In these pages, we join Sassen as she follows the links between Sao Paulo’s coffee traders and New York’s commodities brokers, or Mumbai’s developers and London’s dealmakers.
The days of the self-contained “imperial city” are done, Sassen says; instead, businesses look for places that offer the best connections to the global circuits of capital, labor, products, and expertise they depend on. Meanwhile, workers want to connect with healthy businesses and with the kind of community and lifestyle they desire. You’ll read workforce expert Charlie Grantham emphasizes the importance of attracting and retaining the “free agent” workers who represent the future of labor. “The old model of attracting companies with tax breaks and free land is over,” he says. “Companies will find a way to bring the work to wherever the talented people are.”
Visitors want to connect with the unique aspects of our region, but they don’t want to disconnect from the global systems they’re used to. As community investor Jeremy Nowak explains, people are wowed by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but what does not impress is a transit system that won’t let them buy tickets with the credit cards they can use elsewhere in the world. “Tokens aren’t quaint,” Nowak says, “they’re obsolete.”
Even the entertainment economy must respond to growing consumer demand for hyper-connectivity. As Rick Bluhm of the Franklin Institute explains, museums and theaters now take their cues from such complex, multi-player games as World of Warcraft. Nintendo Wii, the nation’s top-selling video game, is distinguished by its motion-sensitive, interactive controllers. “The more senses involved, the more decisions there are to be made, the more deeply you can draw the participants into the world of the game, the better,” says Bluhm.
In other words, global connectivity is already changing the way we live, work, and play. Businesses and consumers are adapting; the successful region will adapt, too.
And while Greater Philadelphia might not achieve the global clout of a Tokyo, Paris, or Singapore (size alone being a limiting factor), it’s clear that this region has a solid and enviable position on more than one global circuit. The most obvious are those of health care and education – people and businesses worldwide tap into this “meds and eds” economy. Industrial, cultural, financial, and legal circuits network our region, and the more we can do to boost their connections to employees, markets, and global partners, the better our region’s economy will perform.
When looking at global rankings, it’s tempting to focus on how Greater Philadelphia can knock off the competition and jump above cities like Boston, Toronto, or Osaka. But the message from this Leadership Exchange was to change that conversation. Don’t ask whom Greater Philadelphia competes with; ask whom we connect with.
And don’t just concentrate on the obvious; as scenario planning expert Roch Parayre tells us, the successful region must always be building new connections at the margins of its established networks. “Normal times bring normal opportunities,” he says. “Significantly superior opportunities come in times of disruption – but only if you’re ready.”
It’s those connections that light up the circuits that make the global economy go. Connectivity and prosperity go hand in hand.
(Click here to download podcasts and presentation materials from the 2009 Leadership Exchange.)