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103 civic, business leaders off to Atlanta to troll for ideas

September 19, 2008

Athena D. Merritt, Philadelphia Business Journal


It has been three years since more than 70 government, business and nonprofit leaders from the area descended on Chicago to get some ideas about improving Philadelphia. On Wednesday, a group of 103 will land in Atlanta with the same goal.


Led by the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, the Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange will connect participants with Atlanta's leaders and provide insight on the Georgia city's success and challenges over the two-and-a-half day trip that runs Sept. 24-26.


Some hope to leave with information on growing jobs and the economy, others on establishing a more inclusive economy, and still others want to take home lessons on education. The goal is to bring something back to Philadelphia - anything - that will help in the effort to make it a world-class city, said Daniel K.  Fitzpatrick, Citizens Bank president and CEO of eastern Pennsylvania as well as New Jersey and Delaware, who is serving as a co-chair for this year's exchange along with WHYY President and CEO William Marrazzo and Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition President Sharmain Matlock-Turner.


"This is about building relationships and how we can emphasize public-private relationships in advancing the Philadelphia region," Fitzpatrick said. "It's not the five guys back in the smoky room trying to make all of the decisions for everybody. I don't believe that works. I don't believe that's the future of Philadelphia. I believe it's a large collaboration like this."


This year's exchange includes a larger number of participants and represents a broader base. The 103 participants span South Jersey, northern Delaware and include more suburban counties, with 39 representatives of nonprofits, 13 from government, seven from foundations, five from higher education and two county commissioners and two freeholders. Members of Philadelphia City Council and Mayor Michael Nutter's administration will also be in attendance, as will the mayor on Thursday.


"This is an opportunity to come and use your head and really think about what kind of place you want Philadelphia to be," Economy League Executive Director Steven T. Wray said. "Looking at what other cities are doing gives you ideas, gives you energy and gives you resolve to pick up the ball and move forward."


With Philadelphia facing a potential $450 million budget shortfall by the end of its five-year plan because of declining business tax revenue and pension costs, Senior Adviser to the Mayor Terry Gillen said she will have her eye on Atlanta's economy and its economic development strategies.


"It's very important, the only way we are going to get out of this is to grow our way out of this," Gillen said of the city's financial problems. "We've got to expand the economy or the budget is not going to balance."

Gillen's goal was the obvious, "to learn what Atlanta is doing right and, frankly, what good ideas we can steal from them." Urban League of Philadelphia President and CEO Patricia Coulter will be seeking ways to help growing minority businesses grow.


"For me, one of the key areas will be looking at how Atlanta has been able to shape an environment that seems to be conducive to small businesses, particularly black-owned businesses," said Coulter, who attended the Chicago exchange.


Learning how Atlanta leveraged the Olympics to propel itself into the international economy is also top of mind for many participants. But not all of the lessons brought home will be about how to improve Philadelphia, Andrew Toy, director of the Enterprise Center's Retail Resource Network, said.


"Even though we are going to try and learn as much as we can from them we are also going to take away why Philadelphia is a great city," said Toy, who also participated in the Chicago exchange.^1702477&surround=etf