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Phila. leaders learn from Atlanta: Day 2

September 25, 2008

Philadaelphia Business Journal


The Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange rolled into its second day on Thursday, with Atlanta officials continuing to pull the veil off of their city, warts and all, in an effort to give Philadelphia leaders lessons to take home.


Conversations were frank, points of views varied, and the more than 100 government, business, nonprofit and civic leaders from Philadelphia began to formulate opinions on what pages they should take from the Southern city. Thursday's sessions included morning panels on Atlanta's leadership on issues, its traffic problems and remarks by Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin. Foremost, in many minds, was Atlanta's investment in the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International airport - an international hub with three times the volume of Philadelphia International Airport, which generates $23 billion for Atlanta and the region's economy, and supplies more than 390,000 direct and indirect jobs.


"We are one of the crown jewels of the city of Atlanta, we are the web that provides access to the city," said Arnaldo Ruiz, assistant general manager for commercial development at the airport, who served as a morning panelist on the "Planes, Trains & Automobiles: Getting Around in Metro Atlanta" discussion.


As the engine that drives the economy, the airport continues to invest, Ruiz said, pointing to a $1.2 billion capital improvement plan under way that includes the construction of a fifth runway. Philadelphia could learn by their example, Jerry Maginnis, office managing partner of KPMG LLP in Philadelphia, said.


"Airports really can be competitive differentiators and this is a good example of that," said Maginnis, who attributed Atlanta's growth and success over the years to their investment in their airport.


Terry Gillen, executive director of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, recognizes the potential for Philadelphia.


"I think the airport is the single biggest economic tool we have," Gillen said.


Atlanta also has an edge on Philadelphia because it offers low taxes, which helps create a healthy economy, Gillen said. But, at the end of the day Philadelphia has much more to offer, which must be better promoted in the future, she said.


"Philly has it all over these cities in terms of infrastructure," Gillen said. "We have not done a good job selling what we have. What I admire about these guys is there are selling much less than we have [and are successful]."


The Philadelphia Leadership Exchange, which is hosted by the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, wraps up on Friday afternoon. It is the second leadership led by the Economy League, who first took about 70 participants to Chicago in 2005.