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It All Starts with a Shared Agenda

September 13, 2013

Steve Wray, Region's Business


For the past four years, the Economy League’s World-Class Greater Philadelphia effort has been tackling the very question that this issue of Region’s Business is addressing: What will it take for Greater Philadelphia to become and remain a truly World-Class region?


We’ve led conversations with more than 1,700 area business and civic leaders in workshops, public forums, interviews, and roundtables focused on establishing shared goals and priority strategies for driving long-term growth and opportunity in Greater Philadelphia. This work culminated earlier this year with the release of three Global Positioning Strategies (GPSes) to focus and guide cross-sector collaboration for regional improvement. These GPSes tackle a broad range of issues within the three regional priority areas of education and talent development, business growth, and infrastructure. The World-Class Education and Talent Development GPS, developed in partnership with United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, outlines a shared agenda for improving regional early learning and K-12 education outcomes as well as postsecondary attainment and workforce readiness.


The World-Class Business Growth GPS, created in partnership with the CEO Council for Growth, focuses on boosting entrepreneurship, fostering innovation, and strengthening global business connections within the region. The World-Class Infrastructure GPS, developed in conjunction with the Philadelphia District Council of the Urban Land Institute, identifies priority strategies to strengthen Greater Philadelphia’s global and national connections; improve regional mobility; and make our water, energy, and open space networks more sustainable and resilient. All of the goals and strategies presented in the GPSes are available to explore at worldclassgreaterphila.org.


In developing this agenda for a World-Class Greater Philadelphia, we’ve learned a great deal, not only about the opportunities and challenges facing our region, but about what it will take to drive true progress around the issues that matter most for long-term growth and opportunity. For one, we know that in today’s world, we can’t always count on help from the federal or state governments as we might have in the past. And it’s clear that the days when we could look to one organization or sector to tackle big civic challenges singlehandedly are long gone.

To be sure, there is no shortage of bright people and great ideas in the Philadelphia area, but with fewer resources at our disposal to address increasingly complex issues, the old model where each of us goes it alone just isn’t going to cut it anymore.


So perhaps the most valuable lesson that we’ve taken from this process is that putting Greater Philadelphia on the path to a world-class future will be as much about what we focus on as it will be about how we mobilize to make it happen. There’s no way around it: Becoming and remaining a truly world-class place is going to require a regional leadership culture that is committed to using collaborative approaches to advance a shared agenda.


With the World-Class GPSes in hand, we have an ambitious blueprint for regional growth and opportunity that bears the fingerprints of scores of Greater Philadelphia’s brightest and most engaged leaders (some of whom have penned pieces for this special issue). Now, moving from strategy to action is going to take serious commitment on the part of our region’s leaders to join forces for collective impact.


That is why today we are working to seed lasting collaborations and shine a light on existing efforts that embody the type of collective approach that is a must for driving large-scale, long-term progress. Our strategy development partnerships with United Way, the CEO Council for Growth, and ULI Philadelphia set the tone for ongoing collaboration through the World-Class initiative. And now, early collaborations are demonstrating how coming together for collective impact can yield real results.


For example, the Startup PHL initiative, launched last year as a partnership between the City of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, aims to increase the availability of seed-stage capital for startups and accelerate the development of a supportive environment for entrepreneurs. In March, the City selected venture capital firm First Round Capital to manage a $6 million Startup PHL seed fund for Philadelphia-based tech startups and awarded the first round of grants for groups, companies or individuals with promising ideas for boosting Philadelphia’s entrepreneurial potential.


These investments correspond directly with two priority strategies identified in the World-Class Business Growth GPS: strengthening entrepreneurial networks and increasing the availability of growth capital. By coming together across sectors, the City, PIDC, and First Round Capital are advancing an innovative approach to fill gaps in the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem that area startups have long cited as impediments to growth.


On the education front, United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, the Economy League, the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children, and the Public Health Management Corporation were awarded a highly competitive grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to partner on a campaign to speed adoption in Pennsylvania of a standardized statewide system for kindergarten entry assessments.


Identified as a top priority in the World-Class Education and Talent Development GPS, standardized assessments are crucial to getting an accurate picture of the overall preparedness of our children to start school. To build awareness of and support for standardized assessments and high-quality early learning programs, United Way will lead coalition partners in direct outreach to business and civic leadership, school district personnel, state agency and elected officials, as well as parents and family members.


These are just a few early examples of what our region’s leaders can do when we work together around a shared agenda. They are small steps toward the world-class future that we know we are capable of achieving for Greater Philadelphia. Models like these are invaluable to spreading and strengthening the culture of collaboration among local leaders. And that’s what we need to make the vision of a World-Class future a reality for Greater Philadelphia.


Read Steve's piece and other Visions of Philadelphia essays on the Region's Business Website >>