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World Class Business Growth Starts with Shared Goals and Measurement

September 10, 2014

Steve Wray, Region's Business 

You can’t improve what you don’t measure … this conviction has been at the heart of dozens of Economy League projects and initiatives over the years. And it lies at the core of our World Class Greater Philadelphia effort.


Shared Strength


Over the past several years, the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia has engaged hundreds of business and civic leaders to establish a shared set of World Class education, business growth and infrastructure goals for our region—and priority strategies to achieve them—over the long haul. And we’re proud to say that this shared playbook has already begun to catalyze action among regional difference-makers that are finding new ways to tackle complex challenges together—from the Pre-K for PA campaign to ensure that every 3- and 4-year-old in Pennsylvania has access to high-quality pre-K, to an emerging effort to expand our regional economy through significant export growth.


With so much recent churn in the region’s civic leadership and the upcoming change in mayoral administrations for Philadelphia, it is more important than ever to have a steady, shared agenda to guide us through this period of transition. Following last year’s release of the World Class Global Positioning Strategies, we are pleased to see a growing number of regional organizations and leaders draw upon the World Class effort to inform their work, such as our partners at United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, which has incorporated the World Class education and talent priorities into its philanthropic funding decisions.


Earlier this summer, the Economy League introduced a new tool to help regional business and civic leaders track progress around this shared agenda – the World Class Index. With input from some of the top data experts in our region, the Economy League identified a set of 30 key indicators associated with the World Class agenda that we will be monitoring and assessing on an ongoing basis.


So how are we doing when it comes to spurring business growth in Greater Philadelphia? A complete analysis and data are available at worldclassgreaterphila.org/index, but here are some high-level findings:


  • Our region has no shortage of new and expanded efforts targeted at expanding our entrepreneurial community at all levels. The numbers point to why these efforts are crucial and need our support. With all this focus and some progress in our region, we still rank last among top ten metros in entrepreneurs-per-capita, according to the recent Kaufman Foundation data. Our region also ranked eighth in net new business creation and ninth in small business employment among the ten largest U.S. metros between 2008 and 2012.

  • Over this period, only one county in the eleven-county region including southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and New Castle County in Delaware saw growth in either number of new businesses or small business job growth – Philadelphia, where small business employment was up three percent and the number of new establishments grew by 16 percent.

  • Recognizing our region’s significant higher education and research assets, in the last decade, leaders have put greater collective focus on technology transfer – the process of converting promising ideas and technologies to the marketplace. And it looks like these efforts may be paying off: Between 2008 and 2012, the region ranked fifth in tech transfer licensing revenues. Given that we ranked eighth in R&D funding, that suggests that we are holding our own compared with other metros in capitalizing on research resources for commercial success. And the number of tech transfer licenses and options issued in region almost doubled from 111 in 2008 to 216 in 2012.

  • Another key piece of our business growth story centers on global business. And in today’s global economy, more than ever regions that export are regions that grow. Greater Philadelphia does fairly well in export intensity, or the amount of our economy made up of exports. Around nine percent of our regional economic output is in the form of exports, placing our region ahead of metros like New York, Miami and Washington, but behind other top regions like Atlanta, Boston and Los Angeles.

The World Class agenda recognizes that the ultimate goal of regional job growth and wealth creation rests upon having an educated and talented workforce and effective and efficient infrastructure. Many key indicators point to a need for substantial focus and investment around critical talent and infrastructure priorities. For example, only 34 percent of eligible children from low- and moderate-income families in the region are enrolled in publically funded pre-k programs. And in 2012, 973 bridges in the region were assessed as structurally deficient and almost 2,000 lane miles of state-maintained roads were in poor condition. Harrowing as such numbers can be, they can be a powerful spur to action, setting in motion high-impact coalition efforts like the current Pre-K for PA campaign and the passage of Act 89 last year to provide more stable funding for roads, bridges, and transit in Pennsylvania.


Our ultimate aim with the World Class Index is to drive conversation among leaders about where we should focus limited resources—and where we might need to rethink our approach—to spur regional improvement. Wherever we end up as a region, it needs to start with a shared understanding of where we are right now.