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Buy Global: Economy League Launches Its Vision for Philly Exports

December 2, 2014
Alaina Mabaso, Flying Kite


Locally-focused businesses are a popular narrative nowadays, but the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia and the World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia are urging a second perspective for anyone concerned about the region's economic future.

It’s not just about local business and it’s not just about politics, says Josh Sevin, managing director for regional engagement at the Economy League. "If you care about school funding, if you care about crumbling bridges, you should care about exports," he insists. "Because it really is a pathway to growth in our region."

In November, to that end, with the help of a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (aiding multiple initiatives), the Economy League announced the launch of a major study of our region’s underutilized export potential.

"Other smart and aggressive metros are understanding what their export growth opportunities are," and organizing their existing resources better, which "really translates into jobs," says Sevin.

With its harbor, air and rail hubs, Philadelphia could be a major U.S. player in the export economy, but it’s currently languishing near the bottom of the domestic top ten.

"In typical Philadelphia style, people don’t realize how much we’re at the big boy table," muses Sevin. "We're not London [or] New York in terms of global business, but we are a serious, serious economy."

And we need to start acting like it.

"There really is surviving advanced manufacturing in our region," he adds, mentioning aircraft equipment, chemicals and plastics, and advanced medical equipment.

In addition, Philadelphia needs to shift its thinking about exports -- it's not just goods; our economy has gotten increasingly service-intensive. Services that the U.S. offers abroad, from medical training to architectural design, and the international students that Philly’s many world-class universities draw, all count as exports.

Maximizing the opportunities to expand the markets for these goods and services overseas could have a huge impact on the local economy. If we were to double our annual export growth rate, the Economy League estimates, it would mean 40,000 new jobs in the region within five years.

The Economy League and Philly’s World Trade Center will partner with several local institutions for a year-long project that will develop and disseminate a customized, data-driven metro export strategy for Greater Philadelphia. Locals can look for an initial market assessment this summer and a full metro export plan at the end of 2015.