Local to global: the greater philadelphia export plan wants to boost billions in business
April 26, 2016
Alaina Mabaso, Flying Kite Media
How can a local economy make a global debut? In December 2014, Flying Kite spoke with the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia about the launch of its Greater Philadelphia Export Plan, conducted in partnership with the World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia. After more than a year of market analysis -- along with surveys and interviews with local businesses -- the finalized study and a plan of action were released this month.
According to the Economy League, 86 percent of global economic growth is projected to happen outside the U.S. between now and 2020, but only one percent of U.S. companies currently export, with a small majority of that one percent exporting to only one market. Philadelphia already boasts $32 billion in exports annually, but with the right support, that number could grow significantly.
This metro export plan, made possible by a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, convened experts (including business leaders and state and federal trade officials) in southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and northern Delaware.
The initiative got an important boost in January 2015 when study partners learned that they’d be among seven other U.S. cities to join the 2015 cohort of the Brookings Institute’s Global Cities Initiative (in partnership with JPMorgan Chase), designed to support U.S. metros in developing customized trade and export strategies. Philly joined Baltimore, Seattle, Houston, Kansas City, Fresno, Salt Lake City and St. Louis in a nationwide conversation.
The Economy League attended the Global Cities Initiative’s first national workshop last February, which focused on how to launch a large-scale export study, and a second workshop in July. By that time, the Philly project’s in-depth market assessments were complete. According to Josh Sevin, Economy League managing director of regional engagement, the focus then became, "How do you convert that [research] into a strategy with some momentum?"
Through those assessments, the Economy League got a clearer picture of what it already knew: Philly is often dubbed a post-industrial city, but a highly specialized manufacturing sector remains, with plenty of potential for global growth.
When it comes to exports, we usually imagine freighters packed with stuff, but the definition of an export is broader than that. For example, if a cardiology team from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia travels to set up a new facility in Dubai, that’s a Philly export. Same story if a local architect designs a building overseas.
"When we talk about a good or a service export, think about where the dollars are coming from, not the point of service," says Sevin. That means any time someone from outside the U.S. comes here for school, or for medical care, or utilizes Philly legal or financial services, that’s an export, even if the office, classroom, or hospital room is right in our city.
He hopes the action plan can help spark "a virtuous cycle": the more businesses engage with the global market, the more business owners take note, and say, "Why not me?"
The Economy League is considering another opportunity to join a Global Cities cohort geared specifically to developing a foreign export strategy.
Later, we’ll take a look a more in-depth look at the new metro export plan through the lens of a participating Philly firm.