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Out to Learn Atlanta Ways

April 4, 2008

Athena D. Merritt, Philadelphia Business Journal


Community redevelopment, work force development and an inclusive economy will be the focus of a group of government, business and nonprofit leaders headed to Atlanta this fall for ideas on improving Philadelphia.


This week, the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia began notifying chosen participants for the Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange, which aims to mold the area into a world-class region by learning from the successes of other cities. One hundred people will participate in the three-day trip in September, up from the 70-plus leaders that participated in the first exchange held in Chicago in 2005.


While the exchange is only Philadelphia's second, other cities have long organized such efforts, including Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Seattle; Denver; and Boston, Economy League Director Steven T. Wray said.


In traveling to Atlanta, the hope is that they will be able to take a page from that city on getting the private sector and government working together in identifying a strategy for the future, Wray said.


"One thing that Atlanta did, probably 35 years ago, is set a goal to transform their region into a world leader," he said. "They've had generations of different leaders who have all worked toward that same goal."


Hence, the nickname of Hotlanta comes about in part from Atlanta's success in landing the Olympic Games, growing minority businesses to scale, turning the city into a tourist destination and being home to the busiest airport in the nation, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, are also lessons that could be taken home by participants, Wray said.


"We are going to try and learn from their successes and some of their biggest challenges on how regions work together," Wray said.


Participants will gather for a two-hour orientation this month, followed by regional exploration in June, which will delve into local issues of community redevelopment, work force development and an inclusive economy. Participants will then travel to Atlanta in September for the three-day exchange of ideas with the city's leaders.


The Economy League received 106 applications for the exchange, including 38 from the private sector, 17 from government and 51 from nonprofits. A total of 61 applicants were men and 45 were women, 83 were white and 23 were non-white and 58 were from urban areas and 48 from suburban areas.


"It's kind of a new concept for this region, although other regions have been doing it for like 20 years," Economy League spokeswoman Allison Kelsey said of the exchange they have spearheaded. "We are hoping to attract more diverse interest each time."


Citizens Bank President and CEO Daniel Fitzpatrick, WHYY President and CEO William Marrazzo and Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition President Sharmain Matlock Turner are serving as co-chairs for this year's exchange.