Battening Down the Philly Region’s Hatches

“We need all hands on deck,” said Mark Schweiker, CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, at the breakfast for Mercer and Princeton chambers this morning at ETS’s Conant Hall. Pitching regional marketing versus fighting tooth and nail to keep businesses from crossing the Delaware into Pennsylvania, Schweiker pointed out that rush hour traffic is heavy in both directions on the Scudders Falls bridge. “As we build our brand, we need to remember this is a global marketplace. No one city or county has ‘got it.’”

More than $17 million was raised for an organization called Select Greater Philadelphia to promote the three state, 11-county region. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Atlanta has raised $50 million for the same purpose. Also unsettling is that Mercer County is just one of the 11 counties – the northernmost county — that this organization touts.

Some of the money helps court the 700 site selection consulting firms that virtually control corporate moves worldwide. Brandishing the Philadelphia name, Select Greater Philadelphia says that global companies shrug their shoulders at a mention of “Robbinsville” or “Bucks County,” but they perk up at a mention of “greater Philadelphia.”

Wait a minute, Greater Philadelphia folks. You are forgetting the huge name recognition that Princeton has in the area that some are trying to brand as Einstein’s Alley.

Maybe you sidestep the Princeton connection because much of the “greater Princeton area’ is out of your bailiwick — in Middlesex & Somerset counties? Or maybe you want the Robbinsvilles of the region to sign on to the Greater Philadelphia’s efforts, rather than clinging to the Greater Princeton region.

Given that Greater Philadelphia has $17 million, Greater Princeton has a small budget, and Einstein’s Alley has zilch, maybe that would be a smart choice after all. Or maybe New Jersey should rethink how much funding it gives to the Einstein’s Alley initiative.

No matter how you map it, a regional approach can help provide what Schweiker calls “political cover” for government officials when chauvinistic voters and churlish bloggers resist losing jobs to a neighboring state.

And this was a valuable conference. Tom Morr, CEO of Select Greater Philadelphia, offered two useful options. Go to him for demographics and stats on this region, second in size only to greater New York. For instance, the region from Princeton to Wilmington has 46 million people making an average wage of $54k and a total of $1.3 trillion in total income. “We have the research, contact us,” he says.

You can also sign up for Morr’s database of “ambassadors,” people he can call on to talk to prospective move-ins. For instance, if you are in HR, sign up to speak to your opposite number at a company that might move here. You have the local knowledge they need to make the decision to move here.

Select Greater Philadelphia will release its annual report at the 11 county, three state “State of the Region” breakfast on Friday, May 8, at 8 a.m. at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, 12th & Arch Streets.

Moderated by Tracey Matisak of WHYY, the panel included Charles Cascio of ETS who presented ETS’s report “America’s Perfect Storm,” , noting that in three hours, 400 U.S. students will drop out of high school.

Elizabeth Maher Muoio of the Mercer County Office of Economic Development and Sustainability, quoted stats saying that a 10 percent increase in capital brings a 3.4 percent increase in productivity, a 10 percent increase in hours brings a 6.3 increase in productivity, but a 10 percent increase in education results in an 11 percent increase in productivity.

Edward Kurocka of Mercer County Workforce Investment Board and OnSight Advisors, quoted the equation “Ability plus motivation equals performance,” and notes that if students don’t have motivation, the results are zero.

Do we need all hands on deck for this education storm? We do. But instead of the traditional tasks, bailing and battening down the hatches, we can each volunteer to mentor students to help them get ready for the workforce. One of of the top three factors in choosing a new corporate location is the availability of a skilled workforce. How, when, and where can we do this mentoring? I don’t know, but I’ll try to find out.

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