Heightened Global Engagement And Increased Business Prospects

By John F. Smith - The Philadelphia Region has never been a stranger to the international stage. Swedish, Finnish, Dutch, and English settlers were the first to join the Delaware Indians living at the junction of the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers. After William Penn formally founded the Pennsylvania Colony, Philadelphia grew to be an important port for trade between the Old and New Worlds. The Declaration of Independence and Constitution that were drafted here shook England, then the most powerful nation on Earth, and paved the way for democratic movements in foreign lands. Philadelphia’s Consular Corps is the oldest in the country, reflecting its early leadership in international relations. Following the Civil War, the City became one of the world’s industrial powerhouses and later, its munitions and Naval Shipyard helped win a war.


Past and present

Alas, this upward trajectory was not to continue uninterrupted. Philadelphia’s loss of population, manufacturing base, and jobs – and some would say its nerve – after World War II has been well documented. Overshadowed for a time by Washington, D.C., and New York, the City’s post-war successes, ranging from the restoration of its historic core to the rise of its university, scientific and cultural communities to the reorientation of its economy, went largely unrecognized by the global audience.

Today, the pendulum is swinging back in Philadelphia’s favor. For the Region to fully realize its promise, however, two things will need to happen. First, as the Chamber of Commerce, the Economy League and others have advocated we must strengthen our business, infrastructure, and human capital so that these assets meet or surpass the world’s standards. Making them “world class” has become an important rallying cry.


Second, we must be equally worldly in the way in which we extend, message and think about ourselves. This includes tapping into and developing new ties with our many ethnic and cultural communities, improving our international lines of communication, seeking out opportunities to be seen and heard in a busy and cacophonous world, and investing in the many organizations that serve as the Region’s “global gateways.” We must, in short, do a better job of engaging with the world.


Recognition of this latter need led in 2010 to the creation of the Global Philadelphia Association. Founded by a group of organizations and individuals who were at once visionary and practical, Global Philadelphia has become a diverse and growing consortium of over 140 governmental entities, businesses, civic organizations, colleges and universities and internationally minded citizens. It’s devoted to supporting and bringing together the many international stakeholders in Greater Philadelphia, enhancing the Region’s international awareness and radically enhancing its global profile.

A new agenda

If Greater Philadelphia can both elevate its assets and more effectively engage with the world, a huge payoff awaits in terms of visitors, convention trade, business investment, attraction of international events, enhanced attendance by international students at our colleges and universities, development of international markets and growth in cross-border trade. Pulling these two strands together is therefore among the most pressing items on the Region’s business agenda.

Global Philadelphia is doing its part:

• In fall 2013, the Association presented GlobalPhilly 2013, the first international exposition held in the City for over a century. It featured 122 events and attracted tens of thousands of visitors.

• To promote a deeper understanding of world events and the involvement of a new generation, we created an Emerging International Journalists Program (EIJP), through which college students serve as “stringers” in a growing journalistic effort to tell the City’s international story.

• The Association is preparing an international resource guide for our Region. The “Philly Navigator” will feature the broad spectrum of businesses and organizations that are engaged in international activity, provide contact information and valuable insights into their work and programs, include a roster of expertise in numerous international fields, and contain articles and analyses of what makes Philadelphia “global.”

• Over the last two years, Global Philadelphia and Mayor Michael Nutter have worked together to gain recognition of Philadelphia as a “World Heritage City.” Although over 250 cities around the world have this designation, no U. S. City is among them. In June 2013, Philadelphia became the first American City to become an Observer Member of the Organization of World Heritage Cities. The Association and the Mayor have prepared an initial application for full membership in the OWHC and will be filing a more detailed application for recognition by UNESCO as well. In recognition of this initiative, Philadelphia City Council passed an ordinance in July that will lead to the re-naming of the 500-block of Walnut Street as “World Heritage Way” on September 8, calling attention to adjacent World Heritage Site, Independence Hall, and enhance awareness of the City’s claim to World Heritage City status.

While Global Philadelphia has made remarkable progress, new opportunities to engage with the world and advance our Region’s future are just around the corner. We invite you to join with us in discovering and taking advantage of them.

John F. Smith is Of Counsel at Reed Smith and the Board Chair of the Global Philadelphia Association.