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Trump-GOP-UK meetings spark pride, soul-searching in corporate Philadelphia

CEOs welcome GOP, UK to cradle of US nationalism

Corporate leaders in Democratic-leaning Philadelphia - the first home of American nationalism - mixed their pride with a bit of soul-searching Wednesday as President Trump, Republican leaders, and British Prime Minister Theresa May prepared to arrive in the city for talks Thursday.

"To be in the limelight for the most high-profile meetings of his early presidency is terrific. It casts an international spotlight on our city again in a very positive way," said Judith M. von Seldeneck, chair of Diversified Search Inc., which recruits CEOs for companies. 

"But this is a `sanctuary city' " - Philadelphia limits cooperation with U.S. authorities in deporting illegal immigrants - "and it looks like the president is going after sanctuary cities, and that is something we don't need right now," von Seldeneck said. "Our reputation can turn on a dime. It's something we are going to have to get past."  

"I appreciate that he's coming to Philadelphia. I like to think it's a sign of outreach," said William R. Sasso, chairman of the law firm Stradley Ronon and a prominent Republican who counts Mayor Kenney and other Democrats as friends he can negotiate with.

"We're still in a wait-and-see mode on the incoming administration, and with the impact of Brexit on Europe," said B.J. Talley, spokesman for TE Connectivity, an electronics-parts manufacturer with more than 75,000 workers across Europe, Asia, and the Americas, including 3,500 at its Berwyn offices and former AMP plants in central Pennsylvania. 

"With operations all around the world, we deal with incoming and outgoing administrations all the time, and we continue to advocate for free trade as an engine for global growth," Talley added. TE shares topped $75 Wednesday, a record high, after the company reported higher-than-expected sales and profits.

In a statement, David L. Cohen, executive vice president of the Comcast Corp., said the Philadelphia-based media giant "looks forward to working with the Trump administration on shared goals such as creating a positive investment climate, investing in American infrastructure, and creating more jobs in the U.S." Cohen noted that Comcast's 171,000 employees are mostly U.S.-based, though the company also makes shows in the U.K. and elsewhere.

Philadelphia ought to have obvious appeal to the Trump movement: The city's history as the cradle of the Republic makes it symbolic of American nationalism, and "our blue-collar roots are the constituency their populist message is intended for," said Michael DiPiano, managing partner at the $1.6 billion-asset NewSpring Capital, the Radnor venture-investment firm.

"Regardless of one's politics, having the president's first trip outside of D.C., combined with the prime minister joining him, is fabulous," DiPiano added.

Richard Vague, a Center City banking and energy executive-turned-venture investor, philanthropist, and political donor, said: "As appalled as I am by many of the Trump developments, it seems like a positive to me to have a spotlight on our city," unless protesters "go too far." He added that Saturday's Women's March protests "were exemplary."

Trump's visit raises Philadelphia's profile, as Pope Francis' 2015 visit and last year's Democratic National Convention did, said Greg Redden, regional president at Wells Fargo, the largest bank in the Philadelphia market.

Citing the former factory city's recent focus on tourism and services, Redden said the visit helps advertise that "we are up to the task of providing a world-class experience. Whenever people come to the city to stay at our hotels, dine in our restaurants, and shop in our stores, it is a win for the local economy."

Philadelphia's "significance to the history of democracy is unrivaled, and these visits further highlight the city's ongoing importance on the world stage," said Daniel K. Fitzpatrick, president of Citizens Bank of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.

The GOP and U.K. convergence here speaks well of the region's "past and present" leadership, said Rob Werner, president of Ardent Federal Credit Union, whose members include residents of Philadelphia and its suburbs. "For all the inconveniences associated with a major event like this, it still should make all Philadelphians proud of the great hosts we have become."