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Philadelphia is down, but not out in this recession

The Brookings Institution ranks the 100 largest metro areas and finds Philadelphia the 37th strongest. San Antonio was No. 1.

The region's economy has reacted to the recession more like it's had a tank of bad gasoline rather than it needs a new transmission.

That's my interpretation of a new quarterly barometer of the health of the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas by the Brookings Institution.

San Antonio, Texas, was the strongest metro area, while Detroit was the weakest, according to Brookings' MetroMonitor report. Philadelphia was the 37th strongest, which won't cause anyone to adopt it as the new economic development slogan.

To produce its ranking, the Washington think tank considered four statistics that describe economic performance: the change in employment from the peak quarter, the one-year change in unemployment rate, the change in gross metropolitan product from the peak quarter, and the one-year change in housing prices.

Howard Wial, an economist and Brookings fellow, said he was a bit surprised at the uniform strength of Texas, which placed five areas among the 10 strongest.

Also, the data revealed that not all manufacturing is the same. Any metro area with a concentration in the automotive industry was hurt badly. Wial noted that the loss of manufacturing jobs overall was 15 percent over the last year, while the job loss in the auto sector alone was 40 percent.

Once again, the Philadelphia region's diverse economy has insulated it during a recession. As Brookings repeats its MetroMonitor report in future quarters, we'll be able to track how the region responds when the national economy shifts into higher gear.

New wrinkle

Three months ago, I wrote about Isolagen Inc., which had just submitted to the Food and Drug Administration an application seeking approval of its wrinkle treatment.

The Exton company had a big problem: It was running out of money and suggested that it could go bankrupt.

It did just that on Monday, when it filed for Chapter 11 in bankruptcy court in Delaware, listing debts of $88 million and assets of zero.

The question is: When the FDA completes its review of its treatment next January, will a reorganized Isolagen be around to hear the news?