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Pitching Philadelphia to corporate leaders

Select Greater Philadelphia projects the knowledge economy will be the engine of the region's growth for the next 15 years.

Select Greater Philadelphia has the challenge of selling this region and its strengths to companies considering relocation.

On Friday, this arm of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce unveiled this year's pitch in 40 slick pages of charticles and colorful pictures.

It's a little breathless in describing the region as having a "deep-rooted culture of innovation that steadily catapults itself toward the forefront of technology."

An example of that? Page 13 of the report offers ENIAC, the world's first digital computer developed at the University of Pennsylvania.

I suggest that next year they drop that reference. The last time I checked Silicon Valley, the center of the computer universe, was in a different time zone. ENIAC to me will always represent lost opportunity.

The audience for this report isn't really Philadelphians, but the people who decide where to locate new divisions or whole companies. (You can bet they're not running their cost analyses on an ENIAC computer.)

I found it interesting that Select Greater Philadelphia seems to put the future of all of the region's eggs in one economic basket: the "knowledge economy." That's vaguely described as the following sectors: education and health services, professional and business services and financial activities and information.

From this knowledge economy, Select Greater Philadelphia does pick one industry as the region's No. 1: life-sciences. (Think: biotechnology, pharmaceutical and health care.)

At 55,900 workers, life-sciences is huge here. What goes up, though, can come down. Big Pharma continues to struggles to replace its blockbuster drugs. Already, Merck, Wyeth and others are laying off hundreds from their salesforces.

And the never-ending rise in the cost of the health care must have a breaking point. When the United States reaches it, our knowledge economy may get a migraine.

Fuelish Move

USA 3000, the Newtown Square-based carrier that serves mostly leisure travelers, is ending flights to Ft. Lauderdale and St. Petersburg, Fla. from Philadelphia after Aug. 19 because of soaring fuel costs.

The airline, an affiliate of Apple Vacations, will still fly to Fort Myers, Fla., and in October will add extra flights to Ft. Myers.

Unless jet fuel drops back to $80 a barrel, the airline will likely not resume its three flights a week from Philadelphia International Airport to Ft. Lauderdale and to St. Petersburg.

"With today's very high fuel prices, and the ticket prices in the marketplace, it's just not a profitable enterprise," said chief executive officer Angus Kinnear.

Jet fuel now tops $125 per barrel.

"If fuel prices wane in the future, we'll look at them again," he said.

Founded in 2000, USA 3000 flies out of Terminal A-East here. It will continue flights to Mexico and the Caribbean, its major markets, from Philadelphia.

"We traditionally have a fall-off in demand for Florida in the fall," Kinnear said. "We're concerned the amount of traffic that usually falls off will be greater this year" because higher fares will keep some from flying.

Three other airlines now fly from Philadelphia to Ft. Lauderdale and St. Petersburg, driving down fares, Kinnear said. "There's too much capacity, too many seats chasing too few passengers." - Linda Loyd

Restore the Core

The 2008 State of Center City report, issued last week, documented the ongoing shine of Philadelphia's core.

The number of stores and restaurants increased in 2007. Employment in Center City generated $14.8 billion in salaries.

Produced by the Center City District, the report does a great job documenting the changes that have been remaking the blocks surrounding City Hall. And it also doesn't shy away from what remains Philadelphia's Achilles' heel: job growth.

Private-sector employment in Philadelphia did rise to 556,500 in 2007, up from 553,500 the previous year. But it's still well below the 576,300 employed in 2000.

You could argue that the region is often slow to recover from recessions. And that's true. However, the seven suburban counties bounced back faster. Private-sector employers in the burbs added 78,500 jobs between 2000 and 2007.

If we're in a recession now, will job growth stagnate again in the city?

Annual Meetings

This week's shareholders meetings:

CDI, Healthcare Services Group, Kenexa, Polonia Bancorp, QNB, Quigley, Rait Financial Trust, SEI Investments, Urban Outfitters (Tuesday.)

Jones Apparel Group, PPL, Royal Bancshares of Pennsylvania, Universal Health Services (Wednesday.)

Adolor, Beneficial Mutual, Cephalon, Constar International, Dorman Products, Fox Chase Bancorp, Hersha Hospitality, Incyte, Marlin Business Services, PolyMedix, Radian (Thursday.)

United America Indemnity, ViroPharma (Friday.)