“We’ll be stronger because of regionalism."
A legal eagle with a tremendous wingspan, Bill Sasso oversees about 200 lawyers at Stradley, Ronon, Stevens & Young L.L.P., known for representing banks, insurance companies, the mutual fund industry, and Tasty Baking Co., among others.
He is a past chairman of the board at the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and now heads the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation. Awarded a papal knighthood by Pope John Paul II, Sasso has not exercised his option to buy either the robes or the sword to which the honor entitles him.
His 10-year vision for the region's economy:
A well-oiled regional machine, Hemi-powered by Comcast.
"We're in a unique position in that the business community has become very proactive at a time when the city and regional state governments are also becoming proactive and thinking about a regional economy - as opposed to a Philadelphia economy or a South Jersey economy or a Delaware economy.
"We'll be stronger because of regionalism and stronger because there's a movement afoot to bring the private sector, the public sector and the nonprofits together. For example, the largest employer in the region is the University of Pennsylvania, and they have terrific health-care facilities and life-sciences facilities. You now have the private sector, through the CEO Council for Growth and the Chamber of Commerce, promoting that to pharmaceutical companies, trying to facilitate more businesses moving in.
"And you've got the local governments finally - finally - in tune with the fact that we have to create the right kind of tax climate.
"I think we have some good opportunities to capitalize on as well: the communications industry, for example. Lockheed Martin is a leader in global-positioning satellites. That's a company that people don't think about too often, but they've got 12,000 employees in the region, and one of their primary focuses, in addition to the work they do in the area of defense, is communications. And with Comcast locating its headquarters here, I see Philadelphia as being a hub for the communications industry.
"And I know that with David Cohen, a major executive at Comcast, becoming chairman of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, he's going to be a guy that can use the clout of a Comcast to encourage vendors and other companies in the communications industry to also consider Philadelphia as a place to do business.
"If you talk to people at the CEO Council for Growth or the Chamber, the theme that we talk about all the time is, 'Who do we have that we could build around?'
"Comcast is an obvious one. What vendors are there for Comcast that might consider locating in this region and being near one of the largest purchases of their services? When you think about the fact that Lockheed is also in the communications industry - a different form of communications, but they're doing the same thing - it's a foundation upon which you can build."
Three steps to get there:
1. Growthwise, keep on Nuttering on. "I'm especially grateful for our mayor's interest in the business community and developing jobs on a regional basis," Sasso said. "He's made visits to South Jersey, Delaware, Harrisburg. He is really in tune to the fact that in order to develop, we have to take a regional approach as opposed to a city approach."
2. Reach out to the re-lo industry. "One thing we haven't done until recently, with the CEO Council for Growth, is getting out there and promoting the region on a national and an international level," Sasso said. "There's a whole industry of consultants that facilitate companies moving to different locations. They have annual conventions and everything, and Philadelphia was the one major city that had never participated - never had a booth."
3. Leverage eds and meds. Repeat with chemicals. "We have to develop partnerships with the nonprofit community, which is very significant here - especially in education and health care," Sasso said.
Similarly, he noted, "Dow Chemical has promised to keep the Rohm & Haas operations and their businesses part of its focus here. We have to consider how to capitalize on that, and again develop a private-public partnership."