As you might have heard, the British have history in these parts.

But it was the last two decades of business dealings between this region and the United Kingdom that were being celebrated at the British American Business Council of Greater Philadelphia's 20-year anniversary lunch Wednesday at the Ritz-Carlton, in the shadow of William Penn's statue atop City Hall.

The London-born Penn's missions to the Netherlands and Germany in the 1670s helped persuade families there to move here. The BABC's local branch was founded to do more or less the same thing, though commercial proselytizing can also translate into business going the other way, especially in this Internet-connected global economy. The group exists mainly so executives can shake hands, kibitz, and swap business cards.

"This is a member-driven organization, and our primary goal is to facilitate networking, so people can meet new people," said president Hope Krebs, whose day job is partner and cochair of the international-practice group at Duane Morris L.L.P., one of Philadelphia's biggest law firms, with an office in London, among other foreign cities.

Sixty-five companies, big and small, are members, with annual dues of $550, $1,250, and $2,500, based on number of employees and willingness to commit time and effort. Individuals can join for $250.

Sometimes, the members are competitors. British Airways, US Airways, and United Airlines are among the 17 Club Level members. So are law firms (Morgan Lewis, Drinker Biddle and Duane Morris), banks (HSBC and TD Bank), pharmaceutical companies (GlaxoSmithKline and Shire), and consultant groups (Deloitte and Ernst & Young, KPMG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers).

Executive director Jane Rosenberg makes sure to have only one from each group sponsor an event. "Everyone plays together really well," she said.

Still, British Airways' Anthony Slade, a sponsor Wednesday, got the microphone long enough to offer help to the US Airways table about speaking proper English.

Goody bags included dictionaries for translating British English to American English, and vice versa. Though that sort of thing provides a never-ending source of comic material, it can make for a serious, money-losing issue if a business picks the wrong word.

That's why Regina Taicher attended the luncheon. She works for AmeriClic Language Services, of Wayne. Large multinational companies outsource many things, including translation services, and BABC networking gives Taicher contact with folks who need the correct word or can be a referral.

"A word may be very different in another language, and we've seen a lot of companies lose a tremendous amount of money with that," she said.

Newly installed British Consul General Danny Lopez noted that BABC member Aramark had won the rights to feed athletes at the Summer Olympics in London next year, and that two of a group of British media-technology companies had toured the area recently and were interested enough that Mayor Nutter met with them.

"This is all about business, jobs, and economic development," Nutter said, declining to name the companies, before delivering remarks that included a passing reference to some "disruptive" matters back in the 1770s.

"It's also about raising the international profile of the city of Philadelphia," he said.

Oliver Franklin, vice chairman of Electronic Ink, also serves as honorary British consul in Philadelphia. He advised small-business owners seeking to sell wares in England to start by calling the BABC, which will put them in touch with British agencies, and not to follow American corporate habits.

"Unlike Americans, British people know how to use government to advance their economic interests," said Franklin, an American citizen with an Oxford education.

"An American company will go abroad, and the only time they call the U.S. Consulate is when they are in trouble, he said. "Before the British go abroad, they sit down with relevant agencies and say, 'Here's what we're thinking.' Then those agencies, which have all the data, provide the data to help them make a decision."

Contact staff writer David Sell
at dsell@phillynews.com or 215-854-4506. Read his blog at www.philly.com/phillypharma and on Twitter @phillypharma.