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Go sell it: Export globally to grow sales and jobs, plan for region urges

Floating tantalizing growth prospects, including $6.3 billion in new sales each year and 35,000 additional jobs, economic-development officials Wednesday released a three-year export plan for the Philadelphia region.

Floating tantalizing growth prospects, including $6.3 billion in new sales each year and 35,000 additional jobs, economic-development officials Wednesday released a three-year export plan for the Philadelphia region.

"If we ask ourselves how Greater Philadelphia is going to grow, going global has to be a big part of it," the 28-page plan, "Selling to the World," states on its opening page. The full report is available at

Prepared by the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia and the World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia, it was the cornerstone of Wednesday's World Class Business Growth Forum at WHYY. The plan identifies a three-prong approach to achieving a more dynamic export economy:

  1. Build export awareness and capacity among the region's small and mid-sized businesses.

  2. Catalyze export growth in the region's health and professional-services clusters.

  3. Strengthen and enhance coordination of the region's export-assistance providers.

It also sets three primary objectives:

  1. Increase this region's export intensity to match or exceed the average for the top 100 U.S. metros within five years.

  2. Increase the number of identified new exporting firms in the area by 10 percent within five years.

  3. Elevate exports as a "top-of-mind" economic-development priority among regional leaders within three years.

A global trade and investment alliance has been formed to raise $1 million to implement key elements of the export plan over the next two years.

"We have an incredible opportunity here if we get together . . . and say we're really going to take this challenge," Linda Mysliwy Conlin, president of the World Trade Center, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that helps companies export, told the 225 economic-development and government officials and business owners who attended the export plan's unveiling.

It was 15 months in the making, starting with a market assessment conducted by the Economy League and the World Trade Center, with assistance from Drexel University's LeBow College of Business and new data from the Brookings Institution. That study was detailed in Sunday's Inquirer.

"There really is a harrowing starting point around this," Josh Sevin, the Economy League's managing director for regional engagement, told export forum attendees.

Sevin opened with a PowerPoint slide showing the Philadelphia metropolitan area as the slowest-growing economy among the 10 largest U.S. metros, increasing its job base by only 4.5 percent since 2010.

In what growth there has been, exporting has played a key role, Sevin said, noting that over the last decade exports from businesses in Southeastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey and northern Delaware have grown almost three times as fast as the region's economy. In 2014, the most recent year for which Brookings data were available, the region had $32 billion in export sales, which sustained 201,000 jobs, says "Selling to the World."

Still, Philadelphia ranks 82nd of the 100 largest metros and last out of the 10 largest for annual export growth since 2003, according to the assessment.

"We really need some large-scale sustainable growth efforts," said Sevin, insisting that more exporting "has to be part of the equation ... All the other kids are doing it."

An estimated 1 percent of area companies are exporting. In 2014, the top five industries by export value were chemical manufacturing, financial services, travel and tourism, technology, and transportation equipment, the market study found.

"This is a critical priority for us," Harold Epps, Philadelphia's newly appointed director of commerce, said on a panel at Wednesday's forum. "Right now, we're not first. We have to catch up."

To help, the Kenney administration has named a new director of international business investment, Lauren Swartz, who starts Friday. She formerly was deputy director at Philadelphia-based Food Export USA-Northeast, which offers international trade-development services to U.S. exporters.

Sustaining and expanding export service is among six policy priorities identified in "Selling to the World." The others are investing in the region as an energy hub, increasing airport capacity and direct international flights, improving metro-level export data, expanding regional port capacity, and easing access to foreign markets.

Eliciting a "wow" from the audience was Mike Strange, president of Bassetts Ice Cream Co., when he disclosed that eight years after shipping the first container of frozen dessert to China, the Philadelphia-based firm sells more ice cream there than to "any other single customer."

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By the Numbers

Share of global purchasing power outside the U.S.

Share of U.S. economic growth via exports from 2008 to 2014

Jobs created per every $1 billion in new exports

Share of U.S. firms exporting

Source: "Selling to the World," Economy League of Greater Philadelphia and World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia

Riding the Export Wave

Bradford White, Ambler, manufacturer of water heaters, sells to China, Saudi Arabia, and Arab Gulf countries.

Philadelphia International Medicine, Philadelphia, connects international patients and health-care providers with local medical institutions in Saudi Arabia, Arab Gulf countries, Brazil, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

Metal Edge International Inc., North Wales, designs and manufactures custom metal edge packaging solutions worldwide, with sales in Western Europe, Poland, and China.

UCombination/Nighthawk Tours, Wayne, produces software technology used in tourism and hospitality industries in China and Spain.

Julian Krinsky Camps & Programs, King of Prussia, offers summer camps in 40 countries, including Italy, Germany, France, Brazil, China, and South Korea.

Litecure, Newark, Del., manufactures medical laser technology, serving 43 countries including Iceland, Japan, India, China, Malaysia, Thailand, and Australia.

Source: World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia