By Ned Rauch-Mannino
A new partnership sees a world of opportunity in the global marketplace for the Philadelphia region.
Following the release of the Brookings Institution's Export Nation analysis, the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia and the World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia have joined together to encourage and enable firms to pursue the vast - but still relatively underserved - international market.
The analysis finds the Philadelphia region ranking 10th in the nation in total exports. At $31.7 billion in economic impact, exports represent a little more than 9 percent of the regional economy: $1 for every $11 in the metro area is provided by an overseas customer. That's impressive, but the region's true export power has yet to be fully realized.
Brookings has sparked interest in exploring this potential, resulting in a collaboration between two of the area's best thought centers. This effort, the Greater Philadelphia Metro Export Plan, will combine the Economy League's broader analysis, strategy, and convening capabilities with the World Trade Center's deep trade expertise and connections to potential exporters.
This isn't an undertaking to be missed. Leveraging insights from its research, the export plan will propose a forward-looking, sustained approach to flex Philadelphia's strengths and establish a model for regional firms to follow. The nonprofit pairing will then focus on the small and medium firms hesitant to pursue a place in the global marketplace.
The Economy League's analysis of the Brookings data finds an annual export growth rate of 2.5 percent, a figure outpacing the annual gross metro product growth of 0.9 percent. If exports are outpacing regional growth, that underscores the market as a significant opportunity to build economic muscle.
Furthermore, the region is far from reaching its export ceiling. Considering that 95 percent of the world's consumers live beyond the United States and only 5 percent of U.S. companies export - and among those that do, 58 percent export to only one market - there is ample room for growth.
Increased exports make for a distinct goal and are that much more important to our region's competitiveness. Export intensity growth perpetuates the next export opportunity: new shipping lanes, foreign direct investment, business attraction and relocation, enhanced international reputation, and greater global interest are long-term objectives.
The global marketplace holds tremendous value for our workforce, with Brookings tallying 104,000 direct jobs supported by exports, as well as an additional 89,000 associated. The export-driven workforce pipeline includes occupations in agriculture, manufacturing, labor trades, sales and marketing, finance, hospitality, health care, and logistics, among others, demonstrating an ability to affect multiple sectors.
The initiative's early goals focus on business community interest. Many firms assume their products or services are not exportable. Firms may view the process as too daunting, logistically cumbersome, time-consuming, or expensive. These common concerns unnecessarily constrain the ambitions of entrepreneurs, stemming export growth before initial inquiries are even made.
More than 2,300 cargo ships are visiting the region's Delaware River ports, according to the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority (PRPA), having delivered more than 50 million tons of cargo in 2014. The PRPA also estimates an approximate 75-25 import-export ratio, further underlining the opportunity for businesses to send ships that are once again full to foreign ports. Inquiries should be made, and the PRPA and its counterparts offer a full suite of technical resources to provide considerable, dedicated assistance to motivated companies.
The export plan aims to become that engine for motivation. Armed with a catalogue of success stories from peer firms and willing to tailor its strategies to participants, the initiative considers business community communication its most critical component. As the initiative assembles its data, regional leaders are urged to consider their role in the effort.
The partnership is gaining a stronger understanding of the $31.7 billion export economy and continuing to field insights from firms already exporting and those curious about marketplace prospects. Cumulatively, the first phase of this effort will fuel a deliberate export agenda and intends to be accessible to interested partners during the entire process.
This effort will be successful only with the participation of the business community. Preparing firms to take advantage of a tremendous global opportunity, the export plan is something regional firms should be following - ideally, to a marketplace that's open for business.