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Fulfillment in Philadelphia Featured

7:36am EDT October 29, 2004
Mark Schweiker wants to give people something to talk about -- and he hopes the buzz will center on Greater Philadelphia's opportunistic business climate.

"We have always been known as a region that makes things and makes them well, from locomotives decades ago to life-saving vaccines in this day and age," says the president and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce (GPCC).

Armed with a comprehensive, modern marketing plan and an aggressive business advocacy platform, he is guiding the city's business community through a critical economic development juncture. Life science and technology are the city's green lights for growth.

"Whether it is Comcast being a major corporate force in the creative and cable world or the burgeoning life sciences sector, there is plenty going on," says Schweiker, who entered the business world and advanced to positions at Merrill Lynch and McGraw Hill before launching a management consulting firm.

Stepping off of a term as the state's 44th governor in 2003, Schweiker transferred his work force development strengths to the GPCC, romancing new business and entertaining long-time leaders with benefits they can take back to their businesses. Philadelphia offers a wealth of workday and after-hours options for residents, he says, and MTV showcases plenty of its social highlights on this season's The Real World.

"Philadelphia is the fourth most powerful region in the country as far as regional domestic product," he says. "There is no trade-off here. You can have an exciting career and a beautiful quality of life. It's not one or the other."

Smart Business spoke with Schweiker about how his organization benefits the Greater Philadelphia region.

 

What factors shape the way Philadelphians conduct business today?

 

The biggest change that hits everyone in the face, whether they are front-line employees or CFOs, is that hyperspeed defines all that we do. Speed marketing when it comes to product introductions, speed when it comes to using the fastest mode of transportation and speed to chase business.

Also important is the prevalence of technology, particularly in manufacturing. Whether it's life-saving bio-applications or the construction of ships, the heavy dependence on technology is remarkable.

 

How does technology place demands on an organization like the GPCC?

 

The demands are twofold. When a region excels in [technology], we need to shout to the world that there is no need to look further than Greater Philadelphia if you are looking for dependable employees with [information technology] skill sets. We need to make that part of our branding campaign.

Also, we want to make sure the companies we court become members of the chamber. They might not be conventional businesses, such as smokestack manufacturing. They may produce an IT concept that leads to plant security. This will change how we romance and recruit new members.

 

How does the GPCC serve its members?

 

Our business model breaks out into three areas. One is member services. The second is issue advancement in the public policy realm. Third is economy-building. The marketing campaign is a subset of the economy-building aspect.

Member services is the traditional work of the chamber. This could include professional development workshops or seminars on how to introduce diversity into the workplace, for example. Issue advancement is working in the state capitol or city hall to improve the tax model. That is an everyday preoccupation of ours, and we are having some success at it. Economy-building includes Select Greater Philadelphia, our marketing strategy.

We have to make ourselves more affordable and we will win the economic fight. We have formed solid relationships with our elected officials in city council and with the mayor, and that has been where we have been successful in lowering tax-related costs.

Entrepreneurs work 24/7 to build their enterprises. They often don't have time to get city council to espouse their points of view. That is where we fill in, and it's part of the value proposition of a strong business advocacy group like ours.

 

How does the GPCC cater to the needs of both small businesses and large corporations?

 

Forty-five percent of our members have employee counts of six and below. We provide an attractive benefits package through our insurance affiliate for these members so they are able to offer an affordable package to their employees. Also, we are advocates for these members through a small business advisory group. Civic-minded business leaders in the region gather and represent that group, and that is a way for us to keep our ears to the proverbial ground.

In 2004, health care probably rivals taxation as the No. 1 concern for small businesses. There is a lot involved with health care, and that is a primary concern for small business owners. One example is malpractice insurance costs that can drive doctors out of the region.

There is a great deal of overlap between the wants and needs of small and large business owners, but there are moments when there are vastly different interests. We channel the interests of larger firms through a unique group called the CEO Council for Growth. This emphasizes economic growth not only in Philadelphia but for the entire region, and the CEOs come from the region's major corporations.

 

What efforts is the GPCC spearheading to promote Philadelphia's strength in the life sciences sector?

 

Our success in medical and bio-tech research is not something that has evolved of late. In this region and city, we've been doing [bio-medical research] for more than 200 years. The country's first hospital was here, founded by Ben Franklin. The first mechanical assistance employed in the repair of a heart occurred in this city. Life sciences is a long-standing proficiency for Philadelphia, and we will help grow that industry sector so we have double-digit growth rates.

Working together and promoting this region can help us take our growth in this sector from 6 (percent) to 7 percent growth to close to 20 percent. We are already a mecca for such research and economic activity, but we can be even more influential.

The BIO 2005 International Biotechnology Convention & Exhibition is coming next June to this region to hold its global conference. Eighty percent of the world's pharmaceutical companies are in this region, and we are one of the most robust areas in the world when it comes to life science, bio-tech research and commercial success. What better place for the world's leaders, thinkers and researchers to discuss that industry than here?

We will host more than 20,000 corporate leaders who make decisions on where to plant their companies and operations. We need to be ready to court them and lock in deals that will help our regional economy grow. That is an example of how a winning region will carry itself proactively.

Before you develop market share, you have to acquire mindshare. We need to be in the minds of these influential corporate leaders in the industry sector that happens to be our sweet spot. And one way to acquire mindshare early on is to romance them with BIO 2005 -- court them, bring them in and acquire mindshare.

 

Describe the marketing tactics the chamber employs to communicate that Philadelphia truly is the 'sweet spot.'

 

This region is in the economic fight of its life, and if we are going to win and hold on to the companies we have and lure in new ones, the way to do that is not just to mention our economic and business assets. We need to shout to the world how robust and well-endowed we are. We need to promote them through a modern business marketing campaign, and it is called Select Greater Philadelphia.

The campaign is a four-year, $16-million model, and it is meant to accomplish two things. One is to promote and brand the region as a rewarding place to do business. The other aspect is business development, and it's not just about promoting, advertising, going to conferences or approaching corporate real estate professionals. It's also about when you have a lead, how do you bring in that company and turn it into an operating firm with jobs and paychecks for our area residents?

Winning regions promote themselves. We have been at it a little more than a year, and we are bringing in an average of $1 million a month [to support the effort]. The business community is stepping up and supporting our campaign.

 

How to reach: Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, (215) 545-1234, www.philachamber.com