Increasing the Greater Philadelphia region’s export intensity could bring billions of dollars in new economic activity and nearly 40,000 additional jobs to the region, which has persistently lagged in economic growth, according to a new plan devised by business leaders in the region.

Philadelphia had the slowest employment growth between 2010 and 2015, making it the slowest-growing economy among the 10 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, according a report unveiled Wednesday by the Economy League and the World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia, citing data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“This stubbornly sluggish growth has kept Greater Philadelphia from realizing its greatest potential and left its communities with fewer resources to ensure prosperity and opportunity for all,” according to the plan.

The export plan is a year-long effort led by the Economy League and the World Trade Center, which brought together economic development and trade experts in the region to develop a “customized strategy for export-led growth.”

“I don’t want to say that all the kids are doing it, but all the kids are doing it,”Josh Sevin, managing director of regional engagement at the Economy League, said Wednesday, referencing a slide showing export plans for Los Angeles, Phoenix and other major cities.

“We have grown [employment since 2010],” Sevin said, “but we’re growing at a slower rate than other East Coast areas, like Boston and New York. That’s why this is so urgent.”

Here are other findings in the report:

  • The region has maintained a competitive advantage in several specialized manufacturing industries — including precision instruments and aircraft products and parts — despite an overall decline in manufacturing.
  • The region experienced recent export growth in leading service sectors — including research-and-development services, education and health care — with potential for more expansion.
  • Small- and mid-sized companies have limited awareness of existing export services.
  • There are gaps or weak links in Philadelphia’s export support system

The plan found that increasing the Philadelphia region’s export intensity “to the average for the 100 largest U.S. metros” would translate to $6.3 billion in new economic activity annually and create an additional 35,000 jobs.

Dave Whitman, president and CEO of Sunhillo Corp. in West Berlin, N.J., which makes high-tech products for air traffic control centers, said his company reached a place where the only real growth opportunity was international.

He said other companies can learn from his experience, which was helped by the many resources available to Greater Philadelphia companies looking to export.

“We were in almost every [FAA-regulated airport] we could be in here, so we had to look elsewhere, ” he said.
Sunhillo Corp. products are now widely used globally.
Michael Strange, president of Philadelphia’s Bassetts Ice Cream Co., also spoke Wednesday about his experience exporting to the international market like China, and how that relationship has created opportunities for the company’s domestic market, including the introduction of new products like green tea ice cream.

Bassetts’ international business makes up almost 20 percent of the company’s total revenue, Strange told the Business Journal last year.

Along with increasing the region’s export intensity, two other objectives of the export plan are: increasing the number of identified new exporting firms in the region by 10 percent within five years; and elevating exports as a “top-of-mind economic development priority” among leaders in the region within three years.

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