Submitted by: Lauren Hirshon, Director of Consulting at the Fels Institute of Government

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Despite the snow and cold, the banquet hall of the Marriott was packed with many of Philadelphia’s movers and shakers.  Virtually every member of City Council was in attendance; top gubernatorial staffers were there; and, of course the city’s elite business leaders from start-ups to fortune 500s were rubbing shoulders.

What brought over 1,000 members of the Greater Philadelphia community out in the midst of a seemingly never-ending winter?  It was a prime opportunity to listen to Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter address the most important issues impacting the City and outline his top priorities for 2014.

He began by thanking the audience – people who drive the economy and all share a deep passion for our City.  Together, he noted, we’ve navigated through the rough waters of the recession, growing Philadelphia into a modern city.  Nutter highlighted the unprecedented commercial and residential development, described revitalization efforts, and spoke about new supports that were established for start-ups and entrepreneurs.

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The City’s population growth (after a six year decline), decrease in crime, strong budget performance resulting in an “A” municipal rating from all three rating agencies, and momentum around new and growing industries have all established a strong foundation that has put Philadelphia on a path to prosperity.  The new “21st Century Think Space” Comcast Building will create jobs and solidify Philadelphia as a powerhouse in technology and innovation.  The efforts in the Navy Yard and elsewhere have positioned the city to be a leading energy hub in the U.S.  And, the airport expansion sends a clear message around the country and the world that Philadelphia is open for business.

Confidence in Philadelphia is growing.  However, despite this tremendous progress and potential, there is still work to be done.  Nutter spoke about the possibility of selling PGW to protect the city’s financial stability.  He highlighted the work of his Manufacturing Task Force to establish a growth strategy to help that sector rebound.  He talked about the new Shared Prosperity initiative to address the cycle of poverty in a city where crime is still too high, too many people lack decent healthcare, returning citizens can’t find jobs, families suffer from hunger, and 25 percent of the population is in poverty.

In his words, education is the answer.  “Solving the education problem must be a business and economic development imperative.”   Access to high quality education is the civil rights issue of the 21st century.  It’s a today problem that will ensure we have a pool of bright and talented workers for the future.

As he spoke, he encouraged the full group to join him in the fight for our future.  “My enthusiasm is unstoppable.  I know we’re a great city.”

As I made my way back out into the cold, this message inspired me.  I thought about the role we could play, as young professionals, in this endeavor.  I reflected on his call to action to urge the Commonwealth to make education funding a top priority.  That’s doable.   I remembered his request to support WorkReady in the organization’s effort to provide summer internships for high school students.  We’re on top of that (look for info soon on the upcoming YPN fundraiser!).

Together, we can continue to grow this city.  We’re on the right path, but we all have an important role to play as a partner in this work.

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