(Photo by Flickr user sea turtle, used under a Creative Commons license)
What has a robust economy with a strong global presence, sustainable job growth and high wages all over? Hint: The answer isn’t quite Philadelphia.
At least, not yet.
According to the Greater Philadelphia Export Plan, cities with strong export economies boast higher levels of job growth. Businesses that export goods or services offer 20 percent higher wages and are 10 percent more likely to survive an economic recession.
Of the 10 largest metros in the U.S., Philadelphia had the lowest percentage of job growth from 2010 to 2015. The export plan, spearheaded by local nonprofits Economy League and World Trade Center Greater Philadelphia, aims to turn that around by rallying the business community around exports.
“All the other kids are doing it,” said Economy League Managing Director Josh Sevin earlier this month during the plan’s unveiling. “Relative to other metros, we haven’t necessarily been keeping pace.”
According to the report, all the pieces are in place for the local business community to thrive in the global economy.
“We have the educational institutions, a wonderful port and an airport, major infrastructure in terms of transit, and we have a really strong, smart workforce,” said Lauren Swartz, director of international business investment at the Department of Commerce. “We have the ingredients, we have the businesses, we have a lot of different sectors with very exportable products, but we’re not taking advantage of that.”
Building a strong export economy will take a collaborative effort within the business community and support from the public sector. So, why should nonprofits care?
Reason #1: Economic Health = Nonprofit Health
The strength of the local economy directly impacts the strength of local nonprofits and service providers.
It’s a system. Without employment opportunity, poverty rates and public spending rise — straining social service providers and clearing out funders’ coffers.
“If our businesses are growing and there’s more capital in the city and more people in jobs,” Swartz said, “that takes the pressure off of social service nonprofits and hopefully increases fundraising and development opportunities for nonprofits.”
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The business community, she said, is closely linked to the health of local philanthropy, and ultimately the health of the city at large.
Reason #2: Nonprofits Are Businesses, Too
The 501(c) model is an antiquated IRS label. Despite the misleading prefix, nonprofits need to make a profit to survive, and many do so by soliciting goods or services. Though the market is often local for nonprofits, some organizations will find themselves participating directly in the export plan depending on their mission.
“Some nonprofits might be serving or partnering with businesses, or they might even be trade-oriented themselves,” Swartz said. “Any trade association is a good example of that.”
Trade associations like Food Export, business-oriented organizations like the World Trade Center and employment service providers like the Welcoming Center are smack dab in the middle of the export plan.
Reason #3: The Millennial Workforce
It sounds like a stretch, but it comes down to this: Talent, talent, talent.
If nothing else, nonprofits should care about the export plan because of the young, competent talent a robust economy can retain and attract. Millennials, Swartz said, have the skills necessary to compete in a global economy.
“The millennial culture is so strong,” she said. “It’s one of our greatest assets.”
Plus, millennials are notably drawn to social mission, she pointed out. What they consume, where they work and what they do is more and more frequently impact-oriented.
And if job growth isn’t stimulated in Philadelphia soon, there’s a chance those talented socially conscious workers will leave the city in the droves they came in — and that talent void is just as bad for nonprofits as it is for the business community.
“I think the takeaway is that we have a huge opportunity — an outsized opportunity,” Swartz said. “The crops are ready to be harvested, and we have to find out what the tools are and agree to work together to turn these [international] business opportunities into economic growth and jobs for our own city.”