Editor’s note: The September issue of Grid went to press before the events of Hurricane Harvey. Our thoughts are with those affected by the tragedy in Houston.
"Philadelphia is the new Houston” doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Philadelphia is the new Silicon Valley,” although we’re of the opinion that Philadelphia is just fine as Philadelphia: We don’t need to be shaped or branded in someone else’s image.
But when plans for a petrochemical hub were emerging from South Philadelphia out of the bowels of Philadelphia Energy Solutions, formerly the Sunoco Refinery, one of the things the Grid office was buzzing about was how many jobs would actually be created—and who would get them. The city needs to continue to focus on economic development, but what kind of economic development? Will it ruin our environmental cred? What do we want to be known for?
That’s why we’re glad to see that plans for a proposed “energy hub” may have dissipated but that Philadelphia’s tech and startup scene is positively booming. Just like rivers, full-blown companies are starting as pinpricks in someone’s heart all around town. Maybe it was an idea born from collaboration at one of the city’s many co-working spaces (we’re looking at you, N3rd Street). Maybe it was a love at first sight at a Philly Tech Week educational event or an idea pitched through the Institute of Hip Hop Entrepreneurship.
No matter when or where lightning hit the key on the kite, more and more people are choosing to align their values with their business ideas. The idea for an official Benefit Corporation that takes into account not just profits but community impact? Made in Philly (Thanks, B-Lab!). Leading the charge on getting more girls in the tech-and-maker game? Great job, Girl Develop It, Girls Who Code and The Hacktory.
These pipelines are important. According to the Economy League, we’re going in the right direction with tech jobs, but attention to the composition of our workforce will be important. Their survey numbers don’t lie: Only 26 percent of regional tech jobs are held by women, and black IT employees make up only 10 percent of the workforce—for Latinos it’s only 4 percent.
And then there’s the cadre of get-it-to-scale venture capital companies, incubators and accelerators such as Ben Franklin Technology Partners and the University City Science Center, working together under big umbrellas such as Impact PHL, or the new Pennovation Center. The overall trend is more innovation and more tech firms driving our economic engine, just as it has for the past decade.
It also bodes well that companies that weren’t born here but choose to call us home—GlaxoSmithKline, Google and Tesla among them—will act as a siren call for others to locate their workforces in one of the most livable cities in America. Tech jobs and innovation: made in Philly.
According to Technical.ly Philly and Center City District, Philadelphia is home to:
- 100+ colleges and universities that grant 13,000 STEM degrees annually
- 13 Fortune 500 companies in the health care, media and food service sectors
- 5,100 tech businesses, including 488 tech firms
Employers in the Philadelphia area have added more than 25,000 new tech jobs since 2002, equivalent to 25 percent of all net job growth in Greater Philadelphia during that period.