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Greater Philadelphia Economy Shaped By Transformational Companies

Greater Philadelphia's $388 billion economy is shaped by world-class research facilities, a highly educated workforce and superior infrastructure andincludes major industry segments in advanced manufacturing, ife-sciences and medical technology, health care, clean energy, finance, communications, and transportation and logistics.

By Melanie Hill on March 11, 2014

Even before the birth of the United States, Philadelphia was a wellspring of original thinking and innovation that gave birth to American ingenuity.

Today that spirit continues to burn brightly across the 11-county, three-state Greater Philadelphia region, where Fortune 500 companies and startups alike pursue their quest to discover new opportunities for growth.

A powerful combination of academic knowhow, world-class research facilities, a highly educated workforce and superior infrastructure has helped fashion a knowledge-based $388 billion economy that includes major industry segments in advanced manufacturing, life sciences and medical technology, health care, clean energy, finance, communications, and transportation and logistics.

The region lies in the heart of a cluster of pharmaceutical and life-sciences discovery, and with its concentration of top-shelf health-care systems, teaching hospitals and medical schools, it is an ideal laboratory for advances in medicine.

“Philadelphia was the birthplace of health care in America,” says Tom Morr, president and CEO of Select Greater Philadelphia, an economic development organization that promotes business investment and job creation in the region. “We had the first public hospital, first medical school, first school of pharmacy and first private biomedical research organization.”

Philadelphia’s New Energy

Traditional manufacturing, long a stronghold in the region, is also finding a favorable environment for re-engineering for the new economy. Within the last year, three refineries that were to be closed have been repurposed. Delta Airlines purchased one, teaming with Monroe Energy to produce jet fuel at lower costs. Philadelphia Energy Solutions, a joint venture of Sunoco and Carlyle Group, bought another to refine a less expensive crude oil from the Midwest brought in by rail. 

“We have new teams that are going to leverage Pennsylvania’s position as an energy state,” Morr says.

With its locational advantages, lower costs compared to other Northeast markets and a quality of life that includes hundreds of cultural, arts, recreational, entertainment and sports options, the region is a destination of choice for corporate headquarters. Twelve Fortune 500 and 32 Fortune 1000 companies are based in the region, and some of the world’s best-known brands, including DuPont, Sunoco, Gore-Tex, Campbell Soup and Comcast/NBC make their corporate home there.

Vanguard, one of the world’s largest investment management companies and a leading provider of company-sponsored retirement plan services, is based in Valley Forge, Pa. For Vanguard President and CEO William McNabb III, the sum of Greater Philadelphia’s assets is greater than the value of its parts.

“Vanguard now has almost 10,000 people in the region, and if you think about the various suppliers and businesses that are related to our success that have grown up, you have this multiplier effect,” he says. “The same is true of the pharmaceutical sector. Educational institutions here have spawned businesses to support them. In this region, success breeds success.”

Global Reach

The world is also catching on to Greater Philadelphia. More than 700 foreign companies from 39 different nations have operations in Greater Philadelphia, supported in part by the presence of international chambers of commerce, foreign consulates and major international air service.

Greater Philadelphia’s unparalleled logistical access to prime markets here and abroad is another critical advantage for businesses seeking to grow. The region is in the heart of the largest U.S. market, with 48 million people within a 200-mile radius. It offers numerous port facilities, major freight and passenger rail service, and the largest amount of refrigerated warehousing on the East Coast. Business travelers reach Washington and New York City in less than two hours by train and enjoy nonstop flights to almost all major markets in Europe.

Legacy of Learning

Rob Wonderling, president of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, says a deeply rooted legacy of higher education has transfored the region into a knowledge-based economy.

“Greater Philadelphia is home to 101 colleges and universities, and awards more than 80,000 degrees and certificates annually,” he says. “These are complemented by a multitude of professional and business services, including leading financial services companies and prestigious law firms.”

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