3 min read opens IMAGE file January 2021 — The COVID-19 pandemic induced a global halt to economic activity while reversing a run of record-low unemployment rates in the United States. Initially, all eyes were on the Northeast as companies, employees and families moved away from densely populated areas to the greener pastures along the Sun Belt. Philadelphia, a region with an overall diverse economy that is underpinned by a strong higher education sector and an equally vibrant life sciences sector, fared better than other cities in the Northeast. After quickly pivoting, transforming and riding the “new normal” learning curve for the better part of 2020, companies in the Delaware Valley have their sights set not just on recovery but emerging stronger in a post-pandemic landscape. While the pandemic challenges will create ripple effects across industries well into 2021 and beyond, Philadelphia business leaders are optimistic about the outlook for the region this year and moving forward, they told Invest:Philadelphia.
Jerry Sweeney, President & CEO, Brandywine Realty Trust
We believe the economic recovery is already underway. It will be slower than we would have hoped for. If you lookopens IMAGE file beneath the surface, everybody wants to get back. Most people understand that there is a responsibility and accountability in getting back. Behavioral changes are important. Home sales are back; the financing markets are back; investment sales for certain product types are back. The pause we had is over. Now, it’s a matter of how we risk-adjust the recovery to make it the most acceptable and the most durable as we look forward. Philadelphia is on the precipice of creating a highly competitive ecosystem on the life sciences side. That is a major driver for us and the institutions we deal with are all focused on growing that. It will become a growth catalyst for us. An area of possible concern revolves around public policy. Philadelphia has always been a slow growth city. Sixty percent of the jobs generated paid less than $35,000 per year. Philadelphia’s major opportunity is to use our existing infrastructure, the anchor institutions and the growth in the life sciences arena, among a few other things, to generate family-sustaining jobs that can address Philadelphia’s systemic high levels of poverty and generational structural unemployment.
Emily Schapira, President & CEO, Philadelphia Energy Authority
Philadelphia has been the best-kept secret for a long time. There are a lot of companies operating in other parts of the opens IMAGE file country that have had no idea about the opportunities in Philadelphia, particularly in terms of the clean energy economy that is starting to boom. We are excited to see more of those national and global companies come in and check out what we have going on. C-PACE was a real driver in getting a lot of these companies to come to town. Our outlook is rosy for next year. The pandemic has been a huge challenge and we will have more challenges coming out of the winter. As we start getting people vaccinated and start moving toward a full economic reopening, our clean energy resources and initiatives will be key resources to help us build an equitable recovery, build it back better and ensure people are able to afford their utilities. In parallel, businesses are realizing the value of building more energy efficient structures. Solar is not just a nice-to-have or an asset only for the wealthy. It’s becoming increasingly affordable and gaining its place as a smart, long-term hedge. Battery storage is also starting to become an important component. Our top priorities in 2021 will be to build scalable clean energy financing through our new green bank, drive commercial and nonprofit solar, storage and energy efficiency adoption and collaborate with government and private actors to launch Built to Last to reduce poverty and preserve existing affordable housing.
Tiffany Wilson, President & CEO, University City Science Center
We are going to come out on the other side of COVID-19 intact and stronger, ready to take advantage of the opportunities to respond to unmet clinical needs that were identified during the pandemic. We’ve seen that the life sciences sector is opens IMAGE file resilient and at a time when more and more companies are shifting to remote work, the commercial real estate market as it relates to the life sciences continues to thrive – because you can’t do lab science in your kitchen. People have been creative and will have to continue to be in relation to how they move their research forward to keep their investors happy, all while doing so in a safe and secure manner. Our challenge in the Philadelphia region is to celebrate whenever the underdog wins and not lose the underdog mentality that keeps propelling us forward and provides us that gritty competitive edge. We need to start to see ourselves as a true industry leader in the country around innovation and entrepreneurship as it relates to these amazing life science technologies.
Stephanie Shanblatt, President, Bucks County Community College
The college is in a really good place. We are financially solid. We are not in danger of going under. We believe higher education in general to be in a good place. For several schools, it has been more challenging than it has been for us, mainly for residential schools. We do think that as we begin to enter the recovery, both two-and four-year schools and workforce training will all play a significant role in what this new economy looks like. Technology is called to play a more significant role in education. Jobs will be different too. How we all respond to that is not only a challenge but also exciting. Our overall outlook is bright.
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