“Workshop of the World, Part II?” Philadelphia looks to become an energy hub.

If you are from the Philadelphia area, you have probably heard the moniker “Workshop of the World” before. Whether it was from your grandparents, your parents, or from a local textbook or historian.

WOTW was how Philadelphia was referenced “back in the day” (as we say around here), and it was largely driven by our region’s abundance of coal; a cheap source of energy back then. Coal powered Philadelphia’s factories, homes, you name it.

Post-Civil War, from about 1880-1920, Philadelphia represented the world’s greatest collection of skill and diversity in manufacturing. So much so, that our industrial workforce was about 250,000 people strong … and that was almost 150 years ago! But what really made Philadelphia unique in comparison to similar cities of its time (e.g. Boston, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, etc), was that we didn’t just rely on a few large companies to drive our local manufacturing economy. Philadelphia became an incubator for smaller/medium-sized workshops, where those who maybe once worked for large companies broke off and started making specialized products of their own; let’s call it “entrepreneurial manufacturing.”

Is it just me, or is this back-story beginning to sound a bit like where Philadelphia is going today; but replace “manufacturing” with “education/medicine/technology.”

Now, back to my title: Workshop of the World, Part II.

Phil Rinaldi, the CEO of Philadelphia Energy Solutions (the old Sunoco operation in Southwest Philadelphia), is the man responsible for turning the local refinery around and looking toward Philadelphia’s energy future. Natural gas from the Marcellus Shale reserve is currently been “fracked” in PA and being shipped all over the world. But as it stands today, Philadelphia could be seeing more local job action from the current boom.

If the natural gas boom comes to Philadelphia, it could potentially reinvent our local economy.

If it sounds too good to be true, there is always the possibility that it may be. Not only would a gas boom create thousands of jobs, for both blue and white collar workers, but it also has the potential to impact our area environmentally (and not in a positive way). That is where the lines are drawn.

Fracking is sometimes viewed as an environmentally hazardous industry; but when the word “jobs” comes rolling around, politicians and business leaders start to dream big.

As it stands today, most of the Marcellus Shale gas is being sent to Louisiana, where it is refined and shipped. But if the shale reserve is in PA (not LA), why aren’t we sending the natural gas to Philadelphia for refinement? It’s closer, it’s a big city, and it keeps everything local.

That’s the question local experts are starting to ask. Can we set up the proper infrastructure (namely, new/larger pipelines) to handle the amount of gas refinement, shipping, and exporting needed; and can we also create the amount of new jobs necessary in order to become a refining destination?

The answer is, yes. We have the workforce, we have the rail lines, we have the ports, and we have the leaders to put all of that together.

But … here are some concerns to think about:

Under what “conditions” would/should Philadelphia take on this challenge?

Would this endeavor take away from our green/sustainable efforts over the past decade?

Since natural gas is a finite resource, does a push to create a natural-gas-based economy hurt the next few generations of Philadelphians?

Are we trying to plan for the short-term, or the long-term?

These are the concerns that many people have, and with good reason. Creating the pipelines necessary to run natural gas from the Marcellus Shale directly to Philadelphia is very similar to gambling.

If we win, we’ll win big. If we lose, we’ll lose big. Those results will also play a large role in Philadelphia’s local real estate market.

Unfortunately, there are almost too many details to discuss in this blog post, but the possibilities for Philadelphia to embrace this opportunity are basically endless. At the end of the day, it will take a lot of planning, discussion, and forward-thinking to do it right.

Here is a link to “Energy Boomtown PhillyStyle,” from WHYY. You will get a lot of great information if you listen to the hour-long segment.

How does Philadelphia truly become a global city?

For starters, let’s define what the term “global city” actually means.

Here are a few different definitions I found:

A city in a position to realize the economic coordination of complex activities at a global scale. It is through economic coordination that a city will gain a strategic position in the global economy, and the concentration of this function makes it different from other cities. – Research Gate

What constitutes a global city, is an emphasis on the flow of information and capital. – Saskia Sassen

A city generally considered to be an important node in the global economic system. Globalization can be understood as largely created, facilitated, and enacted in strategic geographic locales according to global finance and trade. – Wikipedia

Although it may seem a bit complex after reading those textbook definitions, the concept is relatively simple.

Does Philadelphia play a role in the global economy? Some say “yes,” others “no.”

The article that inspired this post was from the Philadelphia Business Journal, and it discussed how Philadelphia needs to get better at retaining its talent. The article states:

“Home to some of the world’s best universities, medical institutions, arts and cultural organizations, research centers, booming legal, business, finance sectors, and a steadily growing tourism industry, Philadelphia is the perfect place for talented young graduates. They can give back to the city that nurtured them while they pursued their educational dreams and interests. Opportunity abounds!”

Okay, so what’s the problem then?

If we already have enough opportunity, and are already attracting young talent through the aforementioned channels, why are we not a global city today?

Well, there are 2 general issues Philadelphia has been up against.

– Education Crisis: If you have not heard about Philadelphia’s public school system woes as of late, you must not watch TV, listen to the radio, or read the news. Our public school system is struggling, and the main issue all 3 media sources focus on is funding. I could show you stats, budgetary items of concern, and share articles from local experts, but that’s not going to help. Until Philadelphia’s local political system and PA’s state political system get on the same page with a well thought out plan, the problem will most-likely persist. If the problem persists, how can Philadelphia retain global talent?

– Workforce Gaps: Philadelphia can sometimes be looked at as a tale of two cities, the “haves” and the “have-nots.” I know that this is also common in other big cities, but Philadelphia is at the forefront. It’s not that people in Philadelphia cannot find work, it’s that they have to go outside of Philadelphia’s borders to find it. Although many people live in Philadelphia, many of them also have to commute to the suburban metro area for their jobs; and vice-versa. Why is that? I could get into wage taxes, business taxes, pensions, city council, and politically-fueled union issues, but that’s not going to help. Until Philadelphia’s local political system and the private business community can come together on big issues, the problem will most-likely persist. If the problem persists, how can Philadelphia retain global talent?

Please do not take my points/opinions as the “be all, end all,” but rather look at them in your own way and think about ways to improve upon them. These are issues that I see, nothing more.

I do not have the answers, but as someone who grew up in Philadelphia’s suburbs for 18 years, and has lived in Philadelphia for 17 years, I can tell you that the strategies, communication, and mindset of both locales are different. Which may be why Philadelphia’s suburbs have grown most of the local jobs, and Philadelphia has lagged behind for decades.

I truly believe Philadelphia has all of the tools necessary to become a successful global city. We just need to utilize those tools in a more cohesive way, and give all of the global talent that comes through our great city more reasons to stay.

Cira Centre South is finally taking shape with FMC Tower

Cira Centre South – 2016

If it was said that I haven’t wrote enough about University City over the past few years, it would be an understatement.

Well, here is some more cool news for UCity.

After much hype and debate over the last few years, coupled with a slowdown in high-rise commercial development across the city, Brandywine is now set to break ground on FMC Tower (aka FMC Tower at Cire Centre South). This will be the end cap to the Cira Centre development in University City, Philadelphia.

Here are the details:

– 650 feet tall, or 47 stories tall
– Designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli (who also designed UCity’s Cira Centre, next to 30th Street Station)
– Almost 1,000,000 sq ft of usable space (with over 60% already pre-leased to FMC & UPenn)
– FMC will have a skybridge connected to Cira Green (a new, 1-acre park on top of a parking garage)

All I can say is, awesome!

Not only for the fact that another cool, architecturally pleasing building will join the likes of Cira Centre and the upcoming Evo at Cira Centre South (formerly known as The Grove), but because another large company is putting their Global HQ in Philadelphia, while joining the likes of UPenn (Philadelphia’s largest, private employer). This type of development further justifies UCity’s place as Philadelphia’s 2nd leading center for jobs/entertainment.

All good stuff.

A few other things that make this project cool, IMHO:

– It’s Mixed-Use: FMC Tower will house FMC, UPenn, and rental housing; 3 different uses (commercial, educational, and residential), 1 building. These tenants will all be on top of the future tenants taking space in the building.

– It’s Green: FMC Tower is shooting for LEED Silver Certification, with the plan of adding a 1-acre park on top of a parking garage. This will help with stormwater management, as well as provide a new park for Philadelphians to enjoy. Also, the views will be nothing short of spectacular.

– It’s Smart: The design is great, it’s right next to 30th Street Station, it still has the option to comfortably park your car (for both travelers and suburbanites alike), and it’s building on UCity’s current momentum as a global city-within-a-city.

For further reading, check out these other helpful links:

All The Renderings: Cira Centre South’s Final Tower

650 Foot Tall Monster Building Coming to West Philly

Many More Details About the Skyscraping FMC Tower