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Greenworks strives towards a more sustainable Philadelphia

Greenworks, a comprehensive sustainability plan for the City of Philadelphia, was launched in 2009. Now it's time to update and streamline the program's policies and goals, making them more accessible and actionable to the public.

On August 9, the Office of Sustainability held an open house at the Innovation Lab on the top floor of the Municipal Services Building. Office of Sustainability Director Christine Knapp spoke about "updating the framework" of Greenworks. After years of developing new policies and integrating them into the machine of local government, Greenworks is turning outward. The updated plan, as developed with continued public feedback, will be "more people-focused," said Knapp.

Rolled out under Knapp’s predecessor Katherine Gajewski, Greenworks is under the umbrella of the national Urban Sustainability Directors Network. Other participating cities include Seattle, Boston, New York City and Chicago. Those cities are also beginning to gather feedback and study changes to their inaugural sustainability programs, as well as share best practices.

The public wants "to see us go deeper at the neighborhood level," say Knapp, to emphasize the viability of sustainable practices on every block in everyday life. Supporters also are hoping for a greater sense of urgency to the sustainability plan, which could go beyond short term goals and emphasize the longterm global impact of taking action on problems like climate change. People also see the opportunity to improve access to the program so no neighborhoods, regardless of socio-economic status, are left out of sustainability programs.        

The original Greenworks concept, with its long list of complicated goals, proved confusing to the public. Through community meetings, expert roundtables, an online survey and social media outreach, the plan is being streamlined into eight "longterm visions."

These include: All Philadelphians use clean energy that they can afford; all Philadelphians have sustainable access to safe and affordable transportation; and all Philadelphians benefit from parks, trees, stormwater management and waterways.

These and the other five vision statements will continue to evolve as they incorporate feedback from the well-attended open house. After a brief presentation and Q&A, the crowd was able to move around the room and brainstorm ideas on Post-it notes, placing them on boards dedicated to topics like waste, transportation, sustainable business and education, energy, and food and water, with space for suggestions on the individual, neighborhood and institutional level.

Knapp estimated that an updated Greenworks plan will launch in late October 2016.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Christine Knapp, the Office of Sustainability 

MilkCrate for Communities helps companies and institutions reward sustainable living

About a year and a half ago, local startup MilkCrate began an incubator residency through Project Liberty. This came after a potent mix of bartering, bootstrapping and crowdfunding helped to launch the sustainable-living app. Now the company is ready to add a major new level to their platform that goes beyond individual users.
The free MilkCrate app officially launched in early 2015 as a resource for people who want an easy way to connect to socially and environmentally conscious businesses and services. It has since expanded beyond Philly to Denver, Boston and Asheville. Co-founder and CEO Morgan Berman, who earned a master’s degree in sustainable design from Philadelphia University, was pleased to see traction from the original concept, but the team quickly realized that more was on the table.
"We actually took a pretty radical approach to both our business model and our product," she says of the revamp, launching this month.
MilkCrate for Communities isn’t replacing the original free app -- it’s an add-on service that companies, universities and other enterprises will be able to purchase and extend as a perk to their employees, students or residents. It will also let buyers quantify and collect data on real-life social- and eco-conscious practices within their organizations, which can be harnessed both for external branding and marketing as well as internal messaging, all while encouraging sustainable living.
The company realizes that app platforms aimed at boosting sustainable practices at large institutions or companies already exist, but MilkCrate has a major edge because they already have a comprehensive localized directory and calendar within their existing product.  
Berman says MilkCrate for Communities is a premium, private "game-ified" social experience that clients can tailor for their users. Members of participating groups can download the free app and, unlike in the public version, log in and begin earning points for things like checking into a farm-to-table restaurant or fair-trade coffee shop, signing up for a composting service or CSA, or volunteering.
Participating companies and schools can use MilkCrate to tabulate the eco-friendly and socially conscious steps users make, and incentivize them with quarterly or semester-based rewards.
The first official buyer of the MilkCrate for Communities platform is Berman’s own alma mater, Philadelphia University, which will launch the experience for students and faculty this summer. Other clients are already in the pipeline, including the co-working provider Benjamin’s Desk, home to MilkCrate’s offices. Berman says a customized pilot product for Comcast is also in the works.
"We are looking for more corporate and academic clients that want to be part of the big launch this summer,"she adds. Anyone who wants to bring a demo of MilkCrate for Communities to their campus or office can get in touch.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Morgan Berman, MilkCrate 

Teaching the Teachers: Science Center launches FirstHand Institute for Educators

For years, the FirstHand program has brought Philadelphia schoolchildren to the University City Science Center, aiming to spark interest in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math. Now FirstHand is adding a professional development program targeting middle school teachers to further boost STEM learning.
The goal of the pilot FirstHand Institute for Educators is to integrate the classroom with the 21st century science- and technology-oriented workplace. For three days (August 16-18) about 14 teachers from Philadelphia School District middle schools will meet with Science Center scientists, technologists and entrepreneurs, taking what Danielle Stollak, FirstHand program manager, calls a "deep dive into careers here." The participants will visit working labs at the Science Center’s Port Business Incubator and, working in teams at the FirstHand Lab, develop projects for their students that can inculcate the real-world skills that employers are looking for.
Those skills are not all technical -- the focus will be on what educators call the "Four Cs": critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.

"Technical skills are teachable," says FirstHand Director David Clayton. "These are experiential."
The expectation is that the teacher teams will implement their projects in classrooms this fall as part of ongoing engagement with FirstHand, bringing their students to the Science Center and reconvening in January. A further benefit, adds Stollak, is the multiplier effect of training teachers, who not only reach many students, but can also become "brand ambassadors" and mentors for other educators.
This year’s pilot program, supported by a grant from the William Penn Foundation, offers participants continuing education credits and a modest stipend. Teachers who are interested should email Stollak. 
Meanwhile, FirstHand continues to challenge young minds with Taste Test, a new summer program that is introducing 15 youth from Sunrise of Philadelphia to molecular gastronomy and culinary innovations through active experimentation.

WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.

Temple nabs nationwide grant to develop the archives of the future

Joseph Lucia, Dean of Libraries at Temple University, is ready to start work on what he calls a "monumental challenge" of the 21st century.

"How do we render the digital records durable for the longterm in the way that physical records have been?" he asks. "What does digital permanence look like? [How can we achieve it] in a complex inter-organizational way that’s not just about one place and its records?"

In late June, Temple University School of Media and Communications received a $35,000 grant -- it lasts through December 20, 2016 -- from the Knight News Challenge, which awarded grants totaling $1.6 million to libraries across the country "for ideas that help libraries serve 21st century information needs."

Future-Proofing Civic Data, the Temple-led project helmed by Lucia, was conceived for this grant, but it relates closely to a lot of work Temple has been involved with for a long time.

First, Temple is home to a collecting enterprise called Urban Archives, which focuses on "social, cultural, ethnic and demographic history of 19th through 21st century Philadelphia," explains Lucia. "It’s a very broad and fairly unique archival collection of materials documenting urban life in a major American city."

Temple has also been a leading partner in the Pennsylvania metadata service hub of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), which works to "narrow the cultural and intellectual record into a public space that is not commercially oriented, and fill the library mission in the digital world."

That work means diving deep into the realms of both traditional collections and digital data.

"We’ve been looking at ways of expanding that collecting motion and focus," adds Lucia, "making sure that the digital, cultural, and social record becomes part of what we can provide access to."

That in turn led to close ties with OpenDataPhilly, which, while it identifies and aggregates data from a wide range of city institutions and organizations, does not have the mission of developing a permanent archive.

It’s what Lucia calls "an essentially unaddressed emerging issue." The days of poring over nineteenth century census data on paper archives, for example, are limited. As the world goes digital, what will archives look like and how will they function? Who will own, fund, maintain and access them?

"What happens right now with a lot of digital data is that it’s very ephemeral," he says. "It’s online for the duration that its providers see some value or benefit in having it there," but most providers of digital content aren’t thinking about its life in the long term.

$35,000 from Knight won’t solve the issue or even finish defining it, but it will "help us put time and thought into describing the scope of the problem and some possible solutions that could be deployed over time to address the problem," Lucia continues.

The initiative will involve partners at OpenDataPhilly as well as professionals from Temple’s School of Media and Communications.

"[It's] a project to really build a conceptual foundation for how would this look," he concludes. "What would the technical requirements be? What would the organizational requirements be? And who would come to the table to work on something like that?"

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Joseph Lucia, Temple University

What's next for the Philadelphia School District?

Last Tuesday, the latest Exchange PHL Breakfast Series drew a crowd of over forty people for a special conversation on the future of the School District of Philadelphia.

Hosted by the nonprofit-centric co-working space, these morning meetups bring a dynamic group to the Friends Center on Cheery Street. On June 21, attendees represented a wide range of organizations eager to hear Fund for the School District of Philadelphia President and CEO Donna Frisby-Greenwood discuss "Engaging with the School District of Philadelphia.”

Those organizations included People’s Emergency Center, Philly Fellows, Women of Tomorrow, the Fleischer Art Memorial, Philadelphia Young Playwrights, the William Penn Foundation, the Pennsylvania Council of Children, Youth & Family Services, and many more.

Frisby-Greenwood provided a snapshot of the District and its challenges: It serves a total of 135,000 children (not including the 50,000 students who attend charter schools), 39 percent of whom live below the poverty line. It encompasses 149 elementary schools, and 69 middle and high schools. During the 2014-2015 school year, PSSA performance at District schools reached a proficient or advanced level in 37 percent of schools for science, 32 percent for English, and just 17 percent for math.

So what is the District doing to better harness resources for its students?

The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia is a reactivation of the former Philadelphia Children First Fund. Upon assuming his role as superintendent, Dr. William Hite "wanted a more robust fund," explained Frisby-Greenwood. Under its new name, this arm of the School District went from being a passive "fiscal agent" for dollars already arriving at the School District to a much more active development force as well as a way to "identify and coordinate partnerships on behalf of the District."

One major funding goal supports the District’s ongoing efforts to make sure every child is reading at grade level by fourth grade. (Last year, we took a closer look at this initiative for teacher coaching and new classroom libraries, funded in part by grants from the William Penn and Lenfest foundations.)

Other initiatives on deck include the continued roll-out of sustainability and recycling goals within the School District’s GreenFutures program (here’s our piece from earlier this year), and a push to get automatic electric defibrillators into every elementary school, which, unlike middle and high schools, often lack the life-saving devices.

The organization also aims to create a database of Philadelphia School District alumni; develop a comprehensive listing and map of private, nonprofit, and corporate partners for individual city schools; and improve outreach to garner more school partners, especially in schools which currently lack this community investment.

"I’ll remind everyone we’re just a year in as a team," said Frisby-Greenwood of the revamped Fund and its staff -- she envisions good things ahead for the District.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Donna Frisby-Greenwood, the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia 

Flying Kite is the media partner for the Exchange PHL's Breakfast Series.

Sick pet? The One Health Company sends clinical trials to the dogs

The One Health Company is sending clinical trials to the dogs. And cats. And horses.

The startup, a participant in the University City Science Center Digital Health Accelerator, offers a new model of contract research by conducting pre-clinical trials on already ill patients: aka peoples' pets.

The science behind the idea is strong, says founder and CEO Benjamin Lewis. Disease induced in lab animals is often a poor proxy for natural human disease. Currently, 92 percent of animal cancer trials fail in people.

But pets, many of them genetically similar to humans -- and who typically share our environment -- are ideal proxies for 350 natural human diseases. Lhasa Apsos and male cats develop bladder stones. Poodles are frequently afflicted by cataracts. Golden Retrievers get Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Horses suffer from osteoarthritis.

The approach, says Lewis, is also far more humane that inducing disease in lab animals.

"We have so many sick animals," he says. "Why create more so we can kill them and study them?"

One Health operates out of 350 specialty animal hospitals across the United States. Founded only this year, it already has 450,000 animals in its database and expects to have millions by the end of the year.

The company is currently conducting two trials. Details are proprietary, but their testing is mostly in cancer and endocrine diseases. One Health will test only for efficacy of pharmaceuticals, biologics, injectables, large molecules, medical devices and diagnostics. Testing for toxicology or safety is far too risky for client-owned pets.

Animals enrolled in One Health clinical trials remain with their owners and stay at home for care, returning to the hospital for evaluation by veterinary specialists, rather than being shipped to a lab or a longterm veterinary clinic. At the conclusion of the study, the hope is that the animal is cured or its symptoms ameliorated.

"I’m not asking anyone to do anything I haven’t done with my own pet," adds Lewis. One of his three rescue dogs -- Lulo, a Doberman -- participated in an osteosarcoma trial three years ago. Lulo lost a leg, but is going strong three years later. The prognosis is usually just three months.
WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.

This summer, the Pennovation Center opens sought-after wet lab space for small startups

For a small startup ready to research or develop chemical or biological innovations, finding lab space can be a challenge. Dry labs, which host technological or computer studies, or studies in fields like psychology, aren’t hard to outfit and rent. But wet labs -- featuring the equipment and safety measures needed to work with chemical and biological materials -- are another story.

This summer, labs at the soon-to-open Pennovation Center will help to change that for a select group of local companies.

About a year and a half ago, we covered the groundbreaking at University of Pennsylvania’s new 23-acre Pennovations Works campus on the south bank of the Schuylkill River: the three-story, 58,000-square-foot Pennovation Center at 34th Street and Gray’s Ferry Avenue will be the centerpiece.

The Center is slated to open this August. Its second floor will feature wet lab space available for lease to local startups.

"Wet labs are pretty unusual commodities" for this market, explains Paul Sehnert, director of development for Pennovation Works. "They’re usually built on a customized basis for companies under a long-term lease… If you're a startup company, it’s really a top dilemma. You need a space to work out of, but you can’t sign a lease and find a lab without making a long-term [financial] commitment."

The Pennovation Center hopes to remedy this with a 32-person lab available for customized leases (some as short as six months) for startups and inventors. These will come with all the typical wet lab gear: benches with view hoods, glass wash and sterilization centers, centrifuges, microscopy, and cell tissue culture and bioinstrumentation suites, in addition to safety measures like security systems, emergency eye wash and air change stations.

Senhert says the initial demand for the space is "robust" -- Penn is working now to "curate" which companies will be the best fit.

"Given that these are young companies, the more you can provide…this kind of sharing of basic services, that keeps the price more affordable and the [rental] terms shorter," says Anne Papageorge, Pennovation vice president of facilities and real estate development.

The Center will also provide programming, networking and training opportunities as a part of the package. This summer, they’re working on negotiating and executing license agreements for participating companies; the labs will be ready for occupancy in August.

The site offers two other lab spaces, adds Papageorge: a dry lab, and a currently empty lab building that Pennovation Works is holding with the intention of letting qualifying companies continue their work onsite in the future with a more customized, longer-term lease. The team hopes that as interest in the Center grows along with its companies, startups could "graduate" out of the shorter-term labs and into larger space. 

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Paul Sehnert and Anne Papageorge, Pennovation Works


Knight Cities Challenge funds the development of 20 new Philly cooperatives

"There are many different expressions of cooperation and mutual aid in Philadelphia, among very diverse groups of people," explains Caitlin Quigley of the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance (PACA). Now, thanks to a $146,000 award from the national Knight Cities Challenge (check out our peek at the four Philly winners here), the organization hopes to expand interest in co-ops citywide.

PACA’s Knight-funded 20 Book Clubs, 20 Cooperative Businesses initiative aims to gather learning groups of six to 12 people from a variety of Philly neighborhoods. The organization will help guide the book clubs through a tailored process to master the building blocks of building a cooperatively-run business of any type, based on the community’s interests and needs.

So what exactly is a "co-op"?

A cooperative grocery store (like Philly’s Weavers Way or Mariposa), for example, "is a business you own with your neighbors," explains Quigley. "You make decisions about the products that are on the shelves, how the co-op should treat its workers; how the co-op should decide how to be in the community.”

The latter includes things like representation at events, education and outreach, and making donations.

"You and your fellow co-owners can decide how you want that business to serve you," she adds.

And while grocery stores might be the most prominent local example, PACA is a consortium of all kinds of co-ops across many industries. These range from banks to housing to community gardens, green space, or land trusts, or child-care or artist co-ops.

The 20 Book Clubs, 20 Cooperative Businesses project, operating on a year-long grant cycle from April 2016 to April 2017, will continue outreach this summer, with the goal of organizing project participants by September. Each group will meet twice a month for six months, with guidance from PACA staffers and volunteers, and a comprehensive curriculum of suggested learning materials, from books and comics to field trips and podcasts.

Author Dr. Jessica Gordon Nembhard, whose book Collective Courage is a major inspiration for the project, is collaborating with PACA on the study guide.

In March of next year, participating groups will convene at a large event that will include cooperative business pitches. Beyond that, PACA hopes to support interested groups in more intensive business planning, such as drafting articles of incorporation and writing bylaws.

"Not all of the groups that do the book clubs are going to necessarily decide to move onto this phase," says Quigley, but that’s ok. "Even if it doesn’t happen right now…They have a new set of tools and perspectives that they can bring to anything they do in their communities from then on." Ultimately, it’s about building "a strong movement around a just and inclusive economy, with all of these different sectors of cooperatives and their members."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Caitlin Quigley, Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance

UPenn's BioCellection may hold the key to plastics pollution worldwide

As high school seniors in their hometown of Vancouver, Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao had some big questions -- and answers -- for a planet that produces enough plastic every year to circle itself in Saran wrap four times over.

Yao recently graduated from the University of Toronto and Wang is finishing her senior year at the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in Biology. Together they founded BioCellection. Now their team (which also includes Alexander Simafranca, Eric Friedman and Daniel Chapman) is the first undergraduate team ever to take the $30,000 grand prize at Wharton’s annual Business Plan Competition. And that's only the beginning: They also took home the Wharton Social Impact Prize, the Gloekner Undergraduate Award, the Michelson People’s Choice Award and the Committee Award for Most "Wow Factor." No other single team has ever taken five prizes in the competition.

Wang and Yao began studying riverside soil samples back in high school. They wanted to find out what the ecosystem itself might be doing to survive pollution from plastics. Traditional plastic products are made from fossil fuels, which come from carbon. Humans run on carbon, too -- our source is glucose.

"Could there be bacteria that have evolved with plastic chemicals as their carbon source?" Wang recalls wondering. "The answer is yes…Nature is very much evolving to recover itself. There is a solution in this biology, it just needs to be tapped into. Potentially this could be a large-scale commercial technology used to clean our drinking water."

Wang and Yao focused on how bacteria could be harnessed to break down potentially carcinogenic components of some plastics (like phthalates) that aren’t otherwise biodegradable. Their work won them the 2012 National Commercialization Award at Canada’s Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge and led to a popular 2013 TED talk.

In the labs at Penn, that work grew into BioCellection.

"Instead of tackling derivatives or additives in plastic, we’re [now] tackling the polymer of the plastic itself," explains Wang. "What if we can take this really big problem of the polymer, and try to solve it on a modular basis?"

BioCellection developed a way to engineer bacteria that produce an enzyme which, when combined with problem plastics in a proprietary portable chemical process, can convert that plastic into water and carbon dioxide. This patent-pending technology is still about two years away from the field, but its future application in plastic remediation at landfills, industrial sites, oceans and beaches could be tremendous, with annual revenue projected to reach $100 million by 2020.

A little further down the road in their business model, BioCellection hopes to launch a centralized processing plant that will use this enzyme to convert discarded plastics into a bio-surfactant necessary for textile manufacturing. With the help of collaborator Parley for the Oceans -- which is helping BioCellection connect to brands like Adidas that want to incorporate recycled plastic into their products -- the company hopes to sell this "upcycled" surfactant at $300/kg. It’s an estimated $42 billion market.

The issue of used plastics is a global problem: Because current recycling methods don’t generate enough revenue, over 90 percent of our cast-off plastics (even those going for recycling) end up in landfills, or incinerated, which compounds pollution. 

According to the company, "We can’t expect to change consumer habits overnight or integrate new materials immediately. It’s time to tackle the plastic pollution that currently exists, and that we’re continuing to produce, to save marine wildlife, keep the planet’s food chain intact, and protect human health."

Besides the $54,000 in total prize money from Wharton, BioCellection has earned $90,000 in grants and $240,000 in investment. The company is relocating to the San Jose BioCube in June 2016 for further development.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Miranda Wang, BioCellection 

Science Central: 5 questions for Whose Your Landlord

Social media makes it possible to review -- or rant about -- everything from movies to books to Uber drivers. But can you post reviews about landlords: the good, the bad and the ugly?
Whose Your Landlord (WYL), a University City Science Center startup, provides a platform for tenants to hold landlords accountable. The site asks users to refrain from using it as a bashfest, but invites comments useful to prospective renters before they sign a lease. (Note to grammarians: The company uses the possessive form of the word "who" because, "we’re giving renters ownership of their situation by putting housing in their hands.")
The site also functions as a platform for landlords to post rental listings, connect with renters and respond to reviews.
We asked Ofo Ezeugwu, the self proclaimed "chieftan" at Whose Your Landlord, to tell us more.

What is your big idea?
WYL is a web platform bringing quality to the rental experience by using the power of peer-generated reviews, quality listings and community engagement to connect renters and home providers. Through extensive peer insight from other renters, city data amassed from years of research, and quality listings, we’re ensuring that all WYL renters have a smooth and all-encompassing experience when they're looking to find their next home.

For home providers, we’re streamlining the way listings are uploaded and shared -- making it simple to vet and reference tenants -- and bettering communication lines with the renters of today. 
What is your company's origin tale?
WYL came out of necessity. In 2012, I ran for vice president of the student body at Temple University. I often heard from renters about the issues with landlords within the local community. I thought, "What if renters knew what to expect before they ever signed a lease?" The idea stuck and the following year, we launched.
What is your timeline?

We've been live to all users since September 2013. We have over 95,000 users on the platform and experienced 156 percent growth from the previous year (2014). We've bootstrapped thus far and are now in the midst of our seed round.
Forty percent of our user base is in Philadelphia and we've been able to start generating real revenue via strategic partnerships with the likes of Roadway Moving and Allstate. And we've just opened up our free beta for home providers to post listings to our community for free.
WYL has sparked change right here in Philadelphia: Companies have fired poor performing staffs, universities have partnered with WYL to make the lives of their students better, and residents have found new homes that they can be proud.
Why does the marketplace need your company?
We primarily target millennial renters -- young professionals and college students. While these individuals move more than any other demographic and comprise 52 percent of total renters nationwide, they are not having their needs met by current rental sites. The issue with the current climate of the rental ecosystem is that "quality" is not the standard. We're here to restore that and to make everyone better residents, home providers and community contributors.
What is your elevator speech?
WhoseYourLandlord (WYL) is a web platform created to bring quality, accountability and transparency to the rental experience.

WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.

Local to Global: The Greater Philadelphia Export Plan wants to boost billions in business

How can a local economy make a global debut? In December 2014, Flying Kite spoke with the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia about the launch of its Greater Philadelphia Export Plan, conducted in partnership with the World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia. After more than a year of market analysis -- along with surveys and interviews with local businesses -- the finalized study and a plan of action were released this month.
According to the Economy League, 86 percent of global economic growth is projected to happen outside the U.S. between now and 2020, but only one percent of U.S. companies currently export, with a small majority of that one percent exporting to only one market. Philadelphia already boasts $32 billion in exports annually, but with the right support, that number could grow significantly.
This metro export plan, made possible by a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, convened experts (including business leaders and state and federal trade officials) in southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and northern Delaware.
The initiative got an important boost in January 2015 when study partners learned that they’d be among seven other U.S. cities to join the 2015 cohort of the Brookings Institute’s Global Cities Initiative (in partnership with JPMorgan Chase), designed to support U.S. metros in developing customized trade and export strategies. Philly joined Baltimore, Seattle, Houston, Kansas City, Fresno, Salt Lake City and St. Louis in a nationwide conversation.
The Economy League attended the Global Cities Initiative’s first national workshop last February, which focused on how to launch a large-scale export study, and a second workshop in July. By that time, the Philly project’s in-depth market assessments were complete. According to Josh Sevin, Economy League managing director of regional engagement, the focus then became, "How do you convert that [research] into a strategy with some momentum?"
Through those assessments, the Economy League got a clearer picture of what it already knew: Philly is often dubbed a post-industrial city, but a highly specialized manufacturing sector remains, with plenty of potential for global growth.
When it comes to exports, we usually imagine freighters packed with stuff, but the definition of an export is broader than that. For example, if a cardiology team from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia travels to set up a new facility in Dubai, that’s a Philly export. Same story if a local architect designs a building overseas.
"When we talk about a good or a service export, think about where the dollars are coming from, not the point of service," says Sevin. That means any time someone from outside the U.S. comes here for school, or for medical care, or utilizes Philly legal or financial services, that’s an export, even if the office, classroom, or hospital room is right in our city.
He hopes the action plan can help spark "a virtuous cycle": the more businesses engage with the global market, the more business owners take note, and say, "Why not me?"
The Economy League is considering another opportunity to join a Global Cities cohort geared specifically to developing a foreign direct investment strategy.
Later, we’ll take a look a more in-depth look at the new metro export plan through the lens of a participating Philly firm.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Josh Sevin, the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia


PCDC celebrates 50 years of giving Chinatown a voice

In the 1960s, the Chinatown community banded together to oppose a planned expansion of Vine Street that threatened to bulldoze the Holy Redeemer church and school at 10th and Wood Streets. That action led to the birth of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC), which has become an essential neighborhood institution. 

Now PCDC is getting ready to celebrate its 50th anniversary: a major milestone for an organization that has supported a city-wide hub of commerce, culture, community and healthcare. (In 2015, Flying Kite’s On the Ground residence at Asian Arts Initiative wasn’t far from PCDC’s current headquarters at 9th and Vine Streets.)

PCDC got its start via a neighborhood town hall headed by Cecilia Moy Yep, George Moy and Anthony Wong, who all remain on the board of directors today. It was founded in 1966 and officially incorporated in 1969. Since then, its advocacy on behalf of local residents and business owners has spanned fair housing provisions for residents of homes razed in the path of the Convention Center expansion; successful opposition to a new sports stadium in the late 1990s; and a voice in other development projects from the Gallery Mall to Independence Mall. Now, the organization is moving forward on its massive Eastern Tower development.

"This was considered a blighted community at the time," explains PCDC's Sarah Yeung of the group's early days. "The city had cited Chinatown as a place for redevelopment. Chinatown was in and of itself a thriving immigrant community. It was full of families and businesses."

"The core mission was to ensure that this community had a voice in its own future," she continues. About 10 years after its founding -- and successfully scaling back the city’s plans for the Vine Street Expressway -- "they turned toward helping Chinatown to plan for its future as a neighborhood." An initial master plan in the 1970s led to a series of affordable housing developments that are important anchors today.

In 2000, John Chin became PCDC’s executive director, growing and diversifying the organization’s offerings, and leading the 2004 Chinatown and Callowhill Neighborhood Plan process.

Over 8000 people live in Chinatown, says Yeung, and PCDC services directly reach over 1000 clients a year, with a staff of just six people.

"Chinatown has become not just a resident-based community, but also a hub for Asian Americans in the region," she adds. "We serve as this home base for a greater population in the Delaware Valley region. We’re the only Chinatown in the state."

PCDC will celebrate its 50th birthday with an anniversary gala at the National Constitution Center (525 Arch Street) on Friday, May 6 at 6 p.m.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sarah Yeung, Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation

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On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

Philadelphia makes another prime showing in latest Knight Cities Challenge

After nabbing more project grants than any other U.S. city in the Knight Foundation's inaugural 2015 Knight Cities Challenge, Philly has more reasons to be proud. As announced at an April 12 celebration at Reading Terminal Market (RTM), local winners received the largest share of the national grant program’s $5 million pool for 2016: over $873,000 for four local initiatives.
This year’s contest, which invites individuals and organizations nationwide to submit their ideas for improving city life, drew over 4,500 applicants. That was narrowed down to 138 finalists and 37 grantees. Philadelphia's winners include the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance (PACA) for its 20 Book Clubs, 20 Cooperative Businesses; Reading Terminal Market Corp. for its Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers; Little Giant Creative for its Institute of Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship, and Benjamin Bryant for his Little Music Studio.
Caitlin Quigley of PACA spoke at the celebration. Her organization will use its $146,000 grant to launch 20 book clubs in 20 Philly neighborhoods. Attendees will focus on studying cooperative business models, and then use what they’ve learned to launch a co-op business serving a need in their community.
Quigley hopes the initiative will "activate Philadelphia residents to be lifelong agents of change in their neighborhoods."
RTM General Manager Anuj Gupta spoke on behalf of Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers, recipient of $84,674. According to Knight, the project will build "cultural bridges to Philadelphia’s immigrant communities with cooking classes celebrating ethnic food," led by RTM chefs.
RTM is one of the city’s most diverse public spaces, explained Gupta, and it’s known "as a place where one can expect civility," no matter where you come from, over the common enjoyment of food.
Tayyib Smith's Little Giant Creative is receiving $308,640 for its project that boosts "economic opportunity by using hip-hop to provide hands-on business training to members of low-income groups." As Smith noted, one third of our city’s population lives in poverty. With a GED and two semesters of college, he’s now the founder of four businesses, and he wants to see Philadelphia's entrepreneurial community talk as much as they can about local poverty.
Bryan's The Little Music Studio, which netted $334,050, will be a "traveling playground for musicians," making musical instruments accessible in public places to anyone who wants to sit together and play. The "project is not about performance," says Bryan, but about diverse people connecting through spontaneous jam sessions. (He’s leading the project through his role as director of planning and design at Group Melvin Design.)
As Knight Foundation Philadelphia Program Director Patrick Morgan put it, "Each of these ideas represents the best of Philadelphia."
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Patrick Morgan, Knight Foundation Philadelphia, and Knight grant recipients 


KIZ tax credits expand east to booming Old City startup scene

Old City just got a major boost with the expansion of the University City Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ) across the Schuylkill River and all the way to Front Street -- that means some major new tax credits for the neighborhood’s burgeoning tech sector.

Old City-based Arcweb Technologies hosted the March 23 announcement, with featured remarks from University City Science Center President and CEO Stephen S. Tang, Arcweb CEO Chris Cera, and Mayor Jim Kenney.

If you go into a coffee shop near North 3rd Street in Old City -- or as it’s affectionately known, "N3rd Street" -- and "grab somebody that’s sitting there, most likely they’re a technology worker," said Cera. "I don’t think that’s found anywhere else in Philadelphia."

And he went further than that: "My 10-year outlook…is that this is going to be the tech center of Philadelphia, here in Old City."

Expanding that University City KIZ should contribute to that growth, which Tang called "a pivotal moment in our city’s transformation from a manufacturing economy to an innovation economy."

Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell instituted the KIZ program "to spur entrepreneurial activity," Tang explained. There are 29 KIZs across the state and three within the City of Philadelphia: the large BioLaunch 611+ zone that spreads north of Lancaster and Girard Avenues and I-95; the Navy Yard KIZ, and the newly expanded University City KIZ.

A KIZ is a special district that offers tax incentives to eligible for-profit companies in the life sciences and technology sectors. The program offers a statewide pool of $25 million toward the credits. An approved KIZ company (applications must be submitted by September 15 of each year) can claim a tax credit equal to 50 percent of its increase in gross revenues in the most recent taxable year over the revenue from the preceding year, earned within the KIZ. This tax credit is capped at $100,000, and for companies whose credit exceeds their tax liability, the credit is saleable for up to $0.90 on the dollar.

In the last decade, 48 early-stage tech and life science companies in the University City KIZ have received almost $8 million in tax credits, with 21 companies nabbing close to $2 million just last year. Now this benefit will extend all the way across the heart of Center City and into Old City.

(For a look at one University City company reaping the KIZ benefit, check out our profile of Graphene Frontiers, working towards big changes in medical diagnostics.)

"As a result of these tax credits, startups are retaining jobs, hiring new employees and developing new products," said Tang. "Not only are KIZ tax credits being invested in our local economy, but they’re also strengthening Philadelphia’s innovation ecosystem."

"It’s very exciting to see what’s happening in Old City," added Mayor Kenney. "The expansion of this [KIZ] will help propel that even faster and further than it has in other parts of the city."

Arcweb is just one company standing to benefit from the change.

"I didn’t want to have a tax credit make me move across town, from people and a place that we call home," said Cera. "I’m glad that we chose to stay and invest here."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: University City KIZ expansion launch speakers

Green City Works expands employment opportunities in University City

So how will University City District (UCD) transform $300,000 into sustainable, career-launching jobs in a traditionally tough business? Last week, we spoke with Job Opportunity Investment Network (JOIN) leaders Hoa Pham and Jennie Sparandara about the Win Win Challenge grant UCD received this winter, following a $50,000 planning grant award in 2015.

The grant-winning Green City Works (GCW) program grew out of the organization’s existing West Philadelphia Skills Initiative (WPSI), which has been connecting long-time unemployed West Philadelphians with job opportunities at major local institutional partners for over five years.

"We were looking at partnerships that would allow us to broaden our demographic base," explains Sheila Ireland, vice president of workforce innovations at UCD, noting that WPSI cohorts tend to skew toward African-American women ages 25 to 35, with jobs in healthcare or educational institutions.  

The idea for GCW was born when Valley Crest landscaping approached UCD about recruiting landscaping technicians from the West Philly area. For an organization already managing up to $400,000 of work in green spaces within its district (think The Porch at 30th Street), a jobs program geared toward landscaping seemed like a natural fit, as well as an opportunity to broaden its programs into a male-dominated industry.

When Sparandara approached UCD about applying for the planning grant, "We said, 'Here is the opportunity for us to not just work on greenspace projects…[but] to do a social venture as well," recalls Ireland. The program targets applicants struggling with challenges such as longterm unemployment or re-entry from the criminal justice system, and helps them build transferrable job skills. "We used that Win Win Challenge planning grant period to prove a couple things: Could we build this program? Could we take on fee-for-service contracts? How would we incorporate?”

The experiment was successful, even in an industry as difficult as landscaping. Though wages in the field are slightly higher than standard minimum wage, the hours can go from dawn to dusk six days a week in the growing season, with workers laid off in the winter. In other words, not a ton of stability. And with many companies recruiting workers on H2B visas, local job-seekers often don't look at the industry for entry level positions.

"Can we change the way the industry looks at workers?" asks Ireland. At GCW, that means peer mentoring and support, a livable wage ($13 an hour to start, versus an industry average of $9), work hours from 7 a.m. - 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, and pay regardless of rainy days that delay the work.

That $300,000 in seed money from JOIN has allowed GCW to hire general manager Brian English and bring in its latest cohort: 12 workers who began a 26-week program on March 28. Those who finish the program stand an excellent chance of joining the GCW staff.

Ireland says the program is important because it honors a range of skills -- GCW’s staffers are people who are happy outdoors and who love community beautification.

"When you activate people’s talents, you really speak to what they should be doing in their lives," she enthuses. "And you can change people’s lives by doing that."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sheila Ireland, University City District 

The Job Opportunity Investment Network (JOIN) has partnered with Flying Kite to explore how good jobs are created and filled in Greater Philadelphia. Stay tuned as we follow the progress of these exciting grants and track the city's continued workforce development challenges.

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