By the time 2026 rolls around, Economy League of Greater Philadelphia Executive Director Steven Wray's two daughters, now ages 9 and 11, will be all grown up, probably settling into their first career, maybe starting a family of their own, or perhaps exploring graduate school. That will also be a special year for Greater Philadelphia, as it celebrates the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It's also the target date for the Economy League's most ambitious undertaking yet,World Class Greater Philadelphia, to unfurl into reality.
Make no mistake, Wray is deeply invested in the outcome of this most important strategic initiative.
"I want my daughters to at least think about living close to me, and to have that opportunity,” he says.
On Feb. 2, the Economy League hosted a gathering of nearly 300 city and regional leaders for the release of its Focus 2026 report, which marks an important milestone of the multi-year initiative, outlining priorities and goals for World Class Greater Philadelphia and engaging three strategic partners to help accomplish them. This important release, roughly the halfway point of the incubation phase of World Class, comes on the heels of 25 events involving more than 1,000 business, nonprofit, government, labor and community leaders over the past two years. Wray says the excitement among the crowd earlier this month was palpable.
"The reaction was very positive and enthusiastic toward what I'd call aspirational goals,” says Wray.
Focus 2026 is meant to be a living document, and at its heart are three priority areas identified through the initiative's leadership engagement: education and talent development, business growth and infrastructure. There are 13 related goals attached to those priority areas (see chart below), and over the course of the next several months, the CEO Council for Growth (business growth), United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania (education and talent development) and Urban Land Institute-Philadelphia (infrastructure) will work to help the Economy League establish global positioning strategies (GPS) that will serve as business plans to achieve those goals.
"We keep getting closer to the ground as this goes on,” says Wray. "It's like Google Earth; we keep pinching it closer and zooming in.”
The report also touches on growth and opportunity in the region, citing the steady increase of income inequality in Greater Philadelphia and the loss of 57,500 jobs in the 21st century's first decade. One thing is clear: Focus 2026 is more than a report. The engagement of three powerhouse strategy development partners to drive the next phase of the initiative sets the stage for translating foundational research, two years of roundtables and the future histories of the region they produced, and an overarching theme of Greater Philadelphia on the world stage into an improved region that is more connected, more deliberate and more able to accomplish big things.
"There's an expectation that World Class is a little bit different,” Wray says. "That expectation comes from the work we've been doing, the partnerships we're engaged with and the diversity of the folks who have been involed through our outreach.”
The GPS portion of World Class should be finalized by the start of 2013. What World Class ultimately aims to do is take humongous issues and the many moving parts involved in addressing them and bringing them all together, focused around a singular plan of action.
The idea of World Class initially came from the region's discussions and plans around a bid to host the Olympics. And while the global stage is still the ultimate destination for the region, World Class is aiming to create a much more meaningful legacy that involves constant evaluation, celebration and action.
"World Class is an attitude that we're not going to be satisfied where we're at and we're constantly going to look to improve and raise our game in everything we do,” Wray says.
Check out the new World Class video here (and below).
There's also a World Class Greater Philadelphia app, which you can get here.
Education and Talent Development
2026 Vision: Greater Philadelphia has a talented workforce where every resident has the skills needed to compete in the global economy.
World Class Goals:
- All of the region's children are prepared to start school.
- All of the region's children come out of high school college-or work-ready.
- Greater Philadelphia is a national leader in postsecondary degree attainment.
- The region's workforce skills adapt and match industry needs.
- Greater Philadelphia is a magnet for international talent.
Partner: CEO Council for Growth
2026 Vision: New and growing businesses fuel a dynamic regional economy that builds on Greater Philadelphia's industry and research strengths and connects to global opportunities.
World Class Goals:
- Greater Philadelphia is known as a place where entrepreneurs can successfully create and grow business to scale.
- Greater Philadelphia adapts, grows and sustains industry clusters where it has a competitive advantage.
- The region is a leader in bringing innovative ideas and technologies to the marketplace.
- Greater Philadelphia's businesses capitalize on global export and investment opportunities.
Partner: Urban Land Institute-Philadelphia
2026 Vision: In 2026, Greater Philadelphia has convenient connection to regional, national, and global destinations and efficiently provides the key infrastructure necessary for business success and high quality of life.
World Class Goals:
Greater Philadelphia connects with the largest and fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the world.
The region's transit and road networks provide convenient and efficient connections to employment centers and destinations.
Greater Philadelphia redevelops and improves signature regional destinations.
- Modernized energy and water systems and green infrastructure enhance business performance and quality of life in the region.