Lauren Swartz is the Senior Director of International Business for the City of Philadelphia. Originally from Minnesota, Lauren spent three years in Copenhagen for studies and work before she moved to Philadelphia in 2005. Lauren is attending Stockholm Tech Week at the beginning of September to promote the city of Philadelphia for Swedish companies looking to expand to the U.S. We met up with her to discuss what Philadelphia can offer these companies and what market trends that can be seen in the city.
What is your role in working for the City of Philadelphia?
I work with a multinational team at the Department of Commerce for the City of Philadelphia. We promote international business development for the city and work closely with domestic and international companies that are considering opening offices and investing in Philadelphia. An important aspect of my job is to introduce these companies to a network of contacts, often through Chambers of Commerce.
Why is Philadelphia a great place to set up a business?
Our primary offering can be summarized in talent, location, and cost. We have over 100 degree-granting institutions and one of the largest student population bodies in the nation. Through a program called Campus Philly, the city of Philadelphia has actively been working on retaining graduate students here. In the past ten years, the retention rate of these students has grown from 20% to around 50-60%, no major city in the nation has had a greater increase of Millenials (the population between 20-34-years old). In terms of location, we are situated right in between Washington D.C. and New York. If you would combine the economies of all the big cities on the east coast, you would have the seventh-largest economy in the world. Philadelphia as a business setting provides companies with one of the most affordable locations to access this market.
Millennials are known to be a driving force of consumption change, can you notice this in Philadelphia?
Absolutely, companies engaging in social impact and “Tech for Good” are becoming more popular and a lot of bigger companies in the city are taking this shift into consideration too. For example, Comcast recently launched a talent accelerator for startups called LiftLabs that encourages these kinds of initiatives as well. Across the city, you can also notice how restaurants, bars, and shops are catering to a younger population.
Philadelphia’s tech scene is growing rapidly and more companies across the U.S. choose to move here for the location and the lower cost of business. Can you notice a trend in what international companies choose to move to the city?
The city is home to a host of growing industries that international companies are looking to utilize. Life sciences and healthcare are in particular one of the fastest-growing industries, but insurance, data privacy, and data analysis are also growing. The opportunities to stand out as a startup are big here, it is not as hard to receive venture capital-backed money relative to our neighboring East Coast cities too. And recent studies have shown that Philadelphia has the third-largest return on investment for VC-backed firms in the U.S.
Though, we are still facing the challenge of putting Philadelphia on the map as a top business destination. If I were to ask any official delegate about what the U.S. sixth-largest city was and what it had to offer to businesses, they would just cluelessly shake their heads. The same goes for a lot of bigger countries. We can not just assume that people know what Philadelphia is. Part of that reason is why I am going to Stockholm Tech Week in September, to put Philadelphia on the map as a city of big opportunities.