Civic News

Economy League’s GPLEX 2022 is poised to take 150 Philadelphians to Detroit

Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange Director Kiersten Mailler says the two cities should be considered "cousins."

At GPLEX 2021 in Philadelphia.

(Courtesy photo)

Each year, the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia hosts a leadership conference either at home or in another US host city to educate regional leaders on strategies to strengthen Philadelphia’s economy.

At least, it did before COVID-19 came to town instead.

The Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange (GPLEX) this year has eyes on Detroit. The choice of city was actually made about four years ago with plans for the 2020 conference, GPLEX Director Kiersten Mailler told Technical.ly. But after the pandemic hit, it paused those plans. The organization is now planning for an early October IRL program.

Detroit offers a lot of interesting factors to learn from, Mailler relayed via phone while on a scouting mission in the Midwest city. It’s actually about the same acreage as Philadelphia, though less dense, she said, and Philadelphia has roughly a million more residents. But the two cities are both former industrial hubs. Consider them “cousins,” Mailler said: They have parallels, but have been dealt different hands, and have had to get creative with their economies in their own context.

Like in pre-pandemic times, this year’s GPLEX program will welcome 150 leaders from around the Philly region to head to its host city of Detroit and learn from local economic experts and industry leaders. The program has a goal of representing the geographic, demographic, sector and industry diversity of Philadelphia, and forging connections in other cities that strengthens this one’s playbook.

The GPLEX program is open to participants across industries, and just requires they be some sort of leader — maybe a company’s CEO or COO, a community or nonprofit leader, or someone who runs a city gov department, Mailler said. Though the tech sector remains a relatively small part of Philadelphia’s overall economy, it’s growing, and in years past, 20 or so attendees usually have ties to Philly tech.

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“Industry wise, we look everywhere. It’s an umbrella,” Mailler said. “It takes a lot of different backgrounds to solve these problems.”

Attendees might learn business leadership tactics, civic tech strategies, manufacturing lessons, or how to strengthen a sense of community in certain neighborhoods. The point, the director said, is to build civic muscle.

“The connections people are making here are with powerful movers and shakers, and the things they’re learning mean that when some complicated problem comes through our city, people have an incredible network to solve it through cross-sector collaboration,” she said.

The Economy League is hosting an event Thursday, May 19, as an opener for this year’s GPLEX program, intended to answer questions about it, meet alumni and hear about the Philadelphia and Detroit connections. This year’s GPLEX program will run from Oct. 1 to 4 in Detroit, and applications will remain open through June 10.

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