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Builders Conference / Economics / Philly Tech Week

There’s a mismatch between economic data (it’s almost all positive) and sentiment (ugh life sucks)

Insights from a keynote panel session at the 2024 Builders Conference.

Chris Wink leads the opening panel discussion at the 2024 Builders Conference (Danya Henninger/

Following is a recap of one of the sessions at the 2024 Builders Conference, a daylong convening on building better innovation ecosystems. Notes for this piece were documented in real time on our community Slack — join here. Find other takeaways from the conference here.

The opening panel at the 2024 Builders Conference gathered people in leadership positions at a wide variety of organizations and companies, each deeply involved in the innovation economy, but all from very different vantage points.

In the big picture, over the past few years, entrepreneurship has boomed and wages are up even among the lowest earners, said Theresa Singleton, of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, but people don’t feel that way. 

Could it be the media’s fault, a “bad news bias”? Whatever the reason, leaders must recognize there’s a mismatch between the stats and people’s lived experience, noted Singleton, whose role is senior vice president of community development and regional outreach department.  

“We need to pay closer attention to what the data are and aren’t telling us,” Singleton said.

Encourage more investment in apprenticeships to meet people where they areTheresa Singleton Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia

It’s definitely not all about the money anymore, added Kyle Samuels of Creative Talent Endeavors. In his executive search company, he’s found candidates are actually offering to take less money for a better work-life balance. And they’re not just taking whatever job presents itself, or pays the most. They’re taking time to find positions and careers they want — permission to work remotely, for example.

Especially for the innovation economy, remote work comes with tradeoffs, asserted Troy Lemaile-Stovall, CEO of TEDCO, the Maryland Technology Development Corporation. 

The Allen Curve shows physical proximity is correlated with invention. Because there’s a “lack of spontaneity” when people aren’t in the office and bumping into each other, he said, “we are still missing connections and innovations.”

Will generative AI change any of that? Lemaile-Stovall doesn’t buy it. “AI isn’t a sector, it’s a tool. We’ve been using it for decades,” he said. Plunkett, of LIFT Labs, added that it’s simply the new baseline for how all tech companies will operate: “AI is the new OS.”

Because of that, Singleton said, leaders trying to grow regional innovation economies need to find ways to ensure the widespread adoption of AI — which comes with a whole new vocabulary and working approach — doesn’t create more barriers for people entering the industry. 

Recent immigrants and returning citizens present a huge tech workforce opportunity, she noted. “We need to encourage more investment in apprenticeships,” Singleton said. “Meet people where they are.”

➡️More from the 2024 Builders Conference

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