At the Philadelphia Union League, Dr. M. Moshe Porat got right down to it. Upon taking his seat beside fellow panelists – four of the city’s top international business executives – Porat offered three reasons why Philadelphia needs to invest in its international students.
“They have innovation, energy and excitement – everything necessary to help Philadelphia compete domestically and globally in the marketplace,” said Porat, Dean of the Fox School of Business at Temple University. “They want to come here, and we have the opportunity of a lifetime.”
An invited guest at the Oct. 14 event, Porat participated in the inaugural Global PHL panel, co-sponsored by Philadelphia Business Journal and JPMorgan Chase. In a room of more than 200 of the city’s select business, economic and financial leaders, Porat and fellow experts addressed the need to raise Philadelphia’s global profile and the subsequent economic and industrial impact in doing so.
Philadelphia, home to more than 100 colleges and universities, is an appropriate landing spot for international students, Porat posited. In fact, international students made up more than 10 percent of the undergraduates, 30 percent of graduate students and 85 percent of the PhD students at the Fox School during the 2013-14 academic year.
Pennsylvania, a top-five host state in the nation for international students, is equally well-positioned for students from overseas. Pennsylvania and nine other states combine to host 61 percent of the nation’s international-student intake, according to the 2013 Open Doors report on International Education Exchange, by the Institute of International Exchange.
Like Philadelphia, Boston is regarded as an education hub on the East Coast. Dissimilarly, though, Boston has a reputation for keeping its international students in the region in the years after they have graduated.
“We are attracting a lot of international students – maybe not as many as we’d like – although we have the capacity to absorb more,” Porat said. “We have more universities within 15 miles of Philadelphia than Boston has.
“The difference,” Porat continued, “is that in Boston, many of these students stay in Boston or in the area, but in Philadelphia they go back to other places. That means we don’t have enough means and actions and ideas on how to retain these students.”
The solution, Porat said, is multi-pronged. On the national level, immigration policies tend to limit the ability of corporations to keep recent graduates of international origins, thus reducing full-time employment offers. Locally, Porat said, universities have to be more proactive in attracting students.
“I think we are all working independently,” he said, “and competition is good, but more (needs to be done) in a coordinated fashion, primarily in China, India, Brazil and Korea, where many of (Philadelphia’s international) students are coming from.”
The panel discussion – moderated by Morgan McGrath, JPMorgan Chase’s Head of International Banking – were: Michael Araten, President and CEO of K’nex Brands and The Rodon Group; Leo Holt, President of Holt Logistics Corp.; Stephen P. Mullin, President of Econsult Solutions, Inc.; and Linda Mysliwy Conlin, President of the World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia.
Those in attendance also heard from Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who has traveled extensively to promote international initiatives and promote the city as both a world-class destination for tourism and a possible landing spot for businesses.
Philadelphia, as Nutter pointed out, experienced its first population growth in 60 years, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. He credited increases in immigrant population and improved foreign relations for the population jump. In recent months, Nutter visited with Pope Francis, who is expected to make Philadelphia the first destination he visits during the 2015 World Meeting of Families. Nutter also said he has reaffirmed Philadelphia’s 50-year sister-city connection to Florence, Italy, and has met with business leaders from other international cities.
“People are talking about Philadelphia, around the corner and around the globe,” Nutter said. “I’m out there, and our responsibility is to support your efforts to continue to make our case for Philadelphia.
“Yet we remain, at times, one of America’s best-kept secrets. … We’re a little shy sometimes and not as outgoing and outward as we should be, but we are increasingly taking our place on the world stage and I have no doubt we will succeed in our goal.”
Sometimes, improving Philadelphia’s global profile is regarded as “either too hard, too unpopular or too unimportant,” said Peter Kaldes, Executive Director and Head of JPMorgan Chase’s Global Cities Initiative, but its impact is undeniable. Kaldes pointed out that only 36 percent of Americans hold passports, that only 1 percent of U.S. firms export and that a stunning 41 percent of domestic job creation stems from the international expansion of existing firms.
“We aren’t doing enough to look beyond our borders for (international) growth,” Kaldes said, “but we’re moving in the right direction.”
“The U.S. is a place where people want to study,” Porat added, “so let’s ask, ‘What are we doing to keep them here?’”