Submitted by: Michael Sonnentag, Communications Department Intern

“Make no Mistake, this region will be stronger with a focus on education.” This statement from Chamber President Mark Schweiker set the tone for the March 27Rethinking Philadelphia program, attended by more than 250 civic and business leaders.

Rethinking Philadelphia: Opportunity Within Reach, an annual event held in partnership with the Daily News, explored the importance of raising educational attainment in Greater Philadelphia. In a town-hall setting, panelists and audience members discussed several ways to bolster the education level of our workforce, including ways to keep young people engaged.

Much of the discussion focused on internships at local businesses, one of the Chamber’s major initiatives. “(Internships) give young people a taste of what their lives can be,” said panel moderator Michael Days of The Philadelphia Daily News. They are a way to expose our youth to professional opportunities and give them incentives to stay in school and go on to college.

Investing in young people also means investing in our region’s success by developing it’s next generation of leaders. “I want employers to consider that we can make a difference in our communities,” said Trudyann Bryan, a 2007 summer intern at Independence Blue Cross. “We are the one’s who are going to hold their spots in the future.”

Audience member Nicole Neuman of DiversePhilly.com took the concept one step further, suggesting that focusing on creating opportunities for youths should begin in elementary school. Allowing parents time off work to attend parent-teacher conferences, providing avenues to make education more affordable, and ensuring competent advising and mentoring for students were all cited as additional ways to keep young people engaged in their schooling and thinking about their futures.

Continuing adult education was also a major discussion point. Over 80,000 Philadelphians have partial college educations but have not attained bachelors’ degrees. Rethinking Philadelphia explored many ways for businesses to address this problem, such tuition reimbursement programs and offering school credits at work.

According to panelist Anthony Conti, Office Managing Partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers, the relationship between education and economic growth is a cyclical one. “The more people we have educated, the more businesses will come here. The more businesses that come here, the more jobs that are created. The more jobs that are created, the more likely we are to retain our region’s talent.”