Why Leadership Programs Like GPLEX are Good for Economic and Civic Vitality

For the past 20 years, the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia has hosted GPLEX (Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange Program). Each year this program gathers around 200 leaders from Philadelphia with the goal of connecting and educating them to strengthen our region’s communities and economic vibrancy upon their return. The pinnacle of the program is a four-day trip that entails:

  • Explorations – Visiting another city’s economic, cultural, and educational assets to learn how they operate.
  • Dining – Small group dining experiences allow for intentional conversations and additional opportunities for deeper connections.
  • Learning – A series of panel discussion by local leaders on topics of interest to GPLEX participants as well as small group workshops that foster learning and support for other leaders.
  • Networking – Formal and informal settings designed for intentional deepening and strengthening of leaders’ cohesion.

All of this is aimed at building relationships and connections that lead to innovative ideas, new possibilities, but most importantly building a collective ethos of getting things done. This is vital for any city or region to be economically competitive as it continues moving towards thriving. However, programs like GPLEX are more than just a good leadership program or a nice thing to do. It makes an impact by creating value and is part of the ecosystem that builds resilient leaders in Greater Philadelphia.

Every city goes through periods of crisis where leaders must respond, recover, and then lead their constituents back on the road towards thriving. COVID-19 highlighted this cycle for our nation, however, regional versions of this manifest in other ways.

This year GPLEX took place in the City of New Orleans. The nation is familiar with how in 2005 Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and caused over 1,800 deaths and over $100 billion in damages. During our time, we were able to see how some areas have fully recovered, while other areas still have storm damage and left some areas uninhabited. However, overall, the City continues to rebound and is on the road to recovery. Amongst other factors, this is due to the city receiving over $200 billion in investment since Katrina, including billions of dollars toward climate resiliency and storm management. However, the challenges remain:

  • The population is still recovering as the City is down approximately 100,000 people compared to the 2000 census.
  • The cost of housing continues to climb, soaring on the wings of gentrification, short-term rentals and remote workers who can live in New Orleans on wages earned from higher-paying jobs elsewhere.
  • Other expenses like flood insurance continue to outpace all but the deepest of pocketbooks.

The Philadelphia region has experienced several crisis moments as well. In 2012 superstorm Sandy delivered over $60 billion in economic damage to the East Coast and propelled us towards placing more focus on climate resiliency. More recently, the City has experienced crisis in other areas including:

  • In 2022, Philadelphia recorded 516 homicides, down marginally from the previous year but still among the city’s highest totals on record. Additionally, 2,255 people were shot, and 2,910 robberies with a gun were reported.
  • Nearly 49% of the city’s households were spending at least 30% of their income on rent, making them “cost burdened” according to the standard set by the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • The poverty rate in Philadelphia is over 22 percent, which is 78 percent higher than the US average and the highest among largest cities in the United States.

All cities have important issues to address that impact on the economic vitality and quality of life of its residents. Although these are daunting challenges, attending a program like GPLEX gives hope that smart, caring, and driven people are working hard at finding solutions to make lives better for all. Coach Marshall Goldsmith says, “Great leaders encourage leadership development by openly developing themselves.” Philadelphia can be grateful for organizations like the Economy League of Philadelphia that provides a platform like GPLEX to equip leaders towards finding solutions to complex problems.


Frank RobinsonFrank Robinson | [email protected] 

Frank Robinson is a vice president at ESI. Mr. Robinson has been a leader in the economic development and sustainable development industries for over 20 years, working with corporate, government and nonprofit clients, banks and credit unions, as well as community development financial institutions (CDFI) and small businesses.

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