Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce
October 2, 2019
Thank you for inviting me here this morning. It is a pleasure to travel from William Penn’s “green country town” to this great historic inn that bears Penn’s name.
I was asked to speak today about Drexel’s involvement in the development of the Greater Philadelphia region. This is a passion for me as it is part of my aspiration to make Drexel the most civically engaged university in the country.
But before I discuss Drexel’s role, I think it is instructive to understand what Drexel is and is not. Drexel is not an ivory tower. We are not exclusive. We are not traditional. And we are not finished.
Now, here are some things that we are: We do cooperative education. We do translational research. We produce patents, start companies and develop innovation districts. We are an anchor institution in Philadelphia. In short, we are a university of distinction.
Our size, for one, makes us an anchor in Philadelphia. We are the 8th largest private employers in the city, and have an annual economic impact of approximately $2.4 billion.
As an anchor institution, we have a responsibility to the surrounding community and the city to ensure everyone has an opportunity to get a quality education and a good job.
It’s in Drexel’s interest to have a thriving University City, as well as a vibrant Philadelphia and surrounding region. That is the driving vision behind our innovation district known as Schuylkill Yards.
For those not familiar with Schuylkill Yards, it is a $3.5 billion development on 14 acres surrounding the gateway to Drexel’s campus and 30th Street Station. Over 20 years, with our development partner, Brandywine Realty Trust, we expect to develop up to 7 million square feet of office, research, residential, retail and green space.
The first phase was completed this summer. It is a 1.3-acre public space known as Drexel Square. It is a beautiful park across from 30th Street Station that is the gateway to our campus and the 6th square by William Penn.
Next to Drexel Square, the former Philadelphia Bulletin Building is undergoing a major facelift. Spark Therapeutics - a fast-growing gene therapy company – moved its headquarters there. Two new skyscrapers nearby are also in development totaling 1.2 million square feet.
Fortunately, Schuylkill Yards is not happening in isolation. 30th Street Station is undergoing a major renovation and redevelopment. That is part of Amtrak’s 35-year-plan to redevelop 175 acres surrounding the station, which would include capping the rail yards.
This is a game-changer for University City and Philadelphia. 30th Street Station is a main stop on Amtrak’s Northeast corridor and a major commuter rail station for SEPTA. 30th Street anchors efforts surrounding transit-oriented development, which aims to maximize the amount of commercial, residential, educational and public space within walking distance of public transportation.
Other expansion plans include UCity Square, on the western edge of Drexel’s campus, led by the University City Science Center and Wexford Science and Technology. These plans call for 10 new buildings, for an additional 4 million square feet, as well as over 700 apartments, all on 14 acres with a development investment of over $1 billion.
Meanwhile, there is steady growth at Penn Medicine and CHOP, along with unprecedented commercialization and technology transfer occurring at Pennovation, ic@3401 Market, and on the campuses of the Wistar Institute, and the University of Pennsylvania.
The existing infrastructure, growing research and buzz of start-up activity is why the Brookings Institution recently identified University City as a natural innovation district. We are lucky. We have what other cities are scrambling to create.
However, we are also in a neighborhood surrounded by deep poverty. The city itself has a poverty rate of 24.5 percent – the highest among big cities in America. We as an institution, city and region can’t fully thrive if a quarter of our residents are left behind.
Our vision for Schuylkill Yards is to bring together innovation and inclusion. Innovation and inclusion are not mutually exclusive, but rather bookends. In addition to the traditional research and education taking place at Drexel, we are working with community leaders and the Philadelphia School District to provide services, training, and support to area residents.
Our Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships is our front porch to the local community. We provide a number of programs and services to residents, including nutrition course, legal clinics, career counseling, resume writing, breast screening exams, music lessons for kids and writing workshops.
Such civic engagement is a two-way street. It benefits the university and the community. Our students learn and grow, and gain practical experience from interacting and helping residents. Our professors often benefit through research. And the community benefits from our outreach and many services provided.
Drexel received a $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education and another $76 million in matching funds to be used for education, health, safety and family support services at seven area public schools in the Promise Neighborhood. We will soon break ground on a new K-8 public school building that will house two existing schools in West Philadelphia.
All these efforts are part of our broader plan to not only build out Schuylkill Yards, but to build up our neighbors. This is all easier said than done. But in the long run, we are creating the infrastructure to provide “cradle to career” opportunities.
The simple goal is to have a child born in West Philadelphia get a quality public education, go on to college - hopefully Drexel - and then find a job or start a business in Schuylkill Yards or uCity Square. And buy a house, raise a family and contribute to the growth of the city and region.
This is where innovation meets inclusion. It is also the role of an anchor institution, especially in a time when federal, state and local governments are cutting back services and support.
All of this is keeping with the vision of our founder. We recently celebrated our 125th anniversary. Anthony J. Drexel’s vision for higher education was driven by the unprecedented change brought on by the Industrial Revolution.
He purposely located the university near what was then the heart of an urban space – where rail yards, mills, factories and warehouses operated in close proximity to the bustling residential neighborhoods of Powelton Village and Mantua.
Drexel described the campus as “central to the best of the working population of a great industrial city.” And unlike many universities that catered mainly to privileged men, Drexel made no restrictions on students’ race, religion, socioeconomic status -- or gender.
That mission has shaped Drexel University in profound ways and differentiated us from the very beginning. Today, our student body come from 48 states and 100 countries. Many are the first in their family to attend college.
Through the years, Drexel has also distinguished itself academically. The university is ranked among the 100 best nationally both by U.S. News and World Report and The Wall Street Journal.
Drexel was recently designated an R1 Doctoral University for its very high research activity. This is the highest level of research activity classification given by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.
Drexel is perhaps best known for its co-op program, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Co-op came about as a way to respond to changing employment needs of companies following the end of World War I.
Today, co-op distinguishes Drexel from other universities. It is why many students come to Drexel. In fact, U.S. News and World Report recently ranked our co-op program #2 in the country.
For those not familiar co-op, students get a mix of classroom and work experience before graduating. Most co-ops are six months long and many are paid positions. Students can complete as many as three co-ops by the time they graduate. Those opportunities provide rich experiences that inform what students learn in class and then apply in the real world.
The co-ops also provide a built-in professional network upon graduation that students at many other universities lack. In fact, about half of last year’s graduates received a job offer from their co-op employer. The average starting salary for Drexel graduates is $54,257 – 19% above the national average.
Anthony Drexel’s decision to locate the university in the heart of an urban space looks even more prescient today. Over the last few years, we have recruited some of our academically strongest incoming classes. If anything, Drexel is even better positioned to prepare students for the need of today’s employers and benefit from our urban location.
In fact, University City is creating jobs, catalyzing new knowledge and drawing critical research dollars to the region. This adds to the vitality of Philadelphia.
Looking forward, I see a University City where innovation and inclusion continue to further strengthen the competitive position of our institutions, while creating even greater opportunities for all residents who will live in an increasingly safe, diverse and vibrant neighborhood.
The challenge now is to build on our strengths by creating more startups, attracting more investment, and growing more job opportunities for everyone. It is safe to say you will continue to hear more good things coming out of Drexel and University City for years to come.