Translating Philadelphia's life-sciences strength into a slogan

How do you market a region like Philadelphia that probably has lost more types of industry than most American cities can cultivate?

Sure, we lean a little heavy on the health-care and education sectors. But many regions count those institutions among their biggest employers. Slogans like “Phila-health-ia” or “City of Brainiacs” won’t cut it.

But the pharmaceutical industry has persisted and grown locally, and it’s a big reason why the region is identified with medical innovation.

A study released yesterday will give the economic development spin-sters new reasons to tout Philadelphia’s status in the life sciences. Researchers with the Milken Institute determined that the nation’s leading area for life sciences was, well, Boston. But Philadelphia was No. 2, ahead of San Francisco. (Here's a link to my story on

Between 2003 and 2007, the number of people working in a 12-county Philadelphia cluster of pharmaceutical, biotech, medical-device and R&D institutions rose from 53,500 to 56,300. Only New York, with 68,062 jobs, had a bigger labor base among the 11 areas studied.

Many of those local employees work for “mature” drug companies, such as Merck, GlaxoSmithKline and Wyeth. They’re a source of strength because drug companies have big supply chains and engage in a wide range of activities, said Ross C. DeVol, Milken’s director of regional economics.

Those medicine mills also face challenges as Big Pharma consolidates, tiptoes along the “patent cliff,” and braces for changes to a health-care system we all know and dislike.

The study also points out a vulnerability: Philadelphia ranked ninth out of 11 metro areas in terms of the number and growth of life-sciences businesses under 20 workers.

Philip Hopkins, vice president of research for Select Greater Philadelphia, said his group and the seven other sponsors of the study wanted to know how the region had held up over the last four years. To him, the results validate their emphasis on marketing the region to attract new life-sciences employers.

I’m sure they’ll try to dazzle with the 114 pages of data, but wouldn’t it be great to have a catch-phrase?

The City of Brotherly Life Sciences? The Cradle of Medicine? Cure-adelphia?