PhillyDeals: Phila.'s 10 top business stories of 2012

A corporate headhunter called the other day, asking for a list of the "Biggest Philly Business Stories of 2012." Here's my Top 10:

 

Monetate's SEPTA ads

It's a happy sign in these grim times, and it's not just Monetate. Bentley Systems and Fiberlink added Center City offices, and Alteva moved to a prominent Market Street address, so they can fill new positions with Philly engineers, programmers and sales people. Other cloud-age firms, some backed by Josh Kopelman's and Chris Fralic's busy First Round Capital, are also luring local tech grads to stay here and grow.

Philadelphia has "as much tech as Boston, and we're bigger than some places, like Austin, that get more press," says David Brussin, boss of Monetate, which builds big-data Web strategies for Macy's and other retailers, and doubled staff to 130 this year.

 

Oil is back

Carlyle Group, Delta Airlines and newly public PBF Energy reopened shuttered Delaware River oil refineries, as North Dakota and Alberta petroleum and Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale gas boom make North America the world's energy center again.

Still unclear: Will revived fuel train, barge and pipeline carbons create more local labs, specialty manufacturers and high-paid jobs? Or just steam?

 

Comcast tops Disney

Philadelphia's $100 billion (market cap) media giant has beaten the phone companies, dusted Netflix and thwarted challenges from Google and Apple. That leaves "spectacular" profits from "steady growth, steady cash returns, and the continued flexing of pricing muscle," writes Craig Moffett, media analyst at Bernstein Research.

Moffett expects more profits and share gains in 2013, and two challenges: More and more Americans can't afford rising cable-broadband rates, and, despite Comcast's effective lobbying to date, the government has a history of eventually acting to regulate high- profit industry leaders, as President Obama aide-turned-Harvard prof Susan Crawford writes in Captive Audience, her book about the Comcast-NBC deal.

 

Wawa in Florida

Philly's hoagie-coffee-gas-and-go culture goes national.

 

Vanguard buys Wyeth campus

While a few specialized financial companies, such as Vanguard, are growing again, Big Pharma remains in decline, as Wyeth's dismemberment by Pfizer and Teva's cancellation of its planned Northeast Philly super-warehouse remind us.

 

Acme closings

The area's dominant supermarket chain, whose owner, Supervalu, is squeezed by merger debt and pensions it promised but didn't fully fund, has been imploding, as rivals proliferate.

 

Cranes over West Philly

Penn and Children's Hospital, Drexel and further-flung ivied corners such as Temple and University of Delaware, the big medical schools and the dominant colleges, are building like crazy - while commercial office construction remains slow.

 

Expanding Center City

Bart Blatstein, Carl Dranoff, Ron Caplan, Eric Blumenfeld, Matthew and Michael Pestronk and Toll Bros. keep adding apartments. But will educated young tenants stay here, or are they just doubling up until the economy improves and they can afford to have families in the burbs?

 

Obama wins

Since Philly votes for Democrats, we get a pipeline to whatever federal projects are still getting funded. Congress, however, doesn't seem in the mood to spend too many billions rebuilding our increasingly Third World infrastructure.

 

Public-private partnerships

Our crumbling infrastructure creates an opening for advocates of these partnerships - builders and investment bankers, who want to take over public infrastructure financing and management. This could mean that post-tollbooth computer systems will soon be zipping cash from your wallet as you drive up I-95 and U.S. 422.

 


Contact Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194, JoeD@phillynews.com, or @PhillyJoeD on Twitter.