The Next Great American City: Pushing Philly Forward

The city has become home to a new breed of self-styled entrepreneurs, artists and scientists. Here are 12

Rob McElhenney, 28
This St. Joe’s Prep grad and former Temple student may now divide his time with L.A., but his often hilarious new sitcom, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, captures why so many witty, talented 20-somethings love it here: It’s, well, it’s … not really trying to be anything else. The head of FX, which just picked up Sunny for a second season, says McElhenney reminds him of a “young Larry David.”

Robert Schena, 50
A serial entrepreneur and Philly loyalist — Temple B.B.A., Wharton MBA — Schena heads Wayne’s Rajant Corporation, which makes compact, portable wireless Internet network devices called “BreadCrumbs.” Used by the Army and in Katrina cleanup — Schena sent $200,000 worth to aid hurricane relief — BreadCrumbs won the 2004 Ben Franklin Business Award for “Most Innovative Product.”

jared scott, 33, and Steve o’connell, 30
Why did a South Beach-residing creative from America’s hottest advertising agency decide to pack it up and start a new shop, Stick and Move, in Philly with his buddy? “Five years from now, nobody will wonder ‘Why Philly?,’ and it’ll be nice to have been here since before it tipped,” explains O’Connell, a Jersey native who first worked with Scott on the anti-tobacco Truth campaign at Miami’s Crispin Porter + Bogusky. “And no freakin’ hurricanes.” The duo have already won accounts from Hydrapak, maker of water-carrying backpacks, and Yakima, the Oregon boat-and-bike-rack company.

michael cohen, 61
More than a decade before Vioxx, this modest Warminster pharmacist recognized that the medication-labeling process is less than foolproof, after the death of a diabetic who received 10 times his normal insulin dose after a pharmacy misread his doctor’s bad handwriting. Since then, Cohen has turned into a sort of Ralph Nader of medicine; his influential Institute for Safe Medication Practices, headquartered in Huntington Valley, lets doctors report medication complications anonymously, and dispenses findings to physicians and the public. The ISMP says mistakes caused by unclear drug labeling kill some 7,000 Americans each year. In September, Cohen was awarded a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant for his efforts to save them.

Richard Bendis, 59
If Philadelphia can rightfully claim a “nanotech sector” in the year 2015, it will in part be the doing of Rich Bendis, president and CEO of Innovation Philadelphia and tireless cheerleader for the New Economy. Since ’01, IP has brought entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and talent to the region, and it even invests money itself: Last year it funded a Conshohocken startup claiming to have invented the first anti-spam router.

Julie Wong, 65
Born in China and educated in Taiwan, the founder of two local banks has been a critical liaison between Philadelphia’s business-political establishment and the Asian immigrant community for 23 years. But the next few may hold her biggest challenge yet, as she takes on helping Chinatown reverse years of city encroachment by expanding north of Vine Street, a critical task for the Asian American Chamber of Commerce chief.

Dawn Bonnell, 51
So much for that theory about women not succeeding in science: In 2004, this Penn engineering professor took the helm of one of the country’s handful of National Science Foundation-funded “nano-centers,” elite research groups that are studying practical applications for nanotechnology — that is, tinkering with materials on an atomic level. (We could explain it, but we’d run out of space.)

Frank Baldino Jr., 52
The founder and CEO of Cephalon has grown his Frazer pharmaceutical firm’s revenues more than nine times in the past five years (to over a billion dollars) on the strength of its cancer drug Actia and sleep disorder drug Provigil, by investing an unusually high 28 percent of revenues into research and development. The company also just received a preliminary green light from the FDA for Sparlon, an ADHD drug it plans to market with a division of Johnson & Johnson.

Richard Hayne, 58
He’s an old-timer, sure, but Dick Hayne’s ever-expanding, ever-ahead-of-the-curve Urban Outfitters retail empire keeps the city flush with fresh fashion talent. As the retailer’s market cap passes the $5 billion mark, Hayne and his corps of white-belted, shaggy-haired employees will soon be moving from their current HQ to seven historic buildings at the Navy Yard.

Chuck Gamble, 44
Legendary music writer/promoter Kenny Gamble had largely shifted his focus from music to community and real estate development when his nephew Chuck took the helm at Philadelphia International Records in 1998. Since then, Chuck has resurrected the Philly Sound — and its royalty revenues — by getting Philadelphia International’s music library onto television shows, commercials, hip-hop samples and ringtones. (He’s the guy behind the Apprentice theme song.) Next up, Gamble is working with the city to craft an “entertainment strategy” to draw more attention and tourism to the area’s rich musical history and present.

John Westrum, 44
Brewerytown, the largely blighted community north of Fairmount, wasn’t on anyone’s gentrification shortlist. Then Fort Washington homebuilder John Westrum read a Wall Street Journal ad offering a large lot owned by a failed microbrewery. He spent the next few years acquiring nearly every parcel in a 17-acre area of the city he’s calling Brewerytown Square, on which he plans to build and sell some 700 to 800 market-rate suburban-style townhomes. A dozen are already occupied, and a few hundred more are slated to be finished by summer 2007. And in contrast to the more organic transformation of Northern Liberties, Fishtown, Bella Vista or University City, Brewerytown West will be almost solely Westrum’s doing.