Stand at what's now the foot of Franklin Avenue, at Vanderslice Street. Right beside the "Bridge Closed" signs.

Look south. Look across the gully. Across French Creek. Across what used to be Phoenix Steel.

New construction is underway down below, footers and piers under placement, with steel arriving for installation before the close of the calendar year. Steel for a new Gay Street Bridge. Steel for north and south-end beams, and for support arches across four central spans.

Steel that, in a former life, this town itself could have provided, to cross the very area in which it would have been produced. Local production for local use -- a staple assumption of this very local town.

But, of course, we reveled as much in Phoenixville's old manufacturing reach, a global one, with products made locally.

All gone. Manufactured products, gone. Manufacturing jobs, gone. The pride of production for the world, gone.

But turn around. Look north. Four blocks up Franklin Avenue are the offices and workspaces of 21st Century Products, at Franklin Commons. The company retools and markets stainless steel mobile vending units, a product born in Australia, for markets in this hemisphere. Local retooling, local staff, international placements.

Maybe that past isn't so far past.


In his inaugural address last January 7, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter called for "a renewal" of his city, "turning our great potential into astounding reality.... we find ourselves on the brink of great change and we stand at the edge of greatness. This truly is a unique moment in the history of our city because we can now choose our own destiny."

His immediate priority list was long. Nitty-gritty items subject to more plain hard work than grand rhetoric: crime, official ethics reform, zoning and tax ordinance reform.

But, then, following the nitty-gritty, this: "We need to do all of this and more. But more importantly [italics mine] we need to offer business a skilled, educated workforce." He called it "an economic imperative, an educational imperative, a moral imperative."

A fundamental aim, underlying other goals. "Unfortunately... only 18 percent of our residents have a four-year bachelor's degree. That ranks us 92nd out of the top 100 cities. And so I challenge all of us to set a goal for ourselves: to double our college degree attainment rate over the next five to 10 years."

Just how Nutter planned to do that was then not entirely clear, though his public schedule for last week, Education Week, gave us an indication: he'd try any program, any program, that promised results.

But on July 1, Pennsylvania welcomed Dr. James C. Cavanaugh as its new Chancellor of the State System of Higher Education.

On August 6, Cavanaugh announced a fresh program to help Nutter with his goal: the establishment of a campus in Philadelphia in which all 14 PASSHE universities and area private colleges might collaborate in providing precisely the opportunities Nutter sought.

"If you bring the opportunity to the people at the right location in the right way, you can really help raise that educational-achievement level," said Cavanaugh in an interview with journalist Susan Snyder that day. "Not everybody has a computer at home to take online classes."

"This collaborative type of approach is exactly what's needed," said Doug Oliver, Mayor Nutter's press secretary, to Snyder.

Hmm. Are you still standing at Franklin and Vanderslice, facing north? Right next to 21st Century Products, Phoenixville's got just that kind of educational collaboration going on at Franklin Commons -- under private, local ownership and initiative, the only private experiment like this anyone knows of -- with Neumann College and Lansdale School of Business, and a few other institutions at various stages of negotiation.

Education in business in a global marketplace. In computer technology with applications that span worldwide, now-porous borders. Strategic leadership. Human resources management.


You could easily multiply the occasions in which our very local place is affected by, or prepares to affect, that increasingly worldwide network of relationships. Relationships that used to be pretty well defined by municipal or regional or state or national referents have become global.

The general contractor for Phoenixville Hospital's $95 million expansion is a U.S. subsidiary of a corporation based in Sweden with contracts throughout the world. Need new workers? Chances are that your new neighbors from Mexico and Guatemala and Honduras are here to meet the need because of changes in global economy, in which an international economy's free flow of capital is slowly being matched in action by a free flow of labor.

Want to get construction of the Green Line done in a flash? Want steel? What we need is available -- though delivery could be as much as eighteen months away -- in Belgium.

And that's as good a seguee as I could hope for back to Gay Street and the bridge. The contractor for the project is Nyleve Bridge Corporation, Emmaus, PA. Now, Nyleve has got to be nervous these days. Or maybe just Nyleve's steel supplier.

Thing is, since last November when the company was assembling its $17.5 million bid package for submission to PennDOT, steel prices have been anything but stable. A dramatic surge upward is more like it, a surge attributable, in part, to the construction boom in China and the repeal of U.S. tariffs on imports, forced by a decision made in Geneva (which should have driven the prices down, but for the weak dollar on international markets).

All this is to say that Phoenixville increasingly has a stake, has a practical, real stake, in what happens in Stockholm, Geneva, Beijing, Mexico City, Guatemala City, Tegucigalpa, Brussels.

The perspective that accounts for all of this is being called "glocal," a portmanteau of fairly recent invention bridging "local" and "global."

From the corner of Franklin and Vanderslice, though, we appear to have been acting glocally, even before we knew what to call it.

G.E. "Skip" Lawrence can be contacted at

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