Philadelphia's story is a tale of two cities. Its booming cultural, higher education, technology and medicine-related sectors attract families, empty nesters and college grads alike to our many neighborhoods. Yet -- like many American cities -- a significant subset of our population remains in poverty, lacking the skills needed to fill many of the jobs the city has to offer. As mayor, it's my job to figure out how to both address our city's challenges and boost our assets and, whenever possible, find solutions that meet those two needs at the same time.
The city's hospitality industry offers Philadelphia that solution.
Hospitality brings visitors to our city -- whether they are families looking to spend the weekend, business travelers in town for a meeting or major convention, international visitors exploring America's birthplace or art lovers, music fans and foodies in town for a night. In 2011, 38 million people traveled to the Philadelphia region, 10 million more than a decade ago, generating $26 million in economic impact every day.
These visitors need places to stay, restaurants to eat in, folks to show them around the city. And so while tourism attracts new people to our city, it is a major source of jobs for the Philadelphians who live here. Construction jobs each time a new hotel or museum is built; executives, managers, customer service staff and maintenance employees operating each new hotel; skilled tradesmen and women setting up and taking down every convention stage and showroom; concierges, tour guides and marketing professionals hired as new attractions come online; chefs, servers and bartenders hired when restaurants open their doors to new customers.
Some 56,000 Philadelphians are employed in the hospitality industry, and so a major priority of our city is to keep that machine running smoothly.
As Mayor, I'm fortunate to have the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation, Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority, Independence Visitor Center, Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association and our region's Chamber of Commerce at my side. Together, we've made clear progress despite the economic downturn as we continue to effectively market and promote Philadelphia.
In the last two years, we doubled the size of our Convention Center; celebrated the Barnes Foundation's move to Philadelphia's Ben Franklin Parkway, putting the world's greatest individual art collection on display on the world's greatest cultural corridor; built the President's House commemorative site, standing as a marker of our country's first White House and an important reminder of our nation's complex racial history; and just next door, we welcomed the new National Museum of American Jewish History to the nation's most historic square mile.
We have opened five new hotels in the last four years, with two more set to open this fall. These investments are working. A recent report by the U.S. Travel Association shows that overnight visitation to Greater Philadelphia has grown six times faster than the national average since 1997.
These are not just new places to visit and stay. They're also new construction jobs and permanent hospitality jobs for city residents. However, as we create more and more opportunities for Philadelphians to work in the hospitality industry, we must also make sure that they have the tools and skills to succeed in these new jobs.
Workforce development organizations have already developed innovative ways to establish training pipelines into the hospitality industry. Our Community College of Philadelphia runs a hospitality certification program as a pipeline into the industry or toward a four-year degree. Another building block is a unique program called Philly Welcomes U, an online training and certification course developed by our Convention and Visitors Bureau specifically designed to develop the skills of those looking for entry into hospitality and customer service jobs.
Cities like Philadelphia are places where people are choosing to live, work and visit. There's a buzz in Philadelphia that is palpable. But, as Mayor, I know that cities are not immune to the current challenges of too high unemployment, too low educational attainment and a mismatch between skills and jobs. Our hospitality sector focuses on making sure visitors have a great time in our city -- but behind the scenes, it is employing thousands of city residents.
With the right focus on supporting our hospitality industry and building our workforce pipeline, our goal is to ensure not only that visitors enjoy themselves when they come to town, but that Philadelphia's tale of two cities becomes the story of our enduring success.
This post is part of the HuffPost Shadow Conventions 2012, a series spotlighting three issues that are not being discussed at the national GOP and Democratic conventions: The Drug War, Poverty in America and Money in Politics. Check out the Shadow Conventions big news page here, and join the conversation at HuffPost Live.