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Elsevier’s US technology hub city is a front-runner for the new Amazon headquarters

Philadelphia's mayor explained why that makes sense for a city brimming with young talent

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In the zone – Elsevier's technologists work on a project in a tech-friendly environment.

Once known for cheesesteaks and the Rocky Steps, Philadelphia has been experiencing a huge cultural and business resurgence in recent years. It’s a surprise contender for Amazon’s second headquarters, with Moody’s Analytics ranking it the third best metro area for the HQ with the potential to move to first. The city now ranks number 1 in the US for millennial population growth. It has world-leading academic institutions and healthcare providers.

And it’s comparatively affordable and an easier place for the middle class to live. Mayor Jim Kenney, who visited the office following the Amazon bid, has called his city a “goldilocks zone” in comparing it to the east-coast metropolitan areas of Boston, New York and Washington, DC.

James SacraWith the city teeming with tech talent, Elsevier has transformed its Philadelphia office into a technology hub, where developers help tackle some of the most pressing issues facing humanity today. “We build tools for doctors to use when treating patients, or for researchers to use when they’re trying to discover treatments,” explained James Sacra, Senior Director of Software Engineering for Elsevier’s Precision Medicine team. “It’s meaningful work – everyone is fully engaged because it has a lot of impact on global healthcare.”

Find out what our Philadelphia staff have to say about working for Elsevier

When the mayor visited the office, it was as part of a listening tour to learn what his government can do to help local employers attract and retain more talent.

Apparently he liked what he saw, telling employees: “It’s what people like you do that’s going to drive the city into the future."

Mayor Kenney said that the process of submitting the Amazon bid has helped his government develop a great sense for the city’s strengths and weaknesses for attracting employers. Kenney added that while the city is rich with young talent, it’s challenged in keeping them from moving to the suburbs as they age. So while Philadelphia needs to build the job base, it has to be with the kinds of careers talented people can grow and remain with as they age.

Jeff Keating, Elsevier’s Senior VP of Engineering, introduces the mayor of Philadelphia, Jim Kenney.

Elsevier’s President of our Clinical Solutions business, Dr. John Danaher, explained to the mayor how the company had evolved to become the tech-focused business it is today:

What we’re about today is data and analytics. While our history is in producing journals and books that are used for reference, now we think about how we can take our most relevant contextual content – the content that doctors make life-and-death decisions with – and make it part of the online workflow of the doctor or nurse. Our people here have expertise in machine learning, artificial intelligence and natural language processing, and they merge those technologies with the great content we have to create innovative decision tools.

Technology employees work together in Elsevier’s newly renovated Philadelphia office. (Photo by Alison Bert)

Meghan KellyThe idea that Philadelphia nurtures those kinds of careers is reflected by the people who take on the challenge of creating those technologies “It’s a great team environment, it’s really flexible,” said Meghan Kelly, a User Experience Specialist. “I enjoy coming to work every day, and there are always great people to work with.”

Meghan’s role also keeps her in touch with people in the research community, listening to their feedback and turning it into product improvements. “It’s really fun working with users,” she said. “You get to see how different they are from institutions to institution, what their day to day is like, and how they use the product in one role versus another role.”

Staff can enjoy social areas, vending machines with healthful snacks, and even a treadmill desk that lets them exercise while they work.

Delivering content sure has changed; this treadmill desk allows employees to work out while they work.

For Meghan, the emphasis team collaboration makes a big difference. “Although it’s a big company, it feels like it’s small, and you don’t get lost in the shuffle,” she said. “My team … feels like the best team I’ve ever worked with, and I’m not kidding about that. People have a great time working together; people really appreciate each other – it’s great.”

For those in the Philadelphia office, Elsevier’s vision provides a strong focus for the day-to-day activities. “We’re right on the cutting edge of everyday problems that impact millions of people,” said James, on the Precision Medicine team. That, combined with the people, is why he recommends working for Elsevier: “We have a great group and we have a great tech stack.”

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