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From Harrisburg to Center City skyscrapers, the search for Penn's next president is getting attention.

"We watch with bated breath," Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Schweiker said. "The position is much more than the classic role of overseeing a prestigious and academically influential institution -- they are guiding an economic powerhouse."

As an employer, developer and foundation for the future, Penn's influence -- and the importance of Penn's president -- is not being underestimated by leaders in the region.

"It's enormously important," said Pennsylvania Governor and Penn alumnus Ed Rendell, adding that the role of the University's president is important to Philadelphia's drive to foster "new, cutting-edge business."

Rendell, who served as Philadelphia's mayor from 1992-2000, added that the region also takes advantage of university research, as it did during the "biotech revolution," applying research to scientific enterprise and diversifying city businesses.

And because Penn is the largest private employer in Philadelphia -- sending paychecks to around 28,000 people -- Rendell said that the University president plays a "part in the base economy as well."

On a local level, Schweiker said that "there's probably an awful lot of residents in [West Philadelphia] and an awful lot of small business people that... wouldn't have been there without the entrepreneurial forays Dr. Rodin emphasized in her time."

Schweiker, who served as Pennsylvania's governor before Rendell took office, also noted the boost that Penn's national reputation gives the region, as well as the size and importance of Penn's health system.

"Consider the fact that in [fiscal year] 2002, Penn was the number two position as far as grant-making among academic medical centers in the U.S.," he said.

Michael Frandsen, a spokesman for Philadelphia-based health care company CIGNA, concurred.

Penn's "national reputation adds to the reputation of our community," he said, adding that "many area companies, including CIGNA, benefit from the quality of the University's graduates. CIGNA obviously has an interest in the University remaining strong and vibrant and under very capable leadership."

Schweiker agreed that the changing of the guard at Penn "amounts to an extremely significant step for the region."

So what would they like to see in Rodin's successor?

Noting that Rodin came to the position with purely academic credentials, Rendell said that politicians and business people would not necessarily want someone with a business background, but rather "someone who is proactive in every respect."

Rendell also credited Rodin with heightening interest in a job she has done superlatively.

"I don't think there's ever been a president who's built a better working relationship" with Philadelphia's business and political leaders, Rendell said, adding that Rodin's success was at least in part due to Penn's former business chief John Fry -- whose position is currently empty following the resignation of Clifford Stanley last week.

Whether Rodin personally changed the nature of Penn's presidency or naturally stepped into a regional development power vacuum, many do not want to see the initiatives she has launched drop by the wayside when she steps down.

Through Rodin's commitment to Innovation Philadelphia, Penn is currently participating in the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce's "regional road map," an effort to support research and development at area universities, nurture job-creating industries and attract and retain trained labor in the city.

"I credit Dr. Rodin with the foresight to push for the establishment of the regional road map in these areas, and I am ever so hopeful that Dr. Rodin's successor is blessed with the same preoccupation and focus," Schweiker said.

Since becoming Penn's president, Rodin has also become personally involved in nationally prominent businesses. She has served as a director of health care giant Aetna, in its various incarnations, since 1995. She got tapped by American Airlines parent company AMR Corporation, joining its board as a director in 1997. She also serves on the boards of Comcast Corporation and Electronic Data Systems Corporation, and as a trustee of 43 of the mutual funds managed by BlackRock Funds.

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