About Albert Ciuksza

Albert Ciuksza Jr. is the director of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance's Pittsburgh Impact Initiative, which helps connect small companies with resources and opportunities, and champions their success locally, nationally and internationally. He is pursuing his MBA at Pitt’s Katz Graduate School of Business, and serves on the board of 3 Rivers Connect.

The first six months of the Pittsburgh Impact initiative provided some important insights as we engaged, personally and collectively, with companies that are growing. We learned from these businesses and the network of organizations that support their growth that we should tackle three areas of activity: communicate with businesses to exchange information; connect companies with the business opportunities, resources, and talent they need to continue to grow; and champion their success through a variety of communication channels. We’ve successfully implemented that strategy, and we’re always looking for new opportunities to improve.

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Albert Ciuksza, director, Pittsburgh Impact Initiative

With that focus, we’re excited to announce the introduction of Pittsburgh Impact Radio on KQV AM 1410, broadcast this Sunday (and every first Sunday of the month) at 8:30 – 9:00 a.m., with a replay on the following Monday at 7:30 p.m. and always available via podcast on iTunes.

Why radio?

We think that radio will give people in the region the opportunity to hear the stories of those organizations that help enable business growth in the region, as well as the companies that are creating jobs and driving our economy. We believe we can use this medium to help other business owners learn more about the more than 150 different organizations and programs that exist solely to support their growth. Finally, we believe that this show, and its easy-to-share audio, will help to broadcast the message of the great things happening in our region’s business community.

So, please join us this Sunday morning and first Sunday mornings thereafter (or on your MP3 player or iPhone anytime) as we explore the many opportunities for small business and economic development in Pittsburgh. To kick things off, we’ll be speaking with De Peart, president of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance  – an affiliate of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.  Hear about the services his organization provides and the successes it’s had recently with marketing the region for business investment.  One such investment is Reaxis, an expanding chemicals and coatings firm with its headquarters and multiple locations in the region.   Vice President, Technology and Business Development, Leon Perez tells why the company is growing here.

Mallory and Albert in the Yucatan, autumn 2012.

If you are — like me — geographically unaware, you may not realize that the popular vacation getaway Cancun is located in the heart what used to be entirely populated by Mayans. I recently spent my honeymoon there, on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. With a rare opportunity to visit ancient ruins – amid exhausting days of drinking Negra Modelo on the beach – Mallory (the new Mrs./Dr. C) and I decided to check out Coba, one of the four major cities (and the capital) of the Mayan civilization.

We rode bikes through what is left of this city (once home to more than 55,000 people) to Nohoch Mul, the tallest pyramid on the peninsula, standing about 50 yards high. One of the unique aspects of this ruin is that visitors are allowed to climb it. Feeling feisty, Mallory and I decided to scale the not-quite-built-to-code stairway to the top. As we embarked, we struck up a conversation with a young woman who was also making the climb. The following conversation ensued:

Young Woman: Where are you from?

Us: Pittsburgh.

YW: Pittsburgh?! I was just in Pittsburgh for One Young World!

Us: Really? How long were you there? What did you see? (Imagine these with a few heavy breaths taken given the height.)

YW: Only four days, but it was beautiful. Everyone was so friendly. And have you ever been to The Mattress Factory?

Us: (Giggling) Yes, we definitely have. (Our wedding reception was at the Mattress Factory.)

The woman turned out to be from Paris and was effusive in her praise of our city. Mallory and I were just floored that — while scaling a pre-Columbian ruin nearly 1,500 miles from home — we met someone from perhaps the world’s most glamorous capital waxing eloquent about Pittsburgh. I think it’s a small but powerful illustration of how events like OYW offer unique opportunities to turn visitors into heartfelt ambassadors for the Pittsburgh region.

The celebration of National Small Business Week culminated last Friday with the annual SBA Awards Luncheon, honoring some incredible business owners and supporters throughout western Pennsylvania. This year was particularly special for us as we presented the inaugural Chairman’s Award for Pittsburgh Impact Companies. Along with representatives of the Team Pennsylvania Foundation and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, we selected Elizabeth Gregg of Environmental Service Laboratories in Indiana, PA for the award.

Environmental Service Laboratories, Inc. (ESL) is a woman-owned (certified WBE/SERB) environmental testing laboratory that provides a comprehensive range of analytical testing, consulting and field sampling services. ESL’s customers include natural gas drilling companies, industrial facilities, municipalities, engineering firms, and the government. ESL is accredited to test drinking water, wastewater, soil, solid materials, natural gas, frozen dairy products, meat, children’s products and lead in paint.

The growth of ESL is worth recognizing. Beginning with only two employees in 1988, the company now has more than 70, with another 30-plus working for Environmental Land & Surveying, another company Beth founded recently to provide additional services to her customer base. Leveraging Indiana-based economic development resources and programs such as PowerLink, Beth has been able to grow her businesses in a challenging, competitive field.

I’d also like to recognize our finalists, Psychology Software Tools, SpectraGenetics, and Blume’s Solid Surface. Each company was worthy of the award and it was incredibly difficult to recognize only one.

You can learn more about Beth and ESL in the video below.

Pittsburgh Impact is an initiative by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance to help high-growth businesses continue to thrive by communicating with them, connecting them with resources, talent and opportunities and championing their successes. Learn more at www.PittsburghImpact.org.

In a data point that might surprise, about 56 percent of Pennsylvania small businesses do not have a website. Since 97 percent of people research local products and services online, choosing not to have a website puts those companies at a significant disadvantage. Getting companies to build a website to promote and grow their business isn’t easy — cost, technical skill and time are major hurdles for many of these companies.

Fortunately for the Pittsburgh region, Google is hosting “Pennsylvania: Get Your Business Online,” a free two-day event on April 10 and 11 that will help companies navigate the challenges associated with building a small business website. In addition to sessions that will help small businesses to build and promote their web presence, Google is introducing services to provide a domain name, website and free online hosting for one year. For companies reluctant or unable to build a website, this is an excellent opportunity to do so with minimal investment.

Pennsylvania Get Your Business Online details are as follows:

Tuesday, April 10 – 7:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Wednesday, April 11 – 7:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

J. Verno Studios
3030 Jane Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15230

Sessions include:
Build your free website
Online Expo
Grow your business online
Promote your business online

To register for this free event, visit: http://www.gybo.com/pennsylvania/events

Let’s start the year by debunking one of the greatest myths about Pittsburgh’s regional economy – that manufacturing is dead and has been replaced almost entirely by “eds and meds.”

Wayne Freed is vice president of Impact company Hannon Electric, which employs 10 people at its electric motor testing and maintenance facility in Ambridge.

Back in August 2011, PRA Market Research VP Jim Futrell wrote of the strength of the manufacturing sector in Research Roundup, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance market research team’s take on economic trends. (Sign up here to get the Roundup as part of our monthly PRA Post.) Jim’s analysis shows that manufacturing generated a disproportional amount of gross regional product per worker, about $10,000 more than the national average. That data also showed that the manufacturing industry was ranked as sixth in employment, but third in revenue, underscoring the value the sector brings to the economy.

More recently, a Jan. 2 Observer-Reporter article, “We Still Make Things Here,” highlighted a number of Washington County’s growing manufacturing firms. Among these was Aquatech, a Pittsburgh Impact company that has achieved success in water treatment. However, Aquatech is not the only Impact company in the manufacturing industry – 43 of the 150 companies are manufacturers.

Despite this strength, there is still a belief that manufacturing in the region is dead. While it can easily be conceded that manufacturing does not look like it did in the steel heyday – with the Homestead Steel Works running for miles along the Monongahela River – the industry has evolved to operate in a smaller footprint making more specialized products.

There is no guarantee that the world economy will improve this year, but the growth in local manufacturers is a good indicator that our region is holding its own. More importantly, the growth isn’t just related to the Marcellus Shale; the Observer-Reporter mentioned consumer goods manufacturers All-Clad Metalcrafters and World Kitchen, among others.

Pittsburgh has a lot to brag about, and its leadership in life sciences and information communication and technology is certainly part of it. But at the same time, manufacturing – both a part of our region’s rich history and its promising future – has bragging rights, too.   Manufacturing is strong, growing stronger, and continues to bring value to our regional economy.

In order to best focus the goals of the Impact initiative, we regularly meet with executives from growing companies to better understand their needs and challenges. Recently, we had the chance to sit down with executives from two of these companies: Janice McGee, president of The Empyrean Group; and Ted Ford, CEO of Knepper Press. Ted might already be familiar to ImaginePittsburghOnline.com readers, as we profiled him in a Five Questions segment last summer.

Both executives discussed the challenges they face. As a staffing agency, The Empyrean Group is concerned about maintaining cash flow and access to working capital. For Knepper Press, access to capital is more of an issue for its customers, such as small publishers who might struggle to pay for the product they’ve ordered. In addition, both Janice and Ted provided policy suggestions for our government officials, including tax incentives for small businesses and loss carry-forward tax credits. Finally, Ted cited the need for the federal government to address entitlement spending, which will give small businesses more confidence that the long-term deficit is more under control.

To hear directly from Janice and Ted, check out this brief (3:26) video.