About Dennis Yablonsky

Dennis Yablonsky Dennis Yablonsky is the chief executive officer of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and its affiliates.
Dennis Yablonsky

The first quarter of 2013 is at an end and that means it is time to sum up our progress year-to-date against our three-year plan to provide “Sustainable Prosperity” for our region. More than 450 Regional Investors and partners turned out on April 2 at the Fairmont Pittsburgh. It was great to see everyone.

The agenda for the meeting included an economic development scorecard for our region, delivered during our annual “Wins” Day news conference; a preview of ImaginePittsburgh.com, a re-imagined and re-made talent attraction and retention initiative with a website at its core; and a couple of multi-billion dollar issues our region must address to maintain our momentum.

Wins Day

Thirty years ago this year — 1983 — our region was at rock bottom, with an 18 percent metro jobless rate. We lost 50,000 people the following year. Public and private sector leaders came together not just to improve our region, but to save it. Where economic development was concerned, the focus was on building a diverse, knowledge-intensive economy that could free us from the boom and bust cycles that had been a reality here since Pittsburgh emerged as an industrial center in the 19th century.

The latest data indicate that we may have achieved this goal. Over the past five years, Pittsburgh has been one of the top-performing metros in the United States for business investment and job creation, leading the Brookings Institution to recognize in late 2012 that ours was one of just three metros to have fully recovered from the Great Recession. In addition to investments, employment and gross domestic product were considered by Brookings.

In 2012, business expansions and attractions totaled 269, consistent with our performance over the past five years, with the exception of a dip in 2009 during the depths of the recession. These companies are creating and retaining approximately 12,000 jobs, over time, and investing more than $3.2 billion in our region.

According to Site Selection magazine, our region ranked sixth in the nation last year for the number of significant economic development deals, and number one in the northeast for the second year in a row.

Best of all, the wins are across all five of the strategic sectors that civic leaders targeted a generation ago: advanced manufacturing; financial and business services; energy; healthcare and life sciences; and information and communications technology. Additionally, a new analysis by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance indicates that our region has been creating jobs in high-wage industries at a faster rate than the nation as a whole for the past decade.

Getting a Head Start on the War for Talent

At the same time, we cannot afford to be complacent. During yesterday’s event, Chair Emeritus Jim Rohr noted that although PNC economists are forecasting our region will add 13,000 jobs this year, other regions are beginning to grow faster. This means we may appear to be slowing down, when the reality is that we will be continuing the slow and steady pace of growth that carried us with such great effect through the recession.

Our challenge is to build on the momentum we’ve achieved in recent years in attracting and retaining talented people. At 1.16 million our workforce is the highest it has been in our history, but people are likely to go where they perceive opportunity to be. We need to position the Pittsburgh region as that place.

During the meeting we previewed the design of ImaginePittsburgh.com, our talent attraction and retention portal, which itself is being re-imagined and re-made. We’ll be re-launching the site in June with a companion marketing campaign targeting mid-career talent in markets where we believe they live. We want them to have Pittsburgh top of mind as a place to advance careers and build a life they’ll love.

We are designing the initiative with strategic advice from HR and communications professionals within a number of our region’s employers. Our goal is to support their efforts to attract and retain the best and the brightest in our region.

Time to Act on Wastewater and Transportation

Lastly, it’s time to act to deal with two multi-billion dollar issues that must be addressed if we are to continue to improve our region’s competitiveness.

A review panel convened by the Allegheny Conference at the request of ALCOSAN has recommended steps to clean up our rivers by taking a more regional approach to wastewater management. We need to encourage elected officials to work together to find a better way manage our sewer systems.

It’s also time to send a loud message to Harrisburg urging a solution for transportation and transit funding. If we don’t address this multi-billion dollar challenge, highways and bridges will continue to deteriorate and we will never have the world class transit system our members have told us they want – and that we all deserve. During the luncheon, Regional Investors filled out hundreds of postcards urging action. Please fill one out online here. We’ll be taking them to Harrisburg to make our point.

Dennis Yablonsky

Part of the power of Pittsburgh is the way that individuals come together to find solutions across sectors, organizations and interests. That is exemplified in the robust discussions generated at the Robert M. Mill Labor-Management Lecture Series, which returns to the Community College of Allegheny County on this coming Monday, Dec. 3.

At that 3 p.m. session, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and I will discuss what is needed to build a modern transportation system that serves the needs of both business and individuals. I’m looking forward to hearing from John D. Porcari, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, who will keynote the event. Admission is free but reservations are required to LaborManagement@ccac.edu, or call 412-237-4476.

The timing is fortuitous, because transportation funding remains an urgent  concern for our region. The Conference is continuing to urge state legislators to take up the long-term statewide funding solution outlined in the 2011 report by the Transportation Funding Advisory Commission (TFAC). It’s a realistic, achievable framework for meeting the funding needs of not just public transit, but also of the commonwealth’s highways, roads, bridges, ports and rails.

This ongoing labor-management series aims to enhance the understanding and recognition of the large role labor unions and labor relations have played in Pittsburgh’s successes. Previous sessions have featured Leo Gerard, international president of the United Steelworkers and John Surma, chairman & CEO of U.S. Steel (and former chair of the Allegheny Conference). Interviews with CONSOL Energy President Nick DeIuliis and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka following their appearances at an October 2011 session can be heard here or below.

Dennis Yablonsky

Our region has temporarily averted crippling transit cutbacks thanks to Tuesday’s agreement by Allegheny County and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to provide funding to keep buses and light-rail trains rolling for another year. (You can read the news release from the county here, and the Allegheny Conference’s release here.)

As you know, ensuring reliable, competitive transit service is a goal of our strategy to Strengthen Communities. During our agenda-setting process last year, transit and transportation emerged as a top priority among the 766 members and partners who participated in the process. Among younger, “emerging leaders,” reliable transit was the top priority. They told us that transit, more than anything else, would determine our region’s ability to attract and retain talented young people.

Although critically important, today’s announcement is just a first step toward a long-term statewide transportation funding solution that covers highways, roads, bridges, transit, ports and rail. Last year, Governor Corbett’s Transportation Funding Advisory Commission (TFAC), on which I served, outlined a realistic and achievable framework for meeting the need for long-term transportation funding.

The Allegheny Conference is committed to working with partners across the region and the state to support the TFAC recommendations and improve transportation infrastructure across the Commonwealth.

Dennis Yablonsky

A spirit of collaboration and public-private partnership has set the stage for the western PA-eastern Ohio-northern West Virginia “Tech Belt” to lead the way in revitalizing American manufacturing. The White House announced Thursday that the Department of Defense will provide $30 million to establish a National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Youngstown, Ohio. The federal grant will be matched with about $40 million by the winning consortium from our region.

Additive manufacturing, often referred to as 3D printing, is a promising new way of making products and components. Just as an office printer puts 2D digital files on a sheet of paper, a 3D printer creates components by depositing thin layers of material one after another using a digital blueprint. The Department of Defense envisions customizing parts on-site for operational systems, saving substantially on costs related to manufacturing and shipping.

The Allegheny Conference, through the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, has been involved in the development of the TechBelt Initiative and this proposal from the very beginning. Our Tech Belt region, which stretches from Cleveland to Pittsburgh to Morgantown, represents the 10th highest GDP in the U.S.

This federal grant is a big victory for this “mega-region” because it validates the significance of our world-class concentration of manufacturing expertise and academic research. It puts us on the map for corporations and investors looking for the places that are driving innovation in the country.

Although the institute will be based in Youngstown it will function virtually, involving seven research universities and 10 community colleges, as well as numerous industry partners, government entities and service providers. Each will have access to the advancements made by everyone else. We believe this will lead to skilled job growth in R&D and manufacturing throughout the Tech Belt.

Today’s announcement also validates the commitment to collaboration and public-private partnership that has been a hallmark of our region for almost 70 years. Thanks to a shared vision with our neighbors, we were able a number of years ago to get a head-start over similar “mega-regions” in the United States. As a result, we were well-positioned to capture this opportunity when it became available. We can’t thank our partners across state lines enough for their shared vision and their willingness to make this a reality.

As is so often the case, none of this would be possible without the leadership and partnership of Carnegie Mellon, Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh, who have done so much in recent decades to work together to move our region forward. I’d also like to personally thank Dewitt Peart, president of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance. De co-chairs the TechBelt Initiative and has helped to shape its vision for a shared economic development strategy built on innovation in manufacturing.

The institute is just a pilot, but we firmly believe that we have unequaled expertise in manufacturing and innovation in our region that will make it a success – and a model for similar initiatives in the years to come.

Dennis Yablonsky

PARIS – For the past 10 days, I’ve been traveling with Suzi Pegg, vice president of global marketing for the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance (PRA) and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on the 2011 European Festivals Tour.  Because the PSO is considered one of the world’s elite orchestras, the maestro and musicians are treated like rock stars here. Concerts were sold out months ago, but we set aside a number of tickets for international corporate leaders who we’d like to see land an operation – or expand a business – in the Pittsburgh region.

For six years the PRA has leveraged the PSO’s power as an ambassador of the high quality of life our  region has to offer – a factor important to any corporate leader’s decision about where to locate a facility. We’ve showcased PSO performances in their cities –  Lucerne, London, Berlin and Paris on this tour – and we’ve called upon Pittsburgh-area companies with European ties to help open doors for meetings with international corporate heads and other influencers to complement those amazing concerts.

Past tours have played a role in landing the North American headquarters (in Robinson Township) of the German IT services firm SYCOR, and have attracted Delta Air Lines’ nonstop Pittsburgh-to-Paris flight, among other locations and expansions. The unique PRA-PSO partnership has led to hundreds of meetings and put dozens of leads and actual projects in the pipeline. And those numbers will increase, I’m sure, after this tour is completed.

This evening we’ll attend a gathering organized by the American Chamber of Commerce in France, hosted in Jones Day’s stately premier arrondissement offices.  (This 18th century neoclassical beauty once housed the U.S. Embassy, site of the 1947 signing of the Marshall Plan – crafted by the Uniontown native who served as President Truman’s secretary of state.) There, executives from Westinghouse Electric Co., power conversion firm Converteam, and energy and transportation equipment providers Alstom Grid, along with Suzi and I, will meet with international business leaders to promote Pittsburgh’s growing portfolio of energy-related sectors. That includes not only our traditional gas, coal and nuclear, but also renewable energy technologies, intelligent building, and advanced manufacturing innovations that are producing the next generation of energy-related products and solutions. We’re focused on strengthening our region’s energy supply chain, and work with such partners as Westinghouse, Converteam and others is helping to make that happen.

Check back here at www.ImaginePittsburghOnline.com, the news blog of the Allegheny Conference and its affiliates, to read Suzi’s posts from the rest of the PRA trip.