Ben Kamber

The Regional Transportation Alliance of Southwestern Pennsylvania, a public-private partnership designed to facilitate a broad community discussion about the future of transportation in the region, was launched on Sept. 30  to improve connectivity across the 10-county region, and in doing so, to improve competitiveness, economic vitality and quality of life throughout southwestern Pennsylvania.

“Our region has a unique opportunity to approach our transportation future in a new and dynamic way,” said Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, the organization that is providing staff support to the RTA. “Act 89, the state transportation funding package passed in 2013, stabilized our transportation infrastructure maintenance situation. Now it’s time to look toward the future to imagine what is needed to create a better functioning, interconnected multimodal transportation network that benefits the entire region.”

The RTA will be led by a 22-person steering committee that includes a public and private sector representative from each of the 10-counties and the City of Pittsburgh.

The first activity of the RTA will be an “Imagine Transportation” crowdsourcing initiative to identify transportation priorities through community feedback. Through the end of the year, more than 700 regional stakeholder groups – from small nonprofits to large employers, from environmental groups to social service agencies – will be asked to identify their most critical transportation problems and their ideas to address them. These priorities could be as small as “complete the two-mile bike path that’s supposed to run along the riverfront in my downtown” or as big as “build light rail to connect all 10 county-seat communities in the region.”

The RTA steering committee will then review these community responses to develop a picture for what the future of transportation in the region could look like. In its recently approved Long- Range Transportation Plan, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission called for an “ongoing regional discussion” if the region wants to move beyond the status quo transportation system. Groups and organizations wishing to participate in the crowdsourcing exercise should follow the instructions at RegionalTransportationAlliance.org.

“Transportation is fundamental to economic development and vibrant communities,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, a member of the RTA steering committee. “As a region, it’s critical that we take a visionary approach toward determining our transportation needs. And as a truly regional effort, the RTA will help facilitate this process and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

“Traveling to Denver, Colorado last year as member of a public-private benchmarking delegation, I saw what was possible when a region had a shared sense of vision to implement transformational transportation projects,” said Brian Heery, RTA co-chair, and president and CEO of Mitsubishi Electric Power Products, Inc., located in Warrendale, Pa. “Public-private partnership was critical to metro Denver’s transportation successes. And these partnerships will be just as critical as we envision how our own transportation future is defined.”

“Improving connectivity and mobility throughout southwestern Pennsylvania is a crucial issue facing our region,” said Steve Craig, RTA co-chair, and Lawrence County Commissioner. “The launch of the RTA and its crowdsourcing initiative is just the first step in a journey to redefine how the region’s transportation network functions.”

For more information, visit RegionalTransportationAlliance.org.

RTA Steering Committee

Co-Chair: Steve Craig, Commissioner, Lawrence County

Co-Chair: Brian Heery, President & Chief Executive Officer, Mitsubishi Electric Power Products, Inc.

Tony Amadio, Commissioner (Chairman), Beaver County

Alfred Ambrosini, Commissioner, Fayette County

Philip Ameris, President & Business Manager, Laborers’ District Council of Western PA

David E. Barensfeld, President & Chief Executive Officer, The Ellwood Group, Inc.

David K. Battaglia, Commissioner (Chairman), Armstrong County

Rich Fitzgerald, County Executive, Allegheny County

Kim Geyer, Assistant to Commissioner McCarrier, Butler County

Dr. Tori Haring-Smith, President, Washington & Jefferson University

John Lewis, President & Chief Executive Officer, Armstrong County Memorial Hospital

Lawrence O. Maggi, Commissioner (Chairman), Washington County

Henry J. Maier, President & Chief Executive Officer, FedEx Ground

Jeffrey Marshall, Chief Clerk and County Administrator, Greene County

Greg McCloskey, Director of Public Works, Westmoreland County

Bill Peduto, Mayor, City of Pittsburgh

Rodney D. Ruddock, Commissioner (Chairman), Indiana County

Art Titus, Chief Operating Officer, Elliott Group

Rodney Wilson, Manager-Business Development, CONSOL Energy

Laura Fisher

This article first appeared in the May 8, 2015 edition of the Pittsburgh Business Times

“Could the next Brooklyn be Pittsburgh?” asks the headline of a recently published article in Brooklyn Based, a popular online magazine about all things Brooklyn. In the piece, the writer interviews seven former Brooklynites who flocked to Pittsburgh to seek out opportunity. She poses the obvious question: Why Pittsburgh?

This isn’t the first time that Pittsburgh has been compared to another hip, fast growing region in the country. It was only a few years ago that the Washington Post declared Pittsburgh “in” and Portland, Ore., “out.” And recently, Cleveland State University noted that Pittsburgh was best positioned to be “the next Boston.” Our region’s high quality of life, relatively low cost of living, and availability of jobs continues to attract national attention. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Brooklyn is taking notice.

bbFor the former Brooklynites interviewed, much of their initial reasoning for leaving New York City’s fastest growing borough had to do with cost of living. According to RealtyTrac, Brooklyn has the nation’s most unaffordable housing market when comparing median monthly household incomes to median housing prices. The same data firm also found Brooklyn is one of the least affordable areas for Millennials in the country. Compared to Pittsburgh, Brooklyn’s overall cost of living is almost twice as high.

Cost of living is important, but there are other reasons why Pittsburgh has become an attractive alternative. Our region was cited as having an abundance of economic opportunity, an educated population that is getting younger and is beginning to grow, and an authentic spirit of community and collaboration. Pittsburgh is a place where passionate, creative individuals can put down roots and feel a true sense of belonging. Opportunity is on the rise here.

This sense of real opportunity is already bringing in a population cohort that is increasingly important to our region’s future – Millennials. While it’s no secret that we have one of the nation’s oldest populations, our younger population is beginning to grow. Since 2010, Millennials have been our fastest growing age group. Between 2010 and 2013, the population of 25 to 34 year olds grew at a rate of 6.1 percent, more than twice the national rate of 2.8 percent. Conversely, the fastest growing age group nationally was 65 and over, which increased by 6.9 percent. Regionally that increase was just 2.3 percent.

Labor force participation by younger people in the region is also higher than the national average, with a 2.7 percent increase among 25 to 34 year olds compared with 0.4 percent nationally. Today, the median age in the City of Pittsburgh is 33.7, below the national average of 37.5.

These are positive trends, but as a community we have more work to do to meet the workforce demands of the future. Today our region’s working age population is home to many more people aged 45-65 than those aged 25-44 in line to replace them, a gap totaling 144,000. Despite recent positive trends (more people moving in than out and a fast-growing Latino population), our overall working age population is not growing fast enough to close this gap before the last of the Baby Boom generation leaves the workforce. There’s no silver bullet that will solve this problem. Rather, we need to be proactive in supporting a multi-pronged approach to attract, retain, educate and train more skilled workers.

The question, “Could the next Brooklyn be Pittsburgh?” is a bit misleading. Pittsburgh has its own unique community, culture and sense of place. It’s what makes us so special. It’s also what makes us attractive to those Brooklynites who are seeking a new place to call home. We must leverage our assets and work together to attract and welcome more talented individuals from Brooklyn and other regions across the country. Our region’s future depends on it.

Zersha Munir
A beach in Fort Lauderdale
Hollywood Beach, Fort Lauderdale

JetBlue will begin flying from Pittsburgh to Florida this fall, adding another nonstop flight from Pittsburgh to a popular vacation destination as well as a potential business gateway to the Caribbean.

Beginning on Oct. 29, the airline will offer one daily arrival and one departure between Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL)

From Fort Lauderdale, JetBlue flies nonstop to Puerto Rico, a region of interest for the new ¡Hola Pittsburgh! initiative, said its chairman, Ron Alvarado.

¡Hola Pittsburgh! is a partnership of public and private entities, the city of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County the Allegheny County Airport Authority, the Greater Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce,  ImaginePittsburgh.com and others  to market the Pittsburgh region as a place of opportunity to Latinos in the United States and Puerto Rico. Its kickoff event was a free outdoor concert of salsa legends El Gran Combo in Pittsburgh on June 22.
“Since the concert, I’ve heard from band members several times that they’d like to come back to Pittsburgh,” said Alvarado, who is also chairman of the Hispanic Chamber. “This flight will make it easier for people from Florida or the Caribbean to visit – or even move to – Pittsburgh.”

Alvarado spoke at a news conference in the courtyard of the Allegheny County Courthouse, which was tropically decorated and serenaded with the relaxing rhythms of the Salsamba Trio, a Pittsburgh-based Latin Jazz group.

“Pittsburgh is now on the global map,” said Mayor Bill Peduto, adding that more nonstop air routes help the region to compete strategically as a business partner.

IMG_8959[1]
Florida oranges, Terra chips and inflatable palm trees adorned tables at the news release.
Other speakers included Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, state Senator Matt Smith and officials from JetBlue and the airport authority. All speakers emphasized the positive effect that traffic between Pittsburgh and Fort Lauderdale would have on the economy and the lifestyles of its residents.

The launch of the PIT to FLL route will coincide with the Allegheny County Airport Authority’s new parking promotion, offering discounted parking for route’s passengers.

The Allegheny County Airport Authority also opened application to its contest to win roundtrip airfare for two on JetBlue. If you missed today’s chance to apply, do so in Market Square this Friday, July 18 from 5 to 7 p.m. during Salsa in the Square, part of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership’s “Celebrate Downtown!” eight-day event. Salsa in the Square will feature a performance by salsa band Machete-Kisumontao and dance lessons by the Las Sabrosos Dance Company.

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.