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, 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, 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.