Bill Flanagan

From the number of global groups that have turned up on our region’s doorstep in the past couple of weeks you might think the G-20 was here last fall instead of more than three years ago. Since the Pittsburgh Summit in 2009 we’ve hosted more than 30 civic leadership delegations from across the country, most of them led by Chambers of Commerce. For the most part they’ve been interested in the transformation story they heard about through all the coverage of the summit. We haven’t been tracking the international visits, but there seem to have been at least as many, if not more.

A couple of weeks ago a delegation from Hamilton, Ontario, another steel town in transition, came to look at innovation and entrepreneurship. They spent a weekend tooling around the East End of Pittsburgh and admiring the view from Mt. Washington. Last week, Tulsa, Oklahoma sent an advance team for an upcoming leadership visit this fall. They’re interested in how a one-industry town diversifies its economy and enhances its reputation.

On Sunday I told our story to a delegation organized by the government of Abu Dhabi, hosted by the American Middle East Institute. They’re here for the better part of the week, learning about free enterprise and the “power of Pittsburgh” to transform itself through public and private partnership. Yesterday, Global Pittsburgh brought over a group from eastern and central Europe interested in regional transformation and clean energy.

I had thought the interest in our region might flag so long after the summit, but so far this year it’s been picking up steam. Roanoke, Denver and Greenville, South Carolina have all reached out about visits in the fall, which happens to coincide with the Remaking Cities Congress being organized by CMU.  2013 is, after all, the 25th anniversary of Prince Charles’ visit to our region for the first and only remaking cities conference.

The online media are back on the case, too. The “Grumpy Traveler” calls Pittsburgh the “most under-rated” city in the United States in this recent post. The Wall Street Journal included Vibrant Pittsburgh in a story on cities in the Heartland reaching out to immigrants to offset population declines. (Separately we had worked together with VisitPittsburgh, the Hispanic Chamber and the Pittsburgh Promise to organize a Latino media tour during the weekend of the Pittsburgh Marathon, which had adopted a Cinco de Mayo theme.) The New York Times also featured local restaurants and food purveyors in an article on the emerging farm-to-table scene from Toledo to Pittsburgh entitled Replanting the Rust Belt, that begins, “Pittsburgh in springtime is an edible city.”

In the tourism space you’ve got to give VisitPittsburgh a lot of credit for keeping the story alive. In a recent e-newsletter, President and CEO Craig Davis noted that the organization generated $9 million in advertising equivalency value for the region just from its public relations efforts, attracting more than 1,000,000 visits each year to its website. We’re working closely with VisitPittsburgh and dozens of other partners on communication around the series of big events on tap in early June, the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival, bookended by Riverlights, the dedication of the restored fountain in Point State Park and PointMade!, the celebration of the completion of the Great Allegheny Passage.

But I think the best of the lot I’ve seen recently is “Pittsburgh: The Movie,” a video project of Mt. Lebanon native Aron Zelkowicz, who just happens to be a professional cellist. The video speaks for itself – and it’s already generated about 124,000 views on YouTube. Enjoy.

Ben Kamber

On Location at the Quality of Life Technology Center

A unique collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, the Quality of Life Technology Center (QoLT) at Bakery Square is working to make life easier for people with disabilities and older adults. QoLT brings together the word-class assets of both universities to research and design cutting-edge robots and other technologies to allow people from all walks of life to live more independently. Dr. Rory Cooper, the center’s co-director from Pitt and Dr. Daniel Siewiorek, the center’s CMU co-director, discuss the mission of QoLT and why this university partnership makes sense.

From Lab to Market: Commercializing Quality of Life Technologies

What does it take to make the cutting-edge technologies being developed at the Quality of Life Technology Center (QoLT) available to the broader public? Randy Eager, QoLT’s industrial liaison officer joins Dr. Rory Cooper and Dr. Daniel Siewiorek to chat about the process of commercializing technologies and to showcase a few QoLT innovations that are being brought to market.

Bakery Square 2.0 Breaks Ground

With the success of Bakery Square (nearly all office space is leased), the time has come for Bakery Square 2.0 – the newest residential / office space development in Pittsburgh’s East End. Construction has begun on the 12-acre site of the former Reizenstein School, which is just across the street from the existing Bakery Square complex. Gregg Perelman, principal of Walnut Capital and Todd Reidbord, president of Walnut Capital, discuss the project’s scale and scope and the many green and sustainable features that will become part of the development.

Our Region’s Business airs Sundays at 11 a.m. on WPXI-TV. Hosted by the Allegheny Conference’s Bill Flanagan, the 30-minute business affairs program is co-produced with Cox Broadcasting. The program is rebroadcast on PCNC-TV at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays, and at 3:30 p.m. Mondays. It also airs Sundays on WJAC-TV (Johnstown-Altoona) at 6 a.m. and WTOV-TV (Wheeling-Steubenville) at 6:30 a.m.

Bill Flanagan

First our region tops the U-Haul index for the fastest growth rate in people moving into any region and now we’ve made a top ten – this time among the “up and coming downtowns.”

According to Forbes.com, downtowns are being reborn across America, with double-digit population growth in the decade ending 2010 – more than double the rate of growth for cities overall.  Young adults are big drivers of this, particularly college-educated men and women ages 25 to 34, who are opting for urban lifestyles.

Downtown Pittsburgh turned up in Forbes’ top ten. The magazine notes that Class A office space was 94.5 percent leased as of the end of the third quarter of last year and the neighborhood’s population was about 8,000, up 21 percent from 2000.  And there’s more residential living on the way. According to the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, 219 units have come to market since 2009 with another 346 under construction.

The transformation of Downtown has been underway since the beginning of our region’s comeback 30-years ago.  (I’ve noted before that Pittsburgh’s darkest days were 30-years ago this year.  In 1983 the metro unemployment rate topped out above 18%.)

First came strategic investment in the arts, transforming a red light district into a cultural district.  About seven years ago PNC green-lighted a $170 million office tower (another skyrise is under construction) and jump-started the revitalization of the Fifth-Forbes corridor. Add to that the amazing success of the renovation of Market Square into a European-style piazza and the rest, as they say, is history.

But there’s more to come. Riverlife and the PA Department of Natural Resources are putting the finishing touches on a $41 million restoration of Point State Park, the biggest investment in a state park in state history, tying together the waterfront with trails and linear parks along the Allegheny and the Mon. Point Park University has already greened its urban campus with a plaza at the corner of Wood Street and the Boulevard of the Allies – and it’s got big plans for the Wood Street corridor, which connects to PNC’s new skyrise.

All of this is something to celebrate, something the entire community can do on Friday, June 7, when Governor Corbett will throw the switch to turn on the fountain in Point State Park.  The light show that weekend will be extraordinary, with a display called Riverlights showcasing the fountain – and Downtown – in a way none of us has ever seen before.

The event kicks off the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival, the JazzLive International Festival and Pride Fest, which all lead up PointMade!, the celebration of the completion of the Great Allegheny Passage, a 335-mile long biking and hiking trail that links Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.

It’s the perfect time to invite friends and family to check out everything that’s been accomplished here.  And, if they’re really into downtown living and looking for their next great career move, it’s a great opportunity to share with them one of America’s ten best “up-and-coming” downtowns.

Ben Kamber

Pennsylvania’s Pension Time Bomb

Of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, 66 have at least one local government in financial distress. Some of this can be attributed to municipal pension fragmentation throughout the Commonwealth. Nearly one quarter of all municipal pension plans in the country are located in Pennsylvania – a recipe for high costs and anemic returns. Chad Amond is seeing the effects of this fragmentation first hand as president of the Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce and as a member of the Coalition for Sustainable Communities – a statewide coalition committed to addressing municipal fiscal distress. He discusses how Pennsylvania found itself in this position and what can be done about it.

Buck Consultants Launches Private Health Care Exchange

As part of the Affordable Care Act, there’s been a lot talk about health care exchanges – both federal and state. But Buck Consultants, a human resource consultant firm owned by Xerox, is delving into the private exchange market by launching an exchange aimed at helping larger companies comply with the health care law. Sherri Bockhorst, principal of health & productivity with Buck Consultants discusses what a private health care exchange is and how companies can benefit from joining one.

Legume Bistro Receives National Recognition

A leader in the transformation of Pittsburgh’s dining scene, Trevett Hooper, co-owner and chef at Pittsburgh’s Legume Bistro, was recently recognized as a James Beard Award semi-finalist – one of the culinary industry’s most prestigious honors. Legume, which started in Regent Square in 2007 before moving to a larger space in Oakland in 2011, is committed to the ideals of locally sourced ingredients and whole animal butchery. Hooper discusses his path to Pittsburgh, which came by way of Ohio, California and Boston, and what has led to Legume’s success.

Our Region’s Business airs Sundays at 11 a.m. on WPXI-TV. Hosted by the Allegheny Conference’s Bill Flanagan, the 30-minute business affairs program is co-produced with Cox Broadcasting. The program is rebroadcast on PCNC-TV at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays, and at 3:30 p.m. Mondays. It also airs Sundays on WJAC-TV (Johnstown-Altoona) at 6 a.m. and WTOV-TV (Wheeling-Steubenville) at 6:30 a.m.

Bill Flanagan

I was really struck by a statement I heard Monday as the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board (TRWIB) kicked off its annual Imagine! Career Week series of events. The goal of the annual breakfast is to encourage employers to get involved in career education. I was moderating a panel at the Carnegie Science Center featuring Joe Belechak, chief operating officer, dck worldwide and chair of the TRWIB board; Mark Latterner, executive vice president and regional senior credit officer, Citizens Bank; and Bruce Niemeyer, vice president of Appalachian/Michigan Strategic Business Unit, Chevron North America.

The statement that struck me was Belechak’s. He told the audience that, “something like 150,000 to 160,000 people in our workforce [are members of the Baby Boom generation – 50+] and there are only half that many people in the pipeline behind them.”

At a time when some have expressed concern that our region’s employment growth is slowing relative to the national average, Belechak’s point underscores the degree to which opportunity may be under-estimated and underappreciated in our region. As a result of the economic bust of the ‘80s many employers, especially in our traditional industries were cutting jobs, not hiring young people. Roll that clock forward 15-20 years and the lack of hiring a generation ago translates into a leaner resident pipeline when it comes to mid-career professionals of all types: the 30-somethings and 40-somethings whom employers need to develop to fill the gap that will be left when the Baby Boomer generation retires.

Both Latterner and Niemeyer talked about the steps Citizens and Chevron have taken to build their pipelines, not just by reaching out to people who are already in the workforce and might be considering a career move, but by reaching down into the schools and inviting young people inside their organizations to shadow, intern or be mentored.

The good news is our Baby Boomer-heavy workforce still has a few good years left (more than a few, I hope). Demographics are also beginning to tilt in our region’s favor. Today both employment and labor force are at or near record highs and, according to PittsburghToday.org, the population of “greater” Pittsburgh topped 2,360,733 last year. For the fourth year in a row more people moved into the region than moved out. Business Insider recently provided one recent transplant’s perspective about moving into the region from California.

These trends are encouraging, but they need to accelerate to keep up with the demand for skilled workers and to replace the Boomers who are beginning to retire. The job search engine at ImaginePittsburgh.com indicates that more than 29,000 open jobs are going begging in the region because too many available workers within the region lack the skills employers need.

The solution may not be obvious but it is pretty simple. No matter what happens with new job formation in the region, to capture the opportunity ahead we’re going to have to educate, train and attract a lot more people to meet the demand for skilled workers and to transfer knowledge from the Baby Boomers before they retire. We’ve got to act now to make sure we can maintain our recent momentum.

Fortunately the many public and private sector partners behind Imagine Career Week understand the issue and they’re on the case. All of us need to help spread the word about ongoing opportunity in the region, especially as the rest of the national economy heats up.

Also as part of Imagine Career Week, TRWIB released their summer jobs report which includes some important findings about youth employment in our region. You can read the report here.

Ben Kamber

TechShop Opens Newest Location in East Liberty’s Bakery Square

Billed as a Kinko’s for geeks or a 24-hour fitness center for makers, TechShop has brought its makers paradise to Pittsburgh. Founded in California in 2006, TechShop is a membership-based, do-it-yourself fabrication studio that provides more than $1 million of professional equipment and software to budding entrepreneurs looking to bring their ideas to life. Mark Hatch, TechShop’s CEO is joined by Rich Lunak, president and CEO of Innovation Works and Jeff Thompson, president of the Product Management and Development Association, to discuss TechShop’s offerings and the impact this new location will have on Pittsburgh’s entrepreneurial community.

Business Bout Champion Crowned; Start-Up Incubator Launched

What began several years ago as a backyard gathering to help connect young professionals in Pittsburgh has morphed into a full-scale business plan competition that recently awarded $25,000, its biggest prize to date, to Project Aura – a bike safety lighting company started by two CMU undergrads. The overall effort, which now includes a start-up incubator in East Liberty, is called the Thrill Mill and is the brainchild of College Prowler CEO Luke Skurman and several friends including Bobby Zappala, Thrill Mill’s CEO. Skurman and Zappala are joined by Jonathan Ota and Ethan Frier to discuss what’s next for the Thrill Mill and why Project Aura was chosen as this round’s winner.

Pittsburgh Technology Council Celebrates 30 Years of Helping to Build Region’s Tech Sector

Thirty years ago, civic, business and university leaders came together to form the Pittsburgh High Technology Council – a collaborative organization committed to building Pittsburgh’s technology driven economy. Today, technology and innovation are integral to many of Pittsburgh’s most impactful economic sectors from manufacturing to financial and business services. Audrey Russo, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council sits down to reflect on the organization’s history and successes over the years.

Our Region’s Business airs Sundays at 11 a.m. on WPXI-TV. Hosted by the Allegheny Conference’s Bill Flanagan, the 30-minute business affairs program is co-produced with Cox Broadcasting. The program is rebroadcast on PCNC-TV at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays, and at 3:30 p.m. Mondays. It also airs Sundays on WJAC-TV (Johnstown-Altoona) at 6 a.m. and WTOV-TV (Wheeling-Steubenville) at 6:30 a.m.