Phil Cynar

Kristi Harper is rolling [in the] dough at Café Kolache, a charming bakery and eatery on Third Street in equally charming downtown Beaver, Pa. For her, owning the bakery is a sweet dream – one that began playing out in her head about a decade ago when she was living and working in Houston, Texas. On her first day of work at Enron – the energy, commodities and services giant (which ended up in bankruptcy in December 2001) – Harper made her acquaintance with kolaches when a colleague brought in a plate of the doughy Czech delicacies to share. It was love at first bite.

Café Kolache in Beaver, Pa.

Kolaches begin with slightly sweetened dough that gets fashioned into delightful delicacies whose centers are traditionally filled with fruit, cottage cheese and nut or poppy seed to complement Czech meals. In Texas, which became home to a substantial Czech population in the mid-1800s, kolache shops are now as ubiquitous as bagel shops are in western Pennsylvania. They serve the traditional kolaches, but Texan bakers have dared to give them a new twist by filling the delicious bread with cheese, meats and vegetables (or a combination of these) – creating savory kolaches that can enjoyed as a breakfast or lunch entrée. Sorry, babka, but it seems that kolaches are no longer just for dessert.

When Enron took its nosedive, Harper’s division was eliminated. Earlier that year, the 9-11 tragedy turned the country upside down. Combined, these situations got her thinking about what was important. Home and family were top of list. Considering these circumstances vis a vis her priorities, Harper decided to follow her bliss – owning a kolache bakery – and she made a beeline back to Beaver, her hometown, to make it happen.

 Today, Café Kolache is probably more successful than Harper might have ever imagined. The downtown Beaver bakery-lunch spot-coffee/tea bar serves up scores of sweet and savory kolaches, in addition to homemade cookies (including biscotti) and soups. And they’ve got the traditional nut, poppy seed and apricot rolls that are very much part of holiday tradition, especially in a region, like Pittsburgh, with deep eastern European roots.

We sat down with Harper, who made time for us even in the midst of the busiest baking season of the year – Christmas – and she shared her sweet story of entrepreneurial success, as well as some wonderful samples. Watch the video below for your own “taste” of Café Kolache, then make it a destination – if not during the holiday break, then early in the new year.

ImaginePittsburgh.com

In addition to being a recommendation for writing good fiction, the adage, “show me, don’t tell me,” could just as easily be applied to economic development, a practice that includes marketing a location, attracting business to it and enhancing its economic well being and quality of life. Being able to actually see or experience what a particular location – a city or a region – has to offer can help to bring economic development deals to fruition.

The concept of “show, don’t tell” motivated the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance (PRA) to recently bring eight national site location consultants and capital market experts to Pittsburgh for a two-day familiarization tour. The tour was designed to acquaint these influential individuals – advisors to high-profile corporate clients worldwide on the best locations for business investment – with the spectrum of advantages that Pittsburgh, a “world’s best” destination*, has to offer.

The PRA brings these professionals to town to show, not just to tell them about the assets that make the region a solid investment. At the same time, their visit provides an opportunity for the 10-county Pittsburgh region’s economic development and commercial real estate community to hear about any improvements that could be made to enhance the market’s competitiveness. This year was the first time that the PRA included capital market experts in the tour. Inviting them to participate was in response to increasing interest in the region from outside investors. A prime example is last year’s acquisition of downtown’s iconic PPG Place by North Carolina-based Highwoods Properties, with a total investment of $214.1 million anticipated. Maintaining and increasing this outside interest and investment motivation is a goal.

While in town on Nov. 12 and 13, the group visited American Eagle Outfitters at SouthSide Works and Google Pittsburgh at Bakery Square – two globally recognized brands that have chosen Pittsburgh for either a headquarters or other significant business operation. Interestingly, both of these companies chose former Pittsburgh brownfield sites for their investments.

The group also participated in the developers’ showcase of NAIOP Pittsburgh (the Commercial Real Estate Development Association) at Allegheny Center on the North Side. This event, attended by professionals from the commercial real estate and economic development communities, included a panel discussion featuring the site location consultants and capital market experts. They responded to questions from Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce President Barbara McNees, who moderated the panel, as well as to questions from the floor regarding the state of the region and its attractiveness for business investment.

Watch the video clip below featuring three of the experts participating in the PRA’s familiarization tour to hear their reactions to Pittsburgh and their recommendations for taking the region to the next level.

Additionally, you can read the reflections of one of the tour participants, Dean Barber, principal at Barber Business Advisors, LLC in Plano, Texas, who’s also included in the video.  Barber’s piece, “The Journey of a Hungry Caterpillar,” was recently posted on his blog, BarberBiz. Although he says that he considers himself “a Southerner and a now a nuevo Texan,” Barber writes that he grew up in a manufacturing family and that his father was from Pittsburgh, allowing him to “feel a certain affinity for the city.” He further shares, “ … I must admit that I come upon places that I naturally like. Sometimes I cannot fully explain it, but I just do. Such is the case with Pittsburgh.”

That said, we’re casting our vote for “show, don’t tell” when it comes to selling this region. Clearly, the “eyes” have it.

*National Geographic Traveler, 20 “best of the world, must-see places.” 

ImaginePittsburgh.com

Downtown Pittsburgh’s Fairmont Hotel was the setting for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development’s annual meeting on Thursday, Nov. 8 where a capacity crowd of nearly 600 civic, business and political leaders gathered to hear the organization’s annual progress report.

Allegheny Conference leaders, including Conference Chair Charles Bunch (chairman & CEO, PPG Industries, Inc.) and Conference Vice Chairs David Malone (president and CEO, Gateway Financial Group) and Laura Ellsworth (partner-in-charge, Jones Day Pittsburgh) reported on efforts over the past year to grow the economy and improve the quality of life in the Pittsburgh region. This is the first year of the Conference’s new 2012 – 14 agenda, which guides the organization’s work. It’s organized into three strategic priorities – Enhance Opportunity, Strengthen Communitiesand Energize Tomorrow’s Economy –  under the umbrella of “Sustainable Prosperity.” Here are highlights of the progress reported on at the meeting.

CEO Dennis Yablonksy speaks at the Allegheny Conference’s Annual Meeting on Nov. 8, 2012

Enhancing Opportunity – building on our strengths to connect businesses and individuals to opportunity

The pipeline of the Conference’s marketing affiliate, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, typically has about 90 projects in it at any given time. Today that number is 150 – indicating significant interest in the region. Economic development deals such as the expansion of Aquion Energy with a manufacturing facility for environmentally friendly aqueous hybrid ion batteries in the former Sony plant in Westmoreland County and the building of a new facility for Germany-based industrial door manufacturer HormannFlexon in Washington County underpin the region’s strength in manufacturing, as well as energy.

The Conference has launched a new initiative to accelerate the growth of African American-owned businesses in the region. Working with 113 Industries, we’re using an “open innovation” approach that encourages the adoption of best practices and new ideas. We’re beginning by identifying models across the U.S. that have been shown to enhance entrepreneurial opportunity for minority-owned businesses.

Strengthening Communities – removing barriers that prevent communities from realizing their potential

Fragmentation in Pennsylvania is a problem because  it undermines municipal health. One area where the problem is paramount is pensions. The Conference, working in concert with the statewide Coalition for Sustainable Communities, continues to pursue reform of binding arbitration and municipal pension reform to strengthen the fiscal health of communities.

Energizing Tomorrow’s Economy – seeking competitive tax and regulatory policies and reinforcing our region’s leadership as the new “Center of American Energy”

The Conference and its affiliate, the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, has made some progress in improving business climate. In the past year, the unemployment compensation formula has been reformed, resulting in reduced costs to employers. There has been progress on lawsuit abuse reform. The overall business tax burden has eased with the continued phase-out of the Capital Stock and Franchise tax and improvements to the structure of the Corporate Net Income tax. To increase public awareness of our region’s energy opportunity, the Conference launched the Energy to the Power of Pittsburgh regional public awareness campaign to spread the word about energy-related job opportunities in the 32-county greater Pittsburgh region – now and into the foreseeable future.

We’ve made progress on the workforce front, with the convening, development and launch of the multi-state ShaleNET and now ShaleNET U.S., a comprehensive recruitment, training and placement program for high-demand jobs in the natural gas industry.

(L-R) Tom Grealish (Henderson Brothers), Jack Ouelette (American Textile Company), Laura Ellsworth (Jones Day) and Dan Grealish (Henderson Brothers)

While our region has made significant progress on a number of fronts, Conference Chair Charles Bunch identified five challenges as being top priorities in 2013. These include:

Skills Gap

A skills gap is emerging in our region as thousands of jobs are going unfilled across the 10 counties. A recent report by the Allegheny Conference and Energy Alliance of Greater Pittsburgh highlights 14 high-demand, hard-to-fill occupations that exist today in our energy sector.  If current trends continue, tens of thousands more may become available within the next decade. Industry must create awareness of this opportunity and partner with schools engaged in workforce development.

Transit and Transportation Funding Crisis

There is a critical need for transit solutions that work. We must keep in mind that this year’s successful negotiation of a funding package to stop the proposed Port Authority service cuts is just a one-year fix. The solution, the Conference believes, is in the recommendations of Governor Corbett’s Transportation Funding Advisory Commission for raising $2.5 billion annually to address transportation infrastructure needs (roads, bridges, rail and ports) and stabilize transit.

Site Shortage

We’ve been successful in creating thousands of acres of “shovel-ready sites” for investment and development. But now, our regional inventory of these sites is running low; many are fully occupied. Without a shovel-ready inventory, employers will set up shop elsewhere. Given the special challenges of our terrain and the additional expense of replacing aging infrastructure, this is an issue the public sector must address.

Capital Squeeze

To turn innovative ideas into new companies, our region relies on the ready availability of venture capital, which of late has been in increasingly short supply, especially  homegrown venture capital funds that are more likely to keep start-ups in our region as they grow. It is critically important to identify new sources of such venture funds.

Pension and Binding Arbitration Concerns

Pennsylvania is home to one quarter of all municipal pension plans in the nation, many of which are chronically underfunded. Without pension and binding arbitration reform, local governments will continue to reduce services and raise taxes as they struggle to meet the basic needs of their residents and business.

Want to know more?
The Allegheny Conference in partnership with the Pittsburgh Business Times produced a 12-page insert, which highlights these regional priorities and the progress made by the Conference over the past year. The insert ran in the Nov. 9 edition of the paper. If you missed it, check it out below.

2012 Imagine Insert

Phil Cynar
Buy Pittsburgh First Founder Chantel Goldstrohm

Buying local produce is in. Who doesn’t like helping the farmer in the dell, and putting fresher fruits and vegetables touched by fewer chemicals into our bodies just feels right. But when businesses buy local, the benefits increase exponentially. By procuring supplies and services locally, smaller businesses can grow, hire and retain employees and contribute to the local tax base. This is especially helpful for women and minority-owned businesses, which sometimes struggle to make those B2B connections.

And buying local is good for our communities. When businesses buy local, 20 percent more of what they spend stays in the area – accelerating economic activity even more and becoming a cash source for the assets we prize:  parks, schools, roads and more.

It’s now easier than you might think to buy local. Today, the Pittsburgh Impact initiative, a program of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, and the Bridgeville-based company Buy Pittsburgh First, announced a partnership to streamline the process via BuyPittsburghFirst.com. This one-stop website identifies regional suppliers for purchasing agents at companies large and small and gives premium listings to Pittsburgh Impact companies and women- and minority-owned businesses in southwestern Pennsylvania on Source Engine, the site’s supplier search engine. The Pittsburgh Impact initiative is focused on helping regional companies identified as “high growth” continue on a growth trajectory – making the partnership with Buy Pittsburgh First a natural fit.

The next time your business is ready to make a purchase, check BuyPittsburghFirst.com to see if there’s a vendor in the community. Chances are high there is, and keep in mind that local products and services often exceed those of national suppliers in quality. That’s not just “in,” it’s a win.

You can learn more about this effort directly from Buy Pittsburgh First Founder Chantel Goldstrohm in the video below.

Ben Kamber

If you’re looking for a really good excuse to satisfy an ice cream craving, then you should check out Dream Cream Ice Cream in downtown Pittsburgh. Located across from Three PNC and the Fairmont Hotel on bustling Liberty Avenue, this unique ice cream parlor is serving up a whole lot more than frozen treats to the throngs of office workers and culture seekers who frequent downtown every day.

Besides offering a slew of fantastic flavors, from the always-popular red velvet to the curious-sounding mint ting a ling, Dream Cream Ice Cream is working to fulfill the dreams of its workers, one scoop at a time. During the application process, prospective employees must identify a dream they’re working toward that just needs a little extra funding to come true. Once selected, the employee — or “dreamer” — chooses a flavor from which they receive a portion of the profits from each scoop sold. The faster each dreamer’s ice cream flavor moves, the closer they are to realizing their dream. Simple as that. (Whoever has pumpkin must be raking it in right now!)

Co-founders Thomas Jamison and his girlfriend Alecia Shipman came up with the idea for the business due to a mutual love of ice cream and helping people. But it wasn’t until they received a grant from Project Pop Up: Downtown, an initiative of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, that their own entrepreneurial dream became a reality. Project Pop Up is helping to infuse further vibrancy in downtown by providing budding entrepreneurs and artists with the opportunity to set up shop in abandoned storefronts. While it’s hard to tell now, the space that Dream Cream Ice Cream occupies was once a camera store.

We caught up recently with Thomas Jamison and Michael Jackson, a “dreamer” at Dream Cream Ice Cream and founder of ProMusica Pittsburgh, to find out about what it’s like to be an entrepreneur in Pittsburgh. Check out the video below to hear their stories. And head over to www.dreamcreamicecream.com for information on how to apply to be a “dreamer.” Applications are still being accepted.

Phil Cynar

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Oct. 24 featured the greater Pittsburgh region in the article, “Cheap Natural Gas Gives New Hope to the Rust Belt.” The article and a WSJ mobile video largely focus on our abundant supply of natural gas and the potential – beyond fuel – that this resource has as a feedstock for manufacturing, particularly for the petrochemical industry.

Earlier this year, Shell Chemicals announced that it is considering building an ethane cracker in Beaver County. The proposed plant would have huge economic impact. It would rank as the single largest investment in a generation in the region and would be the creator of potentially thousands of construction jobs, in addition to hundreds of full-time jobs needed to operate the facility.

The wet gas-rich Marcellus Shale concentrated in greater Pittsburgh is the catalyst. Because of this below-ground resource (alongside above-ground resources in human capital, innovation and R&D), Pittsburgh is poised to take the next step toward reviving manufacturing in America.

It’s an exciting time for the country and for greater Pittsburgh, and it’s exciting to have the region and some of its key companies benefiting from natural gas, including Allegheny Technologies, recognized in the Wall Street Journal, which reaches 3.5 million global readers daily.

The word is out – in print, broadcast and in the blogosphere – and it underpins three key messages about greater Pittsburgh and its booming energy economy. Pittsburgh is: advancing America’s energy security with innovation; investing in American manufacturing’s rebirth with its plentiful natural gas; and driving job creation and career opportunities to meet the ever-expanding needs of the energy sector.

You can read the latest “word” with a WSJ subscription (the article is behind a paywall) or you can view the mobile video here, which is available without subscription. It’s a solid summary of the print article, featuring lots of on-location footage in Beaver County and an interview with Jack Manning from the Beaver County Chamber of Commerce.