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.

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.

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.

Barbara McNees

Please join me at for an important conversation about increasing equity in the Pittsburgh region’s workplaces.

We are kicking off the 2013 ATHENA Awards season with a panel discussion, “Women in Leadership: The Male Point of View” at the Heinz History Center on Thursday, April 25.

Athena is often depicted holding both a shield and a spear with an owl flying nearby representing her reliance on force tempered by wisdom and strategy.
Athena is often depicted holding both a shield and a spear with an owl flying nearby representing her reliance on force tempered by wisdom and strategy.

Taking its name from the Greek goddess of strength and wisdom, the Greater Pittsburgh ATHENA Awards recognize exceptional women who demonstrate excellence in their profession, contribute to their community and help other women to succeed through mentorship. The spring event launches the call for nominations, which are due June 28. Two awards will be given at the Sept. 30 luncheon, one of the largest annual gatherings among the hundreds of ATHENA International-affiliated events presented around the world.

With the recent publication of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, discussion has been re-ignited about the persistent absence of women in top business leadership roles. While a record number of American CEOS are now female, there are just 18 women – less than four percent of the total – leading Fortune 500 companies.

Networking and continental breakfast begins at 8 a.m.; discussion follows at 8:30 a.m.

Panelists include:

  • John Barbour, CEO, Managing Director/Chairman of the Board, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC
  • Robert Krizner, Managing Partner, KPMG, LLP
  • Daniel Roderick, President and CEO, Westinghouse Electric Company

Bill Flanagan, Allegheny Conference Executive Vice President of Corporate Relations and host of WPXI-TV’S Our Region’s Business, will moderate.

Tickets are $25 (continental breakfast included) and may be purchased here before April 22.

Ben Kamber

Transportation Funding Solution Needed in PA

Pennsylvania has the dubious distinction of being number one in the nation in structurally deficient bridges with more than 4,000 statewide. In addition, thousands of miles of highways are in dire need of maintenance and repair and transit agencies are being squeezed across the Commonwealth. To address the state’s transportation crisis, a comprehensive and sufficient funding solution is needed. Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, discusses this crisis and why action needs to be taken in Harrisburg to make Pennsylvania more competitive for business investment.

ExpenseAnywhere Reinvents the Accounts Payable Process

ExpenseAnywhere, a fast growing company that automates companies’ travel and expense management systems, has grown from serving a single client in 2004 to now serving 150 customers across the globe. This steady growth has led the company to be recognized by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance as a Pittsburgh Impact Company — a subset of businesses in the region that are having a disproportionate impact on economic growth. Ashok Dhar, CEO of ExpenseAnywhere, talks about the company’s development and success over the years.

La Dorita: Bringing Argentine-Style Dulce De Leche to Pittsburgh

Started in 2009 as an effort to bring Argentine-style dulce de leche to the Pittsburgh market, La Dorita’s “milk caramel spread” is now offered in multiple markets throughout western Pennsylvania and 42 Whole Foods outlets across the mid-Atlantic region. The innovative company is the brainchild of Josephine Oria – whose memories of enjoying her grandmother’s homemade dulce de leche inspired her to start the company. Oria discuses La Dorita’s origins and the several new products, including a dulce de leche liqueur, that she has recently rolled out.

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.