About Bill Flanagan

Bill Flanagan Bill Flanagan is executive vice-president for corporate relations for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and its affiliates. He hosts the weekly program “Our Region’s Business,” produced in partnership with WPXI-TV. It can be seen on Channel 11 in Pittsburgh at 11 a.m. Sundays, and also airs on other regional Cox affiliates and Pittsburgh Cable News Channel (PCNC).
Bill Flanagan
One Young World flags flutter in Zurch, 2011 / Photo by Amanda Sennert

One Young World is looking for a few good men and women to volunteer to welcome delegates from around the world to our region from October 16-20. As we did during the G-20 Summit three years ago, we’re hoping to help OYW identify volunteers who speak languages other than English as well as hospitable Pittsburghers who don’t. If you’re interested in signing on, please contact VisitPittsburgh, which is helping to organize this effort.

OYW is expected to attract well over 1,000 young people for a sort of “Junior Davos,” a conversation about issues important to the future of people around the world.  They will be fanning out across the city and nearby suburbs for breakout sessions and meals.  OYW needs volunteers to help make it all go as smoothly as possible. Pittsburgh is the third city to host the summit, after London and Zurich.  Not bad company to be in.

Speaking of good company, our region has made yet another important list, ranked by Global Trade magazine among the Top 50 cities for global trade. The magazine notes that “Pittsburgh is truly one of the recent feel-good American export stories, having increased merchandise exports by 46 percent between 2009 and 2010. This is all the more impressive considering the Steel City no longer deals in steel. In fact, there is not a single steel mill in the city itself. Its redirection and recovery are due to a wide-ranging economic sector that spans from mining to technology, and finds major trade partners in Asia, Europe, South America and Canada.”

All true, although it’s worth noting that we still make steel around here, just no longer within Pittsburgh city limits.  In fact, Pittsburgh is the No. 2 center of metals industry production and employment in the United States.  It’s just that nowadays we do lots of other things well, too.

FoxNews.com has also weighed in.  Correspondent Shira Levine attended the Green Pittsburgh Media Study Tour in May, organized by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance and VisitPittsburgh, and cites Pittsburgh as “one of the top revival cities.”

It’s great to be getting such national and global recognition. It’s also important to remember that it’s the result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people over a couple of generations, going all the way back to Renaissance One.

I’ve been thinking about this a little more of late. August 1 marked my 30th anniversary in Pittsburgh.  I came here to work for KDKA-TV at a time when there was every reason to doubt whether Pittsburgh could recover from the worst economic setback suffered by any region in the country in the second half of the 20th century.  People responded to the crisis and engineered a remarkable comeback.  There’s every reason to be proud of what’s been accomplished, but there’s also the risk of complacency, that we’ve closed the chapter on transformation and reinvention.

Fortunately, plenty of our friends and neighbors remain focused on reimagining our region.   A few weeks ago I spoke at the groundbreaking for the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, an ambitious project to remake a strip mining site near Settler’s Cabin Park in western Allegheny County into the largest outdoor botanic garden in the United States.  The first trails are expected to open this fall, but proponents of the project acknowledge it could take three decades to compete.  To provide some encouragement, I noted that it took 30 years from the time civic leaders first began talking about building Point State Park until their successors turned the fountain on, and that the long road back from the bust of the ‘80s took a generation, too.

As the famous American architect and city planner, Daniel Burnham, once said, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood … Make big plans, aim high in hope and work.” It could be a motto, of sorts, for the power of Pittsburgh to come together to overcome challenges and capture opportunities.

Make big plans a reality and, indeed, the world will beat a path to your door.

Bill Flanagan

I’ve been in Pittsburgh long enough – 30 years this month, in fact – to remember when a term like “Pittsburgh Entrepreneur” was thought to be something of an oxymoron. It was a reflection of how strongly our region had become attached to the industrial, corporate economy that Pittsburgh exemplified for a century. There was a sense we’d become great managers but we’d lost some of our capacity to create. And there was concern that we’d never be able to recapture the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship that had built Pittsburgh in the first place, when a bunch of young entrepreneurs with names like Heinz, Hunt and Westinghouse were reinventing the way the world worked, and Andrew Carnegie was combing the world for innovative technologies like the Bessemer Convertor to revolutionize the steel industry.

Over the past generation we have come a long way, and there was no better example than the recent Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards at the Wyndham Grand Hotel in Downtown Pittsburgh. Twenty-three finalists from western Pennsylvania and West Virginia were competing. (A couple of the judges told me after a preliminary round that they were cutting entrepreneurs that should be winners, not just finalists.)

You can see who won by clicking here and watch videos of the winners on our YouTube page or below.

E&Y brought the award to our region 26 years ago and I’ve had the honor of serving as master of ceremonies for many of those events. This year, E&Y honored Rich Lunak, president of Innovation Works (IW), as Supporter of Entrepreneurship. Rich made a really good point along the lines of Sir Isaac Newton’s famous quote, “If I have seen farther than most it is because I stand on the shoulder of giants.”  Rich talked about the visionaries of the 1980s (some were thought of as crazies) who said we should put the infrastructure in place to create a knowledge-driven, entrepreneurial economy. They included people like former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy, who as a state lawmaker helped to create the Ben Franklin Partnerships that became IW here in our region and the late Ron Morris, founder of The American Entrepreneur. Rich mentioned Tom Canfield and Frank Demmler of the old Enterprise Corporation, now folded into IW as well. Civic leaders such as Bill Newlin, Bob Kampmeinert, Marlee Meyers and Tim Parks created the Pittsburgh Technology Council, celebrating its 30th anniversary next year. A few years later, Dennis Yablonsky brought to life the Life Sciences and Digital Greenhouses. And, of course, you can’t say enough about the contributions of the leadership of Carnegie Mellon, the University of Pittsburgh, UPMC and the West Penn Allegheny Health System all along the way.

Today there are hundreds of companies in health care, life sciences, and information & communications technology employing hundreds of thousands of people in the region, many of them companies that didn’t exist three decades ago. You can add to that the impact innovation and technology commercialization have had on our foundational industries in advanced manufacturing, financial and business services and energy. The seeds that were planted then have borne fruit – and it’s a big reason our region’s economy has been outperforming the national average for several years running.

Now, if we could only find the financial resources we need to capitalize on all the good ideas and would-be entrepreneurs teaching and studying at our colleges and universities and working inside companies throughout the region. Oh, well, we’ve got to have something for the next generation to work on…

Meantime, congratulations to this year’s crop of Entrepreneurs of the Year. They’ll be representing our region at E&Y’s national Strategic Growth Conference in California in November.

Check out Rich Lunak’s interview here.

And see all the interviews here.

Bill Flanagan

Our region’s done well by a new AARP ranking of the 10 best places to retire in the United States, snagging two of the spots. Both Morgantown, W. V. and Pittsburgh made the list of “Best Places to Live on $100 a Day.” As the article puts it, it’s not about living cheaply; it’s about living well. AARP recognized Morgantown as a small college city that “combines Appalachian roots with a strong local economy.” Pittsburgh got the nod in part because “88 distinct neighborhoods create a European atmosphere.” It’s worth noting that most of the metros cited, from Spokane, Wash. to Gainesville, Fla., are small. Pittsburgh was the largest metro to make the list.

Meantime, The Wall Street Journal is recognizing revitalization in East Liberty. The article reviews the decades of efforts to engineer a comeback in Pittsburgh’s East End, from major redevelopment projects in the 1960s that may have contributed to the community’s decline to the more organic, grassroots approach of the past 15 years or so, with partnering among ELDI (the community development corporation), the Urban Redevelopment Authority and local developers and lenders.  East Liberty has become a must-see community when we host civic leaders from around the country.  The neighborhood illustrates the challenge in reinventing a place, along with the collaboration and persistence that are required to deliver meaningful and lasting change. Since the G-20 summit, about 20 civic leadership groups from across the country have been here to benchmark Pittsburgh. They’ve marveled at the willingness of people here to collaborate to take on challenges and capitalize on opportunities.

We’re still getting exposure from the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in May (ISEF). Check out the video below from the Philippines about one of the competing teams. It offers a fascinating juxtaposition of scenes from Pittsburgh and the Philippines. ISEF returns to our region in 2015.

Finally, congrats to Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald for hosting a successful National Association of Counties conference. Thousands of county officials from across the country visited Pittsburgh over the weekend and early this week. They took part in a “tailgate” at Heinz Field that showcased innovative companies and gave them a real taste of our region. VisitPittsburgh estimates the 4,200 delegates spent about $5.9 million while they were here.

Thanks as always for helping to share the good word about our region.

Bill Flanagan

Thought you’d be interested in a commentary out of New Orleans citing our region as a best practice. Greg LaRose of Dolan Media, which operates the New Orleans Publishing Group, caught the Pittsburgh feature in Delta Air Lines’ Sky magazine. In his piece, Dolan notes lessons Louisiana can learn from us, especially given our reemergence as a center of American energy. LaRose conveys pretty well the “power of Pittsburgh” to innovate and collaborate.

Forbes.com is also highlighting our region in a travel piece that resulted from the recent media study tour hosted by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance and VisitPittsburgh. “Green Living in America’s Steel City” focuses on our region’s transformation from an economy based on muscle to one based on mind, including our growing thought leadership in green building and sustainability.

Finally, The Atlantic notes that a number of core cities including Pittsburgh are growing faster than their suburbs. An Atlantic Cities blog post focuses on younger people who are selecting a more urban lifestyle — in part because they’ve witnessed the toll long commutes have taken on their parents. The observation is consistent with something the Allegheny Conference heard loud and clear last year from nearly 200 of our region’s “emerging leaders” during our agenda-setting process. They noted transit as their number one concern about the region’s future because they want to be able to live “car-free,” an even bigger issue today given the uncertainty over the finances of the Port Authority of Allegheny County. If you’re interested in what’s happening regarding transit in our region, click here.

There’s more to come. Later this month the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance is hosting a correspondent from Site Selection magazine, the industry publication for those who influence business location decisions. The magazine will be profiling our region in its September issue. A correspondent from fDi (Foreign Direct Investment) magazine will be here later in the fall. fDi is planning a special section on the Pittsburgh region as well.

And, also later this month Pittsburgh will welcome county officials from across the United States to the National Association of Counties conference. In October, we play host to another global summit, when hundreds of delegates arrive for One Young World. Given Pennsylvania’s status as a swing state, we’ll be in the spotlight as well during the Presidential election campaign.

I’d like to thank everyone who works with us to make projects like Sky possible, especially the companies that bought advertising, and also those who pitch in to host reporters for our various media tours and activities. It’s critical to telling our story and continuing to spread the good word about our region.

Bill Flanagan

We’re almost halfway through our “Best of the World” year (as so designated by National Geographic Traveler), and the Allegheny Conference, Allegheny County, the city of Pittsburgh and VisitPittsburgh are celebrating worldwide with a special section on our region in the June edition of Delta Air Lines’ Sky Magazine. The series of articles is entitled “Comeback City: The reinvented steel town has jobs, a healthy real estate market, lots of public and private innovation – and billions of dollars of natural gas.” In addition to appearing in seatback pockets on Delta flights worldwide throughout June — reaching a readership of about 5 million — a digital version of the supplement will be available on the Sky website for the next 12 months.

The partnership with Sky is a centerpiece of our strategy to reach visitors to the region while they’re here and en route. Working with VisitPittsburgh, VibrantPittsburgh and numerous partners, and thanks to support from Lamar, Pittsburgh Magazine, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and WQED-TV, we targeted delegates to the National Society of Black Engineers convention in March and competitors here for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in May. Next up is the National Association of Counties (NACo) conference in July and the One Young World Summit in October. Our objective is not just to show these visitors a good time but to send them home as ambassadors who can plant the seeds about our region as a dynamic place to invest, work, go to school, visit or play.

You may be interested in two upcoming opportunities to roll up your sleeves and welcome the nation and the world to our region. First, the local host committee for NACo, led by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, is looking for several hundred volunteers to help with that event from July 13-17. NACo will bring thousands of county officials to our region from across the country, and will feature such speakers as retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and humorist Dave Barry. If you’re interested in helping, please email Paulette Zanotti (pzpz1 AT comcast DOT net), whom you may have met during the G-20 when she volunteered in our media welcome center.

After NACo we’ll be gearing up to welcome the world again – a somewhat younger version of it – for the One Young World Summit in October. I’m told there are still opportunities to send delegates. The One Young World Pittsburgh Partnership, co-chaired by Greg Babe of Bayer Corp. and Sy Holzer of PNC Bank, is asking local companies with national and global operations to consider sponsoring delegates, using the summit to introduce high potential employees to Pittsburgh as well as to fellow emerging leaders. Talk about a way to build a global network of contacts!

You can find details about how to sponsor delegates and how to register at http://www.oneyoungworld.com/join

In the meantime, pick up a copy of Sky next time you board the Delta trip to Paris. You are, of course, using this nonstop flight as your gateway to Europe and the world beyond, aren’t you? Delta has resumed five-day-a-week service through the busy summer travel months. Since there’s no longer any public or private sector guarantee supporting the flight, it’s up to the market to make it work. If we want continued and enhanced nonstop transatlantic air service, it’s critically important that business and leisure travelers support this flight when it makes sense for them. You can learn more at www.flypittsburgh.com.

Bill Flanagan

More than $1 billion a year in energy-related research flows through the Pittsburgh region, much of it through the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), with offices in South Park and Morgantown. The research covers a wide spectrum, but NETL is the federal government’s go-to place when it comes to cleaner, more efficient ways to produce energy from fossil fuels. Overseeing activities at NETL is Department of Energy’s Assistant Secretary for Fossil Fuels. He’s a native of our region — Steubenville to be exact. Charles “Chuck” McConnell graduated from Carnegie Mellon before moving on to a career in energy-related industries, most of it with Praxair, Inc.

McConnell was in Pittsburgh recently for a national conference on carbon capture and storage and to meet with business leaders at the Allegheny Conference. I talked with him before the meeting about the role fossil fuels are likely to play in the years to come, and the role our region is playing in making it possible. You can watch the interview below.

The Greater Pittsburgh region’s energy innovation extends beyond fossil fuels to include nuclear energy, transmission & distribution, intelligent building, and even materials science related to wind and solar power, enough to make us the new center of American energy. To learn more check out PowerOfPittsburgh.com, a public-awareness effort by the Energy Alliance of Greater Pittsburgh.