Green rooftop on Heinz 57 Center (formerly Gimbels), Downtown Pittsburgh

I have been working with Sustainable Pittsburgh over the past several months to help organize and promote the 11th Annual Southwestern Pennsylvania Smart Growth Conference, coming up Tuesday, Dec. 13 at Pittsburgh’s David L. Lawrence Convention Center. So why is the Allegheny Conference partnering with Sustainable Pittsburgh on this subject?

In part because this year’s Smart Growth Conference theme, “Smart Growth is Smart Business,” is a good fit with the Allegheny Conference’s 2012-2014 strategic priorities. Those are: Enhancing Opportunity – making the Pittsburgh region a global location of choice for individuals and businesses; Strengthening Communities – reducing disparity and removing government barriers; and Energizing Tomorrow’s Economy – building our economy and improving our environment.

 Also, growing in “smart” – that is, sustainable – ways is not just a feel-good cliché. As I see it, incorporating sustainability into operations offers businesses important returns. It attracts an innovative and committed workforce, strengthens beneficial connections with community and regional assets, and lowers long-term operating costs by workings in harmony with environmental systems.

Our economy is increasingly kinetic, urbanized, horizontal and global. Business success will depend on an intelligent, flexible and empowered workforce and robust regional supply chains and markets. Equally important will be thoughtful governmental regulations and infrastructure investment and access to dependable, clean, efficient energy and water resources. This conference will focus on three themes through which businesses can strengthen their positions in a turbulent economy and enhance their chances of long-term success.

The “financing smart growth” segment is designed to help business better understand how to develop more profitably in the urban environment, a need that becomes more apparent with each increase at the fuel pump. Making use of “green infrastructure” lowers operating costs, attracts an educated, imaginative workforce and – like the granite edifices of the old economy – demonstrates a commitment to long-term investment and stability (think of the rain garden at Pittsburgh’s Allderdice High School and green rooftop at the Heinz 57 Center Downtown.) Finally, “addressing blight and abandonment” will help our older, urban neighborhoods to become more attractive to younger, discerning employees who want to live within biking or bus distance of the workplace. It also helps to raise property values, protecting investment and building stronger tax bases.

While the economy has changed dramatically, smart business is today – as it has always been – about keeping operating costs predictable and manageable, maintaining a dependable and skilled workforce and securing easy and affordable access to stable (if not growing) markets. As businesses invest in the sustainability of communities, they help hold down the costs of government by growing the tax base and influencing policy decisions for wise capital expenditures and efficient delivery of public services. Smart businesses work to improve their community housing, infrastructure and human capital assets.

Smart growth, for its part, helps to reduce the disparity between rich and poor, lessening the economic and social ills that drain community resources while helping every community to build prosperity and contribute to the common wealth. The Smart Growth Conference will offer a forum for businesses to explore and influence the regional systems that connect these issues.

 Smart growth protects and enhances public and private investment as we build a more economically vital region. That is why I believe that smart growth is smart business.

Registration for the day-long conference is $45. Click here register or to view the agenda, or contact Sustainable Pittsburgh‘s Lori Butler at (412) 258-6642 or lbutler@sustainablepittsburgh.org for additional information. You can also check out video commentary about Smart Growth by the Pittsburgh Technology Council‘s Audrey Russo, the Allegheny Conference’s Bill Flanagan, and others.