Bill Flanagan
SAUL LOEB / AFP / Getty Images

You hear it again and again, the people of the Pittsburgh region really set the place apart – and our myriad neighborhoods and communities provide a sense of place whether you live in the heart of the city, a suburb or a distinctive small town.  The Economist recently ranked Pittsburgh as the most livable place in the continental United States (edged out by Honolulu for the top spot for the nation as a whole – but still not bad company).  We’ve made one global “most-livable” list or another for the past five years running.  And of course, we’re still celebrating our “Best of the World” year in 2012, as rated by National Geographic Traveler.

Now MSN.com has weighed in with a new feature called “re-discover: the soul of your favorite cities.”  One of them is Pittsburgh.  It’s not a ranking – there are profiles of plenty of other places, too.  But it’s really worth taking a few minutes to view the ‘burgh and its neighborhoods through the videos on the site, stories told through the eyes of four people who live here. Check it out here.

The timing of all of this couldn’t be any better as we prepare to welcome the world back to our region in October during the One Young World Summit.  Although not on the scale of the G-20 in 2009, the event will bring well over one thousand young people from around the planet to Pittsburgh.  With dozens of breakout sessions and community dinners planned, these delegates will get a much better sense of the place than the world leaders ever did.

Over the past few decades, the Pittsburgh region has become a place of refuge for many displaced internationals fleeing war and ethnic persecution in their home countries — places like Iraq, Bhutan and Nepal. Although these refugees are legally permitted to work in the U.S. and are often highly skilled and well educated, they find navigating a foreign job market challenging.

Participants in Allegheny County's Refugee Career Mentoring Program, Fall 2011

However, with the help of the Refugee Career Mentoring Program, the gap created by such cultural differences is narrowing. Beginning Sept. 13, the program will once again match displaced individuals with local career mentors who will guide them through basic job searching techniques. Mentors are not expected to provide jobs; rather, through monthly workshops and one-on-one meetings, they act as a resource to provide insight about the U.S. job market. Additionally, the program offers guest speakers who host mock interviews, workplace tours, job shadows, networking events and resume writing workshops.

The program launched in September 2011, and is a collaborative of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, Catholic Charities and Diocese of Pittsburgh, Department of Human Services, Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, Jewish Family & Children Services, Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board and Vibrant Pittsburgh. Last year, 10 refugees, primarily in the engineering field, were matched with qualified mentors. This year, a group of mentees in fields ranging from computer science to human resources are looking to achieve the same improvements in confidence and successes in job-seeking.

Those interested in volunteering as a mentor or guest speaker are asked to contact Andrea Longini at the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board, alongini AT trwib DOT org.

Dennis Yablonsky

Our region has temporarily averted crippling transit cutbacks thanks to Tuesday’s agreement by Allegheny County and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to provide funding to keep buses and light-rail trains rolling for another year. (You can read the news release from the county here, and the Allegheny Conference’s release here.)

As you know, ensuring reliable, competitive transit service is a goal of our strategy to Strengthen Communities. During our agenda-setting process last year, transit and transportation emerged as a top priority among the 766 members and partners who participated in the process. Among younger, “emerging leaders,” reliable transit was the top priority. They told us that transit, more than anything else, would determine our region’s ability to attract and retain talented young people.

Although critically important, today’s announcement is just a first step toward a long-term statewide transportation funding solution that covers highways, roads, bridges, transit, ports and rail. Last year, Governor Corbett’s Transportation Funding Advisory Commission (TFAC), on which I served, outlined a realistic and achievable framework for meeting the need for long-term transportation funding.

The Allegheny Conference is committed to working with partners across the region and the state to support the TFAC recommendations and improve transportation infrastructure across the Commonwealth.

Bonnie Pfister

Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to drive past a building or bridge and say, I built that? (I do say that about my late Uncle Al, a bricklayer, every time I pass the Squirrel Hill post office on Murray Avenue. Given its proximity to splendid Manor Theatre, I get to say this a lot [to the chagrin of my friends]. Not a bad legacy for a guy who died in the 1980s.)

A few of the undergraduate women in the University of Pittsburgh’s civil engineering program mentioned something similar when talking about the tangible rewards of their anticipated careers. They were part of a larger group of students who toured the ongoing construction work along Route 28 as part of program in conjunction with the local American Society of Civil Engineers, the Constructors Association of Western PA and Brayman Construction Corp. of Saxonburg.

You can watch a video interview with these students on our YouTube page or below. It’s one in an occasional series of ImaginePittsburghNow.com posts about women in non-traditional careers. You can check out previous entries here. And if you have a career or an individual to suggest for this series, send the idea along to bpfister AT alleghenyconference DOT org.

Dennis Yablonsky

A spirit of collaboration and public-private partnership has set the stage for the western PA-eastern Ohio-northern West Virginia “Tech Belt” to lead the way in revitalizing American manufacturing. The White House announced Thursday that the Department of Defense will provide $30 million to establish a National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Youngstown, Ohio. The federal grant will be matched with about $40 million by the winning consortium from our region.

Additive manufacturing, often referred to as 3D printing, is a promising new way of making products and components. Just as an office printer puts 2D digital files on a sheet of paper, a 3D printer creates components by depositing thin layers of material one after another using a digital blueprint. The Department of Defense envisions customizing parts on-site for operational systems, saving substantially on costs related to manufacturing and shipping.

The Allegheny Conference, through the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, has been involved in the development of the TechBelt Initiative and this proposal from the very beginning. Our Tech Belt region, which stretches from Cleveland to Pittsburgh to Morgantown, represents the 10th highest GDP in the U.S.

This federal grant is a big victory for this “mega-region” because it validates the significance of our world-class concentration of manufacturing expertise and academic research. It puts us on the map for corporations and investors looking for the places that are driving innovation in the country.

Although the institute will be based in Youngstown it will function virtually, involving seven research universities and 10 community colleges, as well as numerous industry partners, government entities and service providers. Each will have access to the advancements made by everyone else. We believe this will lead to skilled job growth in R&D and manufacturing throughout the Tech Belt.

Today’s announcement also validates the commitment to collaboration and public-private partnership that has been a hallmark of our region for almost 70 years. Thanks to a shared vision with our neighbors, we were able a number of years ago to get a head-start over similar “mega-regions” in the United States. As a result, we were well-positioned to capture this opportunity when it became available. We can’t thank our partners across state lines enough for their shared vision and their willingness to make this a reality.

As is so often the case, none of this would be possible without the leadership and partnership of Carnegie Mellon, Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh, who have done so much in recent decades to work together to move our region forward. I’d also like to personally thank Dewitt Peart, president of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance. De co-chairs the TechBelt Initiative and has helped to shape its vision for a shared economic development strategy built on innovation in manufacturing.

The institute is just a pilot, but we firmly believe that we have unequaled expertise in manufacturing and innovation in our region that will make it a success – and a model for similar initiatives in the years to come.

Phil Cynar

The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) recently honored several county leaders and other individuals from the commonwealth who’ve gone the extra mile to enhance and improve the well-being of their counties and the residents they serve.

From the Pittsburgh region, Greene County officials received the “gold” – the highest honors offered by CCAP – not once, but three times.

From left: Greene County Commissioner Pam Snyder, CCAP President Jo Ellen Litz, CCAP Board Chair Mark Hamilton

The 2012 Outstanding County Commissioner of the Year Award was presented to Greene County Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Pam Snyder. Snyder was recognized for her leadership role at the county and state level on a variety of issues. She has more than 16 years in public service and is considered an authority on Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling and its impact on communities.

Snyder’s professional affiliations and service complement her day-to-day work. She is second vice president of CCAP and a member of its board of directors, and a graduate and member of the Academy of Excellence in County Government Advisory Board. She has chaired a number of CCAP committees and is also secretary/treasurer of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission.

In addition, Snyder was also presented with a special Presidential Award. It recognized her contributions and commitment – above and beyond – to CCAP demonstrated by her service to the association.

From left: Greene County Human Services Administrator Karen Bennett, CCAP President Jo Ellen Litz

Karen Bennett, Greene County human services administrator, was among four individuals from across Pennsylvania honored with the 2012 Outstanding Affiliate of the Year Award. Bennett was recognized for her work to revamp the human services financing system over the past year.

“We are beyond proud of Commissioner Snyder and Karen Bennett for their achievements,” said Robbie Matesic, executive director of Greene County Department of Economic Development. “Being recognized at the state level illuminates everything they do for Greene County every day.

“These awards were presented when the 2012 Summer Olympics were in full swing, so I can’t help but reflect on how exciting it was for Greene County to bring home three ‘golds’ of its own,” Matesic added. “It’s wonderful to see strong, positive leadership acknowledged on such a public platform. We’ve all had an amazing year working with CCAP and look forward to even more successes to celebrate next year.”