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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.