Phil Cynar
Buy Pittsburgh First Founder Chantel Goldstrohm

Buying local produce is in. Who doesn’t like helping the farmer in the dell, and putting fresher fruits and vegetables touched by fewer chemicals into our bodies just feels right. But when businesses buy local, the benefits increase exponentially. By procuring supplies and services locally, smaller businesses can grow, hire and retain employees and contribute to the local tax base. This is especially helpful for women and minority-owned businesses, which sometimes struggle to make those B2B connections.

And buying local is good for our communities. When businesses buy local, 20 percent more of what they spend stays in the area – accelerating economic activity even more and becoming a cash source for the assets we prize:  parks, schools, roads and more.

It’s now easier than you might think to buy local. Today, the Pittsburgh Impact initiative, a program of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, and the Bridgeville-based company Buy Pittsburgh First, announced a partnership to streamline the process via BuyPittsburghFirst.com. This one-stop website identifies regional suppliers for purchasing agents at companies large and small and gives premium listings to Pittsburgh Impact companies and women- and minority-owned businesses in southwestern Pennsylvania on Source Engine, the site’s supplier search engine. The Pittsburgh Impact initiative is focused on helping regional companies identified as “high growth” continue on a growth trajectory – making the partnership with Buy Pittsburgh First a natural fit.

The next time your business is ready to make a purchase, check BuyPittsburghFirst.com to see if there’s a vendor in the community. Chances are high there is, and keep in mind that local products and services often exceed those of national suppliers in quality. That’s not just “in,” it’s a win.

You can learn more about this effort directly from Buy Pittsburgh First Founder Chantel Goldstrohm in the video below.

Suzi Pegg
Stained Glass in Barcelona

Barcelona is simply beautiful, and the culture and the arts are deep-seated in this seaside city. Amazing architecture abounds, as does some of the most awe-inspiring stained glass I have ever seen. The latter is somewhat obscured by vast amount of dominating architecture all around, but when you happen upon it, the stained glass takes your breath away.

I’m thinking that in some ways, Barcelona’s stained glass might be a metaphor for the arts and culture – a real, but sometimes hidden, gem tucked away amidst the bricks, mortar, steel and concrete of the infrastructure of a metropolis – the “hardware” that literally gives a city or region its shape and form. The “hardware” is critical, but by itself – devoid of the stained glass, the arts and culture and the similar wonders that soften edges and add sparkle – a city or region can come up short on personality. I think that both Barcelona and Pittsburgh recognize the need to balance both in order to achieve a quality of place that attracts people and business investment. Thousands of miles apart, we might be more like-minded than we realize.

Suzi Pegg and Mikel Burazko, at “their” table, Hotel de las Artes, Barcelona

My home-away-from-home is the Hotel de las Artes, one of Barcelona’s twin tallest buildings at 505 feet. It ties for this rank with Torre Mapfre, a neighboring skyrise. Hotel de las Artes was designed by the famous architects Bruce Graham and Frank O. Gehry, and was completed in 1994, although its dramatic design under construction was made famous by the 1992 Summer Olympics held in Barcelona. In this tallest of buildings, Mikel Burazko, Pennsylvania’s man in Spain and Portugal and one of my key partners, often meet to plan our lofty strategies for marketing the our home state. We’ve gathered here so often that the staff has actually started to reserve us our “usual” table.

Pittsburgh and Barcelona are similar with regard to economic sectors and strengths such as information and communications technology, cyber security, energy, life sciences and manufacturing. Our similarities have made it easier for us to hold productive meetings with several motivated agencies to discuss the bilateral opportunities between our regions, with the terms “innovation” and “collaboration” common to our business vocabularies. I am feeling positive that that there are some key opportunities here, and I’ll look forward to reporting more as these develop.

To get from meeting to meeting, I sometimes take a cab. On a recent ride, my driver was an overly enthusiastic man who had just returned from a trip to the UK where, among other things, he had gone to learn English. He seemed delighted to practice his English with me and was thrilled to share all he loved about my native England – especially football matches and pubs. In fact, he was so thrilled that he found it impossible to not show me his many travel photos – while driving the cab! Needless to say, it was quite a ride, and I felt like I spent more time watching the road for him rather than admiring his photos.

The Pittsburgh Symphony concert was held in the historic and sumptuous Palau de la Musica. The hall – the “Palace of Catalan Music” – was designed in the modernista style by the architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, and was constructed between 1905 and 1908. Not unlike Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall, it was built with important financial contributions from by Barcelona’s wealthy industrialists. The PSO musician played Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 – the Resurrection Symphony – exquisitely. It was a moving performance and yet another testimonial to the quality associated with our Pittsburgh region and embodied in the PSO. Our Spanish business guests were taken aback by how exceptional the orchestra is.

On that high note, we are poised to continue a conversation about how Pittsburgh and Barcelona – places that prize quality and embrace innovation and collaboration – can perhaps develop mutually beneficial business partnerships. To that, I exclaim bravo !

Mallory and Albert in the Yucatan, autumn 2012.

If you are — like me — geographically unaware, you may not realize that the popular vacation getaway Cancun is located in the heart what used to be entirely populated by Mayans. I recently spent my honeymoon there, on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. With a rare opportunity to visit ancient ruins – amid exhausting days of drinking Negra Modelo on the beach – Mallory (the new Mrs./Dr. C) and I decided to check out Coba, one of the four major cities (and the capital) of the Mayan civilization.

We rode bikes through what is left of this city (once home to more than 55,000 people) to Nohoch Mul, the tallest pyramid on the peninsula, standing about 50 yards high. One of the unique aspects of this ruin is that visitors are allowed to climb it. Feeling feisty, Mallory and I decided to scale the not-quite-built-to-code stairway to the top. As we embarked, we struck up a conversation with a young woman who was also making the climb. The following conversation ensued:

Young Woman: Where are you from?

Us: Pittsburgh.

YW: Pittsburgh?! I was just in Pittsburgh for One Young World!

Us: Really? How long were you there? What did you see? (Imagine these with a few heavy breaths taken given the height.)

YW: Only four days, but it was beautiful. Everyone was so friendly. And have you ever been to The Mattress Factory?

Us: (Giggling) Yes, we definitely have. (Our wedding reception was at the Mattress Factory.)

The woman turned out to be from Paris and was effusive in her praise of our city. Mallory and I were just floored that — while scaling a pre-Columbian ruin nearly 1,500 miles from home — we met someone from perhaps the world’s most glamorous capital waxing eloquent about Pittsburgh. I think it’s a small but powerful illustration of how events like OYW offer unique opportunities to turn visitors into heartfelt ambassadors for the Pittsburgh region.

ImaginePittsburghNow
Sphere tree in Market Square’s Season of Lights, Downtown Pittsburgh Photo by Kristen Friess, Allegheny Conference

Pittsburgh officially begins the winter holiday season on Friday, Nov. 16 with Light Up Night, the 52nd annual celebration that fills downtown’s Golden Triangle with music, lights, Santa, ice skating and – starting Nov. 24– a European-style Christmas market in Market Square. (Full schedule and links for more information below.)

Things begin at noon as Mayor Luke Ravenstahl lights a towering Christmas tree at the City-County Building, while a crèche is dedicated at U.S. Steel Tower on Grant Street. At 5 p.m. live jazz music begins at an outdoor stage on EQT Plaza on Liberty Avenue near Seventh Streets, while rock-n-roll rules Market Square. In total six trees will be illuminated in downtown on the 16th, including the Highmark Unity Tree at the corner of Penn and Stanwix (still beloved to many as the Hornes Department Store tree), the ice-rinked ringed evergreen in PPG Plaza and – lit by Santa Claus himself — and the red-and-white LED-powered spherical tree in Market Square. Fireworks (of course) will end the evening with typical Pittsburgh pomp.

Market Square will be site of the Peoples Gas Holiday Market, featuring wooden Alpine chalet-style booths with artisans and merchants from around the world. Operating daily through Dec. 23, the market will share space with a Santa House, where children can explore and drop off their letters to Santa. Donations to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank can be dropped off at this location as well.

Event organizer the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership estimates last year’s event attracted more than 800,000 visitors and generated $21 million in economic impact.

Many of Pittsburgh’s traditional holiday offerings underscore the region’s commitment to sustainability in many forms. You can learn more by checking out the stories and videos from Five Golden Things, which highlighted such outings for the 2011-2012 season. We’ll be nodding to some new offerings over the next six weeks; be sure to sign up for automatic blog updates via RSS feed to your email account, follow us at Twitter.com/ImaginePgh or friend us at Facebook.com/PittsburghRegion.

2012 Light Up Night® Schedule of Events

Friday, November 16

12:00 pm   City-County Building Tree Lighting by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl

12:00 pm   U.S. Steel Tower Dedication of the Crèche

5:30 pm     Allegheny County Court House Lighting by County Executive Rich Fitzgerald

5:45 pm     One Oxford Centre Tree Lighting

6:00 pm     PPG Plaza American Cancer Society Tribute of Light Tree Lighting

6:15 pm     Macy’s Windows Unveiling

7:00 pm     Highmark Unity Tree Lighting with Rooftop Fireworks

7:30 pm     Market Square Season of Lights Lighting by Santa Claus

Live Music — Market Square: Northwest Savings Bank Stage

5:00 pm    Johnny Angel and The Halos

7:15 pm    Santa Claus officially lights Market Square Season of Lights

7:45 pm    Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers

Live Music — EQT Plaza: EQT Jazzmasters Stage

5:00 pm   Al Dowe & Etta Cox Trio

6:30 pm   Kenny Blake Quartet

8:00 pm   Roger Humphries Quintet

Live Music — Roberto Clemente (Sixth Street) Bridge Party (Sponsored by Trib Total Media)

5:00 pm    The Stickers

6:30 pm    The Billy Price Band

8:00 pm    No Bad JuJu

9:38 pm    Light Up Night® Fireworks, Warhol Bridge

Saturday , Nov. 17:

Noon to 2 pm  Third Annual Mascot Skate at The Rink at PPG Plaza

Live Music: Market Square: Northwest Savings Bank Stage

Noon         NoMad

1:45 pm    Vanessa Campagna

3:30 pm    The Granati Brothers

6:00 pm    Totally 80s

7:00 pm    BOB FM Holiday Wedding

7:30 pm    Jeff Jimerson and Airborne

Phil Cynar
CMU’S iGEM team: (from left) Peter Wei, Cheemeng Tan, Eric Pederson, Yang Choo and Natasa Miskov-Zivanov.

They came – a swarm of 275 brilliant, young, scientific minds – to Pittsburgh to compete in the Americas East Regional Jamboree for the International Genetically Engineering Machines (iGEM) competition. From institutions such as Harvard, Yale, Georgia Tech and Penn State, the competing teams of undergrads spent a weekend on Duquesne University’s campus in October. There they showcased to expert judges their efforts to engineer – at the molecular level – new synthetic organisms with the potential to impact medicine, energy and the environment for the better.

Among them was a team from Carnegie Mellon University. The CMU team was named one of four regional finalists from a field of 43 teams that competed in Pittsburgh, and now it’s bound for Boston to compete in the iGEM World Championship Jamboree at MIT, Nov. 2 – 5. Using a kit of interchangeable biological parts and a fundamental knowledge of synthetic biology, the CMU team created a biosensor capable of measuring cellular activities.

Humans have been manipulating Mother Nature to engineer more desirable results for centuries. Farmers and herders have long done selective breeding of plants and animals to produce more useful hybrids. And many will remember, from junior high science classes, Gregor Mendel, the monk who took heredity genetics to a new level, beginning with cross-pollination of pea pods back in the 1800s.

When it comes to synthetic biology and molecular engineering, what’s old is new again – especially in this “century of biology” when the discipline has more potential than perhaps ever before. Going far beyond better livestock or crops, synthetic biology today can help people lead healthier lives, improve the environment and humans’ impact on it. Synthetic biology is ripe to be shaped by today’s young masterminds, and competitions such as iGEM are giving it a kick start.

Learn more about synthetic biology and the big things happening at the most minute of levels at iGEM jamborees by watching the video below, featuring some key players who were excited about the Americas East Jamboree in Pittsburgh Oct. 13- 14. And then watch the Our Region’s Business segment featuring members of the CMU team who will be representing Pittsburgh at MIT this week.  You can also read my earlier post about iGEM here.

ImaginePittsburghNow.com interview at iGEM, Duquesne University Oct. 13-14

Our Region’s Business segment featuring members of the CMU team

Suzi Pegg
The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain

Embarking on the 2012 Tour of Europe with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) reminded me a bit of an old movie directed by David Wolper. It’s called If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium – a comedy about a group of tourists on a whirlwind tour of seven countries in 18 days. If you saw my itinerary for the tour with the PSO, you’d know why I can relate.

Just reading our trip itinerary is exhausting. Not unlike the tourists in that 1969 comedy, Pittsburgh Regional Alliance (PRA) President Dewitt Peart and I will are zipping through several western European countries over the next three and half weeks. All the while, we’ll be leveraging the PSO tour to once again market our impressive Pittsburgh region to potential investors and influencers. This is a great platform because Europeans really relate to the PSO – one of the world’s elite orchestras. The PSO has rock star status in Europe, and this status opens doors for the PRA to introduce the region, using our musical ambassador as a “calling card” and one example of the quality that’s synonymous with Pittsburgh – in the concert hall, the board room and beyond.

To begin the trip, I took advantage of one of this season’s last nonstop flights between Pittsburgh and Paris. Fear not, that service is only going on winter hiatus; it returns in full force next May. I was thrilled to see a full flight, including a number of travelers using connecting to other global destinations in India, the Middle East and elsewhere. The more that business and leisure travelers from the region use this flight, the greater the likelihood that it will remain an option. Beyond convenience, it’s a critical asset for Pittsburgh to have in order to compete as a global business destination.

My first stop is Bilbao – Pittsburgh’s sister city in Spain. The similarities are almost eerie, including a tunnel that opens onto a spectacular view of the city, surrounded by rivers. The Guggenheim Museum sits majestically on the banks of the Nervión River, and visitors mingle all around the charming city.

Alfonso Martinez Cearra, director of BM30

My first meeting on the tour is with my good friend Alfonso Martinez Cearra, director of BM30.  This organization is similar to our Allegheny Conference on Community Development,  and Alfonso’s position is akin to that of Conference CEO Dennis Yablonsky. Alfonso is a big supporter of Pittsburgh and has visited our region quite a few times to explore collaborative opportunities and best practices between the two cities. I asked him about his impressions of the region.  Our work ethic, he says, is memorable. It’s very similar to that of people in Bilbao – dedicated, hard-working and eager to create success. And he loves our rivers — certainly common ties that uniquely bind Pittsburgh and Bilbao as sister cities.

After a series of other meetings during the day, I caught up over dinner with Eloy Alvarez, the chair and secretary general of an organization called Orkestra.Eloy visited Pittsburgh earlier this year and is keen to work with our region on energy initiatives – especially those related to our universities and the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) in the South Hills. He is quite an engaging man and well respected in Spain. He’s also very pro-Pittsburgh.

Now we’re in San Sebastian, along the coastline of the beautiful Basque Country. Our first visit is with an organization called Vicomtech where we meet with project managers who are working on technology projects. Several of these individuals are huge fans of Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute, another of our regional assets that make us attractive in the global market.

The gang from Sempere and Mikel Burzako (right), Pennsylvania’s investment representative in Spain and Portugal

While there I was pleased to have lunch with my friends from Sempere Componentes, a marketer and distributor of railway parts and components. They have been working in the Pittsburgh region for several years and count the Port Authority of Pittsburgh as one of their key clients.

Just before lunch, they found out that I carry a small soft toy around with me as a mascot. I call it European Frog. Yes, I have a very silly side. Frog has been around the world with me – a companion when I’m traveling for business without my husband. In fact, Frog has more air miles than my husband does. Once my friends from Sempere Componentes saw that I had Frog with me, he was invited to la comida.  However, he’s not used to a Spanish business lunch and took a siesta in the back of the car all the way back to Bilbao.

I love working with these guys, and they love Pittsburgh. I hope to see them back in our region soon to discuss next steps.

So ends my visit to the Basque Country. It’s always a great pleasure to visit and work with the people here. The region is doing well compared to other parts of Spain, and I strongly encourage Pittsburgh region companies that are looking at opportunities across the pond to give the Basque Country a second look. The PRA has made inroads here and can make the necessary introductions. Just ask.

I’ll check back in again with further updates. Until then, cheers!

For previous updates from “where in the world” Suzi Pegg may be, click here.

“European Frog” at rest post-lunch