Dennis Yablonsky

The first quarter of 2013 is at an end and that means it is time to sum up our progress year-to-date against our three-year plan to provide “Sustainable Prosperity” for our region. More than 450 Regional Investors and partners turned out on April 2 at the Fairmont Pittsburgh. It was great to see everyone.

The agenda for the meeting included an economic development scorecard for our region, delivered during our annual “Wins” Day news conference; a preview of ImaginePittsburgh.com, a re-imagined and re-made talent attraction and retention initiative with a website at its core; and a couple of multi-billion dollar issues our region must address to maintain our momentum.

Wins Day

Thirty years ago this year — 1983 — our region was at rock bottom, with an 18 percent metro jobless rate. We lost 50,000 people the following year. Public and private sector leaders came together not just to improve our region, but to save it. Where economic development was concerned, the focus was on building a diverse, knowledge-intensive economy that could free us from the boom and bust cycles that had been a reality here since Pittsburgh emerged as an industrial center in the 19th century.

The latest data indicate that we may have achieved this goal. Over the past five years, Pittsburgh has been one of the top-performing metros in the United States for business investment and job creation, leading the Brookings Institution to recognize in late 2012 that ours was one of just three metros to have fully recovered from the Great Recession. In addition to investments, employment and gross domestic product were considered by Brookings.

In 2012, business expansions and attractions totaled 269, consistent with our performance over the past five years, with the exception of a dip in 2009 during the depths of the recession. These companies are creating and retaining approximately 12,000 jobs, over time, and investing more than $3.2 billion in our region.

According to Site Selection magazine, our region ranked sixth in the nation last year for the number of significant economic development deals, and number one in the northeast for the second year in a row.

Best of all, the wins are across all five of the strategic sectors that civic leaders targeted a generation ago: advanced manufacturing; financial and business services; energy; healthcare and life sciences; and information and communications technology. Additionally, a new analysis by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance indicates that our region has been creating jobs in high-wage industries at a faster rate than the nation as a whole for the past decade.

Getting a Head Start on the War for Talent

At the same time, we cannot afford to be complacent. During yesterday’s event, Chair Emeritus Jim Rohr noted that although PNC economists are forecasting our region will add 13,000 jobs this year, other regions are beginning to grow faster. This means we may appear to be slowing down, when the reality is that we will be continuing the slow and steady pace of growth that carried us with such great effect through the recession.

Our challenge is to build on the momentum we’ve achieved in recent years in attracting and retaining talented people. At 1.16 million our workforce is the highest it has been in our history, but people are likely to go where they perceive opportunity to be. We need to position the Pittsburgh region as that place.

During the meeting we previewed the design of ImaginePittsburgh.com, our talent attraction and retention portal, which itself is being re-imagined and re-made. We’ll be re-launching the site in June with a companion marketing campaign targeting mid-career talent in markets where we believe they live. We want them to have Pittsburgh top of mind as a place to advance careers and build a life they’ll love.

We are designing the initiative with strategic advice from HR and communications professionals within a number of our region’s employers. Our goal is to support their efforts to attract and retain the best and the brightest in our region.

Time to Act on Wastewater and Transportation

Lastly, it’s time to act to deal with two multi-billion dollar issues that must be addressed if we are to continue to improve our region’s competitiveness.

A review panel convened by the Allegheny Conference at the request of ALCOSAN has recommended steps to clean up our rivers by taking a more regional approach to wastewater management. We need to encourage elected officials to work together to find a better way manage our sewer systems.

It’s also time to send a loud message to Harrisburg urging a solution for transportation and transit funding. If we don’t address this multi-billion dollar challenge, highways and bridges will continue to deteriorate and we will never have the world class transit system our members have told us they want – and that we all deserve. During the luncheon, Regional Investors filled out hundreds of postcards urging action. Please fill one out online here. We’ll be taking them to Harrisburg to make our point.

Bill Flanagan

There’s evidence that employers are beginning to hire again, but there are precious few places in the country that have more jobs now than they did before the recession, and metro Pittsburgh turns out to be one of them. The Wall Street Journal reports that researchers at the Brookings Institution have analyzed local economic conditions among the top 100 metros and discovered that Pittsburgh is one of just 14 that have more jobs now than before the recession. Six of the metros that outpace us on that front are in Texas, with a seventh in nearby Oklahoma City. The other six are Omaha, Salt Lake City, San Jose, Knoxville, Washington, D.C. and Charleston, South Carolina

Skyline

What do these places have in common? Brookings says they all have a stable employment base, anchored by either universities, government agencies or high-tech hubs. Not bad company to be in.

But there are also warning signs on the horizon.

Pittsburgh has fallen from 13th place to 23rd in the March edition of The Business Journals’ On Numbers Economic Index, a measure of regional economic vitality compiled by the parent company of the Pittsburgh Business Times. Austin ranked number one, followed by Provo, Utah; Houston; Oklahoma City and Dallas/Fort Worth.

So, what gives? According to the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, regions that got hit harder by the recession are now growing faster than ours, fueled by younger, growing populations.

Our region is still growing, but at what’s become its usual, steady pace. We tend not to boom, so we tend not to bust.

But in relative terms, we seem to be slowing down. It makes it a bit more challenging to spread the word about opportunity here.

So, we can’t afford to be complacent about the progress we’ve made — and we’re going to have work harder than ever to build on our momentum.

Today at the Allegheny Conference’s quarterly meeting of our 300+ Regional Investors – the companies and institutions that make up our membership – we’ll be outlining some of our plans to that end. Check back here at ImaginePittsburghNow.com to learn more, and follow us on our social media channels Facebook and Twitter to let us know what you think.

Ben Kamber

Egyptian Ambassador Visits Pittsburgh

He has only been the Egyptian Ambassador to the U.S. for a short time, but Mohamed Tawfik has decided to make Pittsburgh his second U.S. city to visit (the first being New York). While Egyptian politics are still in a state of flux since the Arab Spring, Tawfik discusses the growing opportunities for American companies in Egypt. Tawfik is joined by Devesh Sharma, managing director of Aquatech –  a company that has conducted business in Egypt for many years — to discuss how he wishes to build a bridge between Egypt and Pittsburgh.

Taking the Pulse of German-Owned Businesses in Pittsburgh

Cautious optimism defines the state of German-owned business in our region according to an annual survey conducted by the German American Business Circle. The companies surveyed go well beyond the big names such as Bayer and LANXESS and represent some of the nearly 75 German-owned business that have made investments in our region. Jeffrey Deanne, CEO of Malin Berquist & Co., who helped conduct the survey, is joined by Sam Bennardo, president of Auma Actuators and Tony Pauly, VP and general manager of Ventana USA, to discuss the state of German-owned business in Pittsburgh.

Bayer Extends a Helping Hand to Super Storm Sandy Victims

One of our region’s largest chemical companies, Bayer Corporation, is also one of the region’s most generous corporations when it comes to philanthropic endeavors. This was recently on display when the Bayer U.S.A. Foundation, which oversees corporate philanthropy in North America for the German-owned company, partnered with the American Red Cross to provide aid to those affected by Super Storm Sandy. Sarah Toulouse, executive director of the Bayer U.S.A. Foundation, discusses this as well as other commitments that Bayer has made in the areas of education and workforce development.

Our Region’s Business airs Sundays at 11 a.m. on WPXI-TV. Hosted by the Allegheny Conference’s Bill Flanagan, the 30-minute business affairs program is co-produced with Cox Broadcasting. The program is rebroadcast on PCNC-TV at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays, and at 3:30 p.m. Mondays. It also airs Sundays on WJAC-TV (Johnstown-Altoona) at 6 a.m. and WTOV-TV (Wheeling-Steubenville) at 6:30 a.m.

Meredith Fahey

More than 2,640 people have found jobs through ShaleNET, a comprehensive recruitment, training, placement and retention program for high-demand, hard-to-fill entry-level jobs across the Marcellus Shale footprint. That’s according to the March newsletter of the ShaleNET initiative, which was launched in July 2010.

A ShaleNET intro to oil and gas operations class at the Bushy Run Center near Export, Pa. Photo Copyright Darrell Sapp/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A ShaleNET intro to oil and gas operations class at the Bushy Run Center near Export, Pa. Photo Copyright Darrell Sapp/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Industry leaders, policy makers and educators will discuss ShaleNET at 10 a.m. Tuesday, March 26 at Westmoreland County Community College, which is one of the educational institutions sponsoring the program. Individuals interested in learning more about training should check out the Resources and Training Providers tabs at ShaleNET.org.

As the first, $5 million round of ShaleNET funding for training programs in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and New York winds down later this year, the second round grant of $15 million is gathering steam to expand the program’s reach with additional classes this fall.

With the maturing of the industry and with the additional money, participants will be able to continue their education and training by earning certificates and two-year degrees that will help them find jobs in the midstream and downstream part of the industry – beyond the drill rigs and in the processing of oil and natural gas. The program will also expand its geographic scope, reaching further into Ohio and into Texas through partnerships with Stark State College in Canton, Ohio, and Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas. The hope is that ShaleNET can be scaled into a national job training and education model.

To learn more or to sign up for the newsletter, visit ShaleNET.org.

Ben Kamber

Transportation Funding Solution Needed in PA

Pennsylvania has the dubious distinction of being number one in the nation in structurally deficient bridges with more than 4,000 statewide. In addition, thousands of miles of highways are in dire need of maintenance and repair and transit agencies are being squeezed across the Commonwealth. To address the state’s transportation crisis, a comprehensive and sufficient funding solution is needed. Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, discusses this crisis and why action needs to be taken in Harrisburg to make Pennsylvania more competitive for business investment.

ExpenseAnywhere Reinvents the Accounts Payable Process

ExpenseAnywhere, a fast growing company that automates companies’ travel and expense management systems, has grown from serving a single client in 2004 to now serving 150 customers across the globe. This steady growth has led the company to be recognized by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance as a Pittsburgh Impact Company — a subset of businesses in the region that are having a disproportionate impact on economic growth. Ashok Dhar, CEO of ExpenseAnywhere, talks about the company’s development and success over the years.

La Dorita: Bringing Argentine-Style Dulce De Leche to Pittsburgh

Started in 2009 as an effort to bring Argentine-style dulce de leche to the Pittsburgh market, La Dorita’s “milk caramel spread” is now offered in multiple markets throughout western Pennsylvania and 42 Whole Foods outlets across the mid-Atlantic region. The innovative company is the brainchild of Josephine Oria – whose memories of enjoying her grandmother’s homemade dulce de leche inspired her to start the company. Oria discuses La Dorita’s origins and the several new products, including a dulce de leche liqueur, that she has recently rolled out.

Our Region’s Business airs Sundays at 11 a.m. on WPXI-TV. Hosted by the Allegheny Conference’s Bill Flanagan, the 30-minute business affairs program is co-produced with Cox Broadcasting. The program is rebroadcast on PCNC-TV at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays, and at 3:30 p.m. Mondays. It also airs Sundays on WJAC-TV (Johnstown-Altoona) at 6 a.m. and WTOV-TV (Wheeling-Steubenville) at 6:30 a.m.

Jim Futrell
Jim Judkis/Courtesy Washington Post The 1978 photo of Fred Rogers and an  unnamed boy at Pittsburgh's Children's Institute
Jim Judkis/Courtesy Washington Post
Fred Rogers and an unnamed boy at Pittsburgh’s Children’s Institute, 1978

In honor of what would have been the 85th birthday of Fred Rogers — that quintessential Pittsburgher, educator, songwriter, author and creator and host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood – we revisit a previously published post by Jim Futrell, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance’s vice president of market research. A sometimes-gruff repository of facts and figures about the 10-county region, Futrell slowed down and waxed philosophical about growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico with ImaginePittsburghNow’s Phil Cynar.

Mr. Rogers was one of my favorite shows. My mom used to joke that I would never miss the two Freds: Rogers and Flintstone.

Why did I like the show so much?  I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that Fred Rogers was an adult talking to me at my level. He always came across to me as a man who respected his audience and who wanted to share cool things about the world. He also had a lot of pretty amazing things in his ‘house’ – Trolley, the stop light, Picture-Picture and the miniatures of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. I loved the model of the neighborhood at the beginning and end of the show and could not wait until Mr. Rogers changed his jacket and shoes so we could get on with the show.

There are snippets about the Neighborhood of Make-Believe that I’ll never forget:  King Friday XIII’s marriage (he loved Queen Sara Saturday’s cupped custard), the birth of Prince Tuesday, X the Owl changing the supports on his door so they made an ‘X’ rather than a ‘Z,’ the Platypus family moving into the neighborhood, Daniel the Stripèd Tiger getting a wristwatch because ‘when you live in a clock you really should know what time it is,’ and Donkey Hodie who lived in the windmill in Someplace Else.  Of course, Lady Elaine Fairchilde, the cranky, outspoken curator of Museum-Go-Round, was certainly unforgettable.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Rogers! Thanks for being our neighbor — and helping to put Pittsburgh on everyone’s map.