Laura Fisher

When workforce demands start growing, the ShaleNET  program gets going with comprehensive recruitment, training and placement and retention services for employers and employees in the natural gas industry.

ShaleNET is a U.S. Department of Labor-funded $4.9 million multi-state workforce program addressing current and future jobs in the burgeoning natural gas industry. Focused initially on the Marcellus Shale natural gas play in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and New York, ShaleNET in September received another DOL grant totaling $14.9 million. This second grant will extend programmatic and geographic reach.

An innovative partnership between educators (primarily in community colleges and technical schools) and the natural gas industry, ShaleNET now will also prepare individuals in places like Texas and North Dakota to successfully fill key shale gas jobs. The program draws on best practices and demonstrates the value of “stackable credentials”  in preparing workers for jobs open now and those anticipated in the future. Stackable credentials can be accumulated over time to build up a person’s qualifications and help him or her to move along a career pathway or up a career ladder to different and potentially higher-paying jobs.

The partnership approach distinguishes the ShaleNET initiative. Through industry and academic partnerships, employers and potential employees are able to benefit from ShaleNET’s one-stop training model. Redundancies are reduced, curriculum is current and standardized and those seeking training don’t have to guess at which training options will provide them with what they need to be successful on the job.

Leaders from industry and academia recently gathered for the fourth annual ShaleNET Workforce Forum. They included representatives from the four schools delivering ShaleNET training:  Navarro Community College, Corsicana, Texas; Pennsylvania College of Technology, Williamsport, Pa.; Stark State College , North Canton, Ohio; and Westmoreland County Community College, Youngwood, Pa.

Also participating in the forum was Jane Oates, U.S. Department of Labor Assistant Secretary of Employment and Training Administration and Allegheny Conference on Community Development CEO Dennis Yablonsky. Both were featured speakers addressing the unique benefits of this partnership and its potential to become a national model for workforce development.

Watch the video below to learn more about ShaleNET’s value to training providers and as a government investment and why Pittsburgh is uniquely poised to advance this type of approach as a successful model.

Dennis Yablonsky

Part of the power of Pittsburgh is the way that individuals come together to find solutions across sectors, organizations and interests. That is exemplified in the robust discussions generated at the Robert M. Mill Labor-Management Lecture Series, which returns to the Community College of Allegheny County on this coming Monday, Dec. 3.

At that 3 p.m. session, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and I will discuss what is needed to build a modern transportation system that serves the needs of both business and individuals. I’m looking forward to hearing from John D. Porcari, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, who will keynote the event. Admission is free but reservations are required to, or call 412-237-4476.

The timing is fortuitous, because transportation funding remains an urgent  concern for our region. The Conference is continuing to urge state legislators to take up the long-term statewide funding solution outlined in the 2011 report by the Transportation Funding Advisory Commission (TFAC). It’s a realistic, achievable framework for meeting the funding needs of not just public transit, but also of the commonwealth’s highways, roads, bridges, ports and rails.

This ongoing labor-management series aims to enhance the understanding and recognition of the large role labor unions and labor relations have played in Pittsburgh’s successes. Previous sessions have featured Leo Gerard, international president of the United Steelworkers and John Surma, chairman & CEO of U.S. Steel (and former chair of the Allegheny Conference). Interviews with CONSOL Energy President Nick DeIuliis and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka following their appearances at an October 2011 session can be heard here or below.

Ben Kamber

The Fateful History of Fannie Mae

James Haggerty, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal based in Pittsburgh, has penned a new book on the history of Fannie Mae. Titled The Fateful History of Fannie Mae, the book chronicles the development of the mortgage giant in the 1938 New Deal era up until the present financial crisis. Haggerty discusses how Fannie Mae was never originally designed to dominate the mortgage market as it did just before the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008.

PNC: Fiscal Cliff, International Instability Presents Challenge For Investors

The looming fiscal cliff threat, instability in the Middle East and continuing uncertainty in Europe are just a few of the pressing challenges facing investors. Mike Maglio of PNC Wealth Management discusses these and other issues that can potentially drive uncertainty in the market and lays out a strategy for long-term investment planning.

Dynamics: Revolutionizing Decades Old Credit Card Technology

Dynamics, one of Pittsburgh’s hottest start-ups, is completely changing the way consumers interact with their credit and debit cards. By implanting a computer into the cards, Dynamics is adding enormous functionally by opening up the communication channels between consumers and banks. Jeff Mullen, founder and CEO of the CMU spinout, discusses the technology driving the company’s growth and why Pittsburgh is a great location to start a business.

Spreadshirt: Now Anyone Can Create A T-Shirt Shop

Calling all designers and budding entrepreneurs! Ever wanted to design your own t-shirts and other apparel but didn’t have the start-up capital to get your ideas off the ground? Spreadshirt, an international e-commerce company with U.S. operations in the Pittsburgh region, has the answer for you. Bill caught up with Phil Rooke, CEO of Spreadshirt, at the company’s Greensburg facility to learn more about this innovative e-commerce company. Check out the Our Region’s Business store here.

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.


Last month the One Young World summit made its first landing in the United States, gathering thinkers and activists age 30 and under in Pittsburgh’s David L. Lawrence Convention Center. They tackled issues around education, public health, human rights and the role that businesses can play in fostering sustainable development and social justice.

On Oct. 20, the more than 1,000 attendees fanned out across the Pittsburgh region to seminars hosted in local communities, discussing – among dozens of other topics — how to build social businesses, using hip-hop music to engage kids in positive change and furthering equity in women’s sports.

“Painting a Brighter Picture for Youth” brought 40 delegates to the Art Institute, where they learned about the MLK (Moving the Lives of Kids) Community Mural Project. The project channels the energy of kids in at-risk neighborhoods to create public art, and has involved artists and more than 1,000 young people in creating 500+ murals in Pittsburgh, Detroit, Miami, Atlanta and other U.S. cities, as well as in Brazil and Haiti.

In the video below, Kyle Holbrook, the project’s executive artist, describes a mural celebrating youth leadership that was dedicated that rainy afternoon at Market Street along the Boulevard of the Allies in downtown Pittsburgh. There OYW delegates joined MLK’s student artists in putting brushes to additional mural panels that will be displayed at Robert Morris University and elsewhere.

Thanks to Robert Morris University videographer Tras Watts.

Click here to read more about the One Young World summit.


Phil Cynar

Despite a brewing Hurricane Sandy, chemical engineers from all over the world – some 6,000 men and women, including about 1,600 students – blew into Pittsburgh for the week-long American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ (AIChE) 2012 Annual Meeting, held Oct. 28 – Nov. 2 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

AIChE is the world’s leading organization for chemical engineering professionals, with more than 40,000 members from 90+ countries. Its Pittsburgh meeting was touted by association leaders as having record-breaking attendance – in spite of the stormy weather here. Additionally, leaders at VisitPittsburgh, the region’s convention and visitors’ bureau, estimated that the delegates could have spent $8.5 million while in town.

Pittsburgh, in 2012, has seen a bit of a lion’s share of science and technology-based conventions and meetings. Among these were the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) – both in the spring. And more recently, nearly 300 undergrad masterminds from some of the best colleges and universities in the eastern United States to participate in the International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) Americas East regional jamboree here, showcasing their best in molecular engineering advances impacting medicine, energy, the environment and more.

Pittsburgh is a destination of choice for these groups, association leaders and meeting planners say, because it’s a model that reflects many of their key interests. Among these are a thriving innovation-driven economy, plentiful R&D investments and activity and a regional commitment to advancing energy solutions across a portfolio of energy resources, including a keen focus on sustainability and green technologies.

Because it “walks the talk,” Pittsburgh is more than your typical convention destination; it’s a living laboratory where visitors can see Pittsburgh’s expertise play out in real-world settings.

In the video below, Anthony Cugini, Ph.D., the head of the regionally located federal National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) shares insights about the region’s leadership in sustainability, higher education and the government-industry-academia partnerships that attracted AIChE to Pittsburgh.

AIChE President David Rosenthal and Steven Little, chair of the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering share thoughts on why Pittsburgh attracts conventions like AIChe. Beyond fueling the local economy, conferences such as the AIChE meeting and others provide an opportunity to showcase (and perhaps sell) Pittsburgh as a destination with all the right things – low cost of living, high quality of life, stable economy – and, most important, thousands of open jobs, including lots of engineering jobs.

Seeing is believing, as the saying goes, so we’ll continue to chase key conventions and capitalize on them. We’ll showcase what the region has to offer to professionals and businesses from all over planet: careers aplenty and relevant investment opportunities.

Laura Fisher

By the time you read this, I will be in Germany on a week-long study tour as part of the Cities in Transition Initiative, a project of the German Marshall Fund. The program aims to identify approaches that Europe’s traditionally industrial cities have taken to address economic dislocation, and explore how these might be used or adapted by us back at home. I’m looking forward to the program and to comparing notes with participating colleagues from Cleveland, Youngstown, Detroit and Flint, Mich.

There is much that the Pittsburgh region shares with Germany. Two hundred years after immigrants from German states began populating what was then Allegheny City, theirs is still the most common ancestry of our residents. Germany leads foreign direct investment in the region with 70 companies accounting for 172 establishments.  These employ more than 10,000 people and include names such as Bayer, Flabeg, LANXESS, Siemens and Sycor. Germany is also an important market for some 30 regional companies, which operate more than 60 facilities there across a variety of industries.

Like Pittsburgh, the cities we’ll be visiting have rich industrial roots and – by drawing on R&D, innovation and entrepreneurship –  have managed to create new sectors while modernizing the manufacturing that was downsized by global economic forces. Dortmund, along the Ruhr River in west-central Germany, was long a center of coal mining and steel making, but has leveraged university and other R&D to grow its technology, bio-medicine and advanced manufacturing sectors. Stuttgart, in the southwest, is often called the birthplace of the auto industry, and remains home to Daimler and Porsche, as well as the European headquarters of Hewlett-Packard and IBM.

The similarities end, unfortunately for us, at Germany’s broad success in connecting young talent with technical training and skills that land them well-compensated, in-demand jobs in today’s industries.  In the U.S. generally and the Pittsburgh region in particular, the response to decline of manufacturing in the 1980s was principally to turn an entire new generation away from such work.

How can we change the conversation and reinforce the notion that an individual cannot only be proud of working with his or her hands, but earn salaries and benefits far greater than many other jobs not requiring a four-year degree? How do we communicate the message that to be a welder is a just as important as – and often more attainable than – being an engineer?

The Pittsburgh region has thousands of good jobs and careers that individuals can land starting with a high school diploma and certifications, often obtained in a matter of months at a technical school or community college. Once on the job, workers can, over time, obtain further credentials – certifications, an associate’s degree, even a bachelor’s degree – that increase their skills and earning potential.

I am particularly keen to learn how German educators, business leaders and parents talk about technical careers and associated educational options with young people. In our own region, we know from a recent study of energy occupations that we already have more demand for technical talent than we can supply, and that the future for talent with all sorts of post-secondary credentials is extremely bright.

What can our counterparts in Germany teach us about how to convince the generation of Pittsburghers hunting for jobs now – and those coming up behind them – that having too many options and pathways can be just as problematic as having too few? Today, too many students and their parents see an “all or nothing” proposition in post-secondary education: a bachelor’s degree is a must, even if one’s particular career goal doesn’t require one. We know the great learning a four-year degree can bring, and that it is – and will remain – needed for many positions that require such a degree. But national data show that only 42 percent of students who start a four-year program actually finish (and often in six years), and too many students pursue degrees that are not in demand. We need to be sure that young people are making as well-informed choices as possible.

I’ll let you know what I find out. Stay tuned.