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.

Bonnie Pfister
Crystal Manich
Crystal Manich

The key reunion scene in the opera Madama Butterfly is heartbreakingly sad, but the reunion that director Crystal Manich is experiencing is a joy.

Raised in Peters Township and Mt. Lebanon, Crystal Manich is back in town to direct the Pittsburgh Opera’s production of Puccini’s opera of love and betrayal. It runs at the Benedum Center from Saturday, March 16 through Sunday March 24.

“My home base has been in New York since 2006, and I’m on the road all over the country for about 10 months a year – the typical theater gypsy’s life,” Manich said. “Still, every time I come back home, that’s how it feels – like home.”

A fan of musical theater as a child, Manich, at 15, saw the Terrence McNally play Master Class about legendary opera soprano Maria Callas. “Her character fascinated me,” Manich said. “I went to library and picked up the CD of Tosca. It had this little booklet with the lyrics in English and Italian. I became enamored of the form and started buying CDs like crazy.”

“Hearing opera for the first time opened me up to the great possibilities that arise when music and drama are fused together in a very big way through the relationship between voice and orchestra.”

She entered Carnegie Mellon University to pursue a bachelor’s degree in drama, although opera was always in the back of her mind. A semester spent in Italy studying opera history and the language cemented the connection. Back at CMU, she found opportunities to direct scenes in the university’s music department and at the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh’s Summerfest, ultimately earning both a bachelor’s degree in drama and a master’s in arts.

She began apprenticing for a small, newly created company, the American Opera Project, in New York, building her skills. She assistant directed at Pittsburgh Opera, for a time working as resident director. Her directing work now takes her all over the country, although she has been back to Pittsburgh, directing at the Pittsburgh Opera now for the fourth time.

Manich’s parents were both born and raised in Puerto Rico and moved to Texas when her engineer father accepted a job in the energy industry in Beaumont, Texas. The family moved to the Pittsburgh region when her father joined Ansys Inc., as an engineering software developer in Canonsburg. Joe Manich is a long-time board of the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

How was it growing up as a Latina in Pittsburgh, a region with a traditionally small Hispanic population?

“To be honest, I never really thought about it,” she said. “We’d go visit Puerto Rico every year, and I spoke two languages at home, but I thought that was normal. It wasn’t until later, though my dad’s involvement with the chamber, that I became aware that there was a community of people in town with this common thread.   I realized that life was a bit unusual, but it was also really cool.

“I see that arts organizations are valuing diversity and bringing it onto their boards of directors – seeking out African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and others to be more influential in the arts.

“I see that happening around the country and in Pittsburgh, too. There’s a great arts scene here. For a mid-sized city, Pittsburgh has a pretty amazing number of cultural offerings,” she added. “There’s a unique history here with the arts, and they seem to thrive.”

Phil Cynar

Ness Technologies – a global provider of IT solutions and services and end-to-end, commercial-grade software development solutions opened its first U.S. development center in Southpointe, Washington County. The Pittsburgh Development Center (PDC) is part of Ness’ plan to build a strong onshore presence, in addition to multiple offshore and nearshore development centers in India, Eastern Europe, Singapore and Israel, where Ness is headquartered in Tel Aviv.

Up to 200 software engineers – a mix of junior- and senior-level positions – will round out employment at the new PDC when it’s fully staffed. These IT professionals will provide expertise in areas such as mobility and business analytics, as well as full spectrum software engineering services to Ness’ clients, which include notables such as Standard & Poor’s, Google, eBay and PayPal – in addition to many others.  PDC staff serves as an extension of the client team and enable fast, measurable and sustained value creation.

“Today’s business environment demands speed-to-market with the highest quality, and our clients are responding by looking for more personal and responsive service options, including domestic outsourcing services that enable seamless collaboration, more frequent face-to-face visits and more effective development teams,” said Ness President of Software Engineering Services Joe Lagioia.

Teaneck, N.J.-based Ness set its sights on the Pittsburgh region for number of reasons including a strategic location in close proximity to corporate clients and a competitive cost to do business. But one of the key reasons was the access to a highly educated talent pool that’s constantly renewed as the region’s colleges and universities produce IT grads, at this time, in excess of 1,900 annually. It’s a number that’s on the uptick. For Ness, deep relationships with universities are critical to tapping into junior level talent that can be quickly trained.

Ness officials say that the PDC will provide a unique environment for software engineers who will work across different clients and industries – all without having to change jobs. Typically, these types of opportunities are most frequently available in cities such as San Jose, Boston, New York and Austin. As Ness’ Marketing Director Gretchen Rice notes, “For many talented and smart people who don’t live in these key cities – or don’t want to – Ness  can provide a compelling combination of challenging work and job security at a place such as the Pittsburgh PDC.”

Read more here .

Bonnie Pfister

The work of further aligning education with workforce development moves forward this month, as the Energy Innovation Center’s first training sessions begin.

Rendering of Energy Innovation Center in former Connelley Trade School, Hill District
Rendering of Energy Innovation Center in former Connelley Trade School, Hill District

The center, or EIC, is a collaboration of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, the Pittsburgh region’s research universities, economic development organizations and corporations, including Eaton Corp., Bayer MaterialScience, EQT, Duquesne Light Co., PPG Industries, Johnson Controls, Burns & Scalo and Mascaro Construction.  In addition to the Penn State Center, the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and Duquesne University, other partners in the center include Operating Engineers Local 95 and Urban Innovation21.

The center aims to bring together proof-of-concept energy technology demonstration laboratories, an early-stage business incubator and targeted workforce training programs. Corporate partners will showcase new products and deploy advanced energy management systems. Construction is underway for the center’s eventual home, a LEED-Platinum facility on the site of former Connelley Trade School in the Hill District. The center is to be complete in 2014.

In the meantime, courses are being offered around the region, beginning with a five-part series in project management for the energy industry at the Sigmas Conference Center on Babcock Boulevard in Shaler.

A training course on retro-commissioning for commercial and industrial buildings is scheduled to begin March 18 at the Eaton Power Systems Experience Center in Warrendale. Additional information on this and nearly a dozen other trainings are available here.

The EIC joins ShaleNET in preparing people in the region for careers in the growing energy sector. Launched three years ago as an entry-level training program, ShaleNET has since placed more than 2,000 people in jobs. In late 2012, it was awarded an additional federal grant to expand its geographic reach and develop training for certificate programs and two-year degrees for careers beyond the drill rigs, in oil and natural gas processing. You can read more about that here.

Phil Cynar

OysterHouse2013The Pittsburgh Business Times “Fish Sandwich Chronicles” may well be on its way to becoming a Lenten tradition for the Pittsburgh business community – not unlike the meatless meal itself is in a city steeped in Catholic tradition.

Served up on Fridays during Lent, the “Chronicles” is a seasonal Business Times feature and is back on the menu for a second year. This “Lenten special” provides insight into where to get some of the area’s most delish fish while serving a satisfying helping of Pittsburgh pride and nostalgia as local executives and entrepreneurs lunch with Business Times Senior Reporter Patty Tascarella and the conversation flows.  “It’s a “slice of life, albeit centered on some sort of white fish.”

Today, Allegheny Conference CEO Dennis Yablonsky is featured – sharing slices of his life with a side of reflections on the people, places and opportunities he’s encountered along the way.

It all went down at Market Square’s The Original Oyster House where a “Famous Jumbo Fish” [sandwich] can be reeled in for $5.75.  It’s Yablonsky’s favorite among Pittsburgh’s fish sandwich fare.

But when it comes to Lenten fish fries as fundraisers, St. Bernard Church and School in Mt. Lebanon had quite a catch in Yablonsky who was one of the founders, back in the early ’90s, of a successful “gourmet fish fry” money-maker.  You might call them the brains behind the batter.

Read all about it here.

Bonnie Pfister

Cindy FernandezThe Latino population in the Pittsburgh region may be small, but it is growing steadily and many of its professionals are making a positive mark here.

A few of them are highlighted in a series of videos as part of the new Latino outreach initiative by Vibrant Pittsburgh, an organization working to grow the regional economy by attracting diverse people to the workforce.

The “¡Hola, Pittsburgh!” (Hello Pittsburgh!) portion of the campaign began last month, introducing the region to four Latinos who have opted to build their careers and lives here. They include:

Roberto Clemente Jr., son of the late, beloved Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder who calls our region his second home, also appears. (All of the videos can be viewed on Vibrant Pittsburgh’s YouTube channel.)

The videos have aired on local TV stations. A second part of the campaign, “¡Pittsburgh Te Invita!” (Pittsburgh Invites You!), will promote the region outward to Latinos in key markets in the northeast and bring key journalists to the city on familiarization tours. That gets underway later in 2013.

The Hispanic population in Allegheny County grew by 71 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to U.S. Census figures. But that still numbers just 20,000 individuals — about 1.6 percent of the county’s total population.

Economic development leaders say more skilled workers and professional talent must be attracted to the Pittsburgh region in order to keep up with a coming labor shortage. That gap will widen as Baby Boomers retire and new jobs emerge that require post-high school training – much of it from technical and community colleges.

The Latino outreach campaign also touts The Pittsburgh Promise, a scholarship program in which graduates of Pittsburgh Public Schools may earn up to $40,000 for college if they maintain at least 90 percent attendance and at least a 2.5 GPA.

You can learn more about this program at Vibrant Pittsburgh, or in this recent episode of Our Region’s Business featuring Victor Diaz, Vibrant Pittsburgh CEO Melanie Harrington and Saleem Ghubril, executive director of The Pittsburgh Promise.