Phil Cynar
Seegrid’s robotics technology transforms industrial vehicles into unmanned, automated pallet trucks and tow tractors.
Seegrid’s robotics technology transforms industrial vehicles into unmanned, automated pallet trucks and tow tractors.

Fast Company magazine has released its 2013 list of “Most Innovative Companies” featuring “the businesses whose innovations are having the greatest impacts across their industries and our culture as a whole.” Two Pittsburgh-connected companies made the list – Modcloth (under the category of style) and industrial robot manufacturer Seegrid, which now has both headquarters and manufacturing operations in a former U.S. Airways facility in the Pittsburgh International Airport corridor.  The following Q & A is excerpted from an article about Seegrid published last summer in The Pittsburgh Regional Compact Quarterly, an e-newsletter formerly published by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

Robotics manufacturer Seegrid, located in the Pittsburgh International Airport corridor, is growing in the Pittsburgh region. How did the company get its start and what exactly is it designing and manufacturing here?

Seegrid was co-founded in 2003 by Dr. Hans Moravec and Dr. Scott Friedman and is proud to be among the cutting-edge companies that call Pittsburgh home. The company is a spin-off from Carnegie Mellon University and has remained in the Pittsburgh area. Both Moravec and Friedman knew the company’s vision-guided technology could play a major role for ground vehicles and would revolutionize the material handling and supply chain industries. They recognized there was a more advanced and efficient way to move product from point A to point B – robots not operators. Seegrid’s technology transforms industrial vehicles into unmanned, automated pallet trucks and tow tractors that operate without the need for wire, laser, tape or magnet. Seegrid robots optimize workflow processes by increasing productivity and reducing costs, creating economic and operational advantages. Seegrid’s robots are manufactured exclusively in Pittsburgh and support U.S. manufacturing and warehousing companies, keeping the U.S. at the forefront of innovation and technology. 

Seegrid’s robots:  made (exclusively) in Pittsburgh.
Seegrid’s robots: made (exclusively) in Pittsburgh.

What is it about the region that not only keeps Seegrid located here, but that’s also keeping it growing?

The Pittsburgh region is home to leading technology corporations and high-tech innovative small businesses. Pittsburgh also houses the world-renowned Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute, from which Seegrid is a spin-off. The company is pleased to be in a region that fosters technology innovation and business growth, while delivering a workforce that is skilled in high-tech manufacturing and engineering. Seegrid is passionate about being a good corporate citizen for Pittsburgh. Supporting education initiatives in science and technology locally allows the company to build a strong future workforce.


What’s it like working at Seegrid?

Joining the Seegrid team is becoming part of a family. The company prides itself on providing a work environment that allows employees to grow and increase skill sets. There are substantial opportunities for hard-working and talented individuals with different career backgrounds. Seegrid is agile and adapts to the needs of the marketplace while being deeply committed to investing in the team.

Phil Cynar
Architecturally stunning, the CSL is a Living Building that produces all of its own renewable energy and treats and reuses its wastewater. Credit: Denmarsh Photography, Inc.
Architecturally stunning, the CSL is a Living Building that produces all of its own renewable energy and treats and reuses its wastewater. Credit: Denmarsh Photography, Inc.

While there may still be people who can’t imagine that the “Steel City,” tarnished once by infamous industrial pollution, could ever be clean and green, Pittsburgh – perhaps better fitted now with an “Emerald City” moniker – is a green building leader and home to one of the greenest buildings in the world:  the Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL). Located at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, the CSL opens to the public today with self-guided tours as part of a visitor’s experience at Phipps.

The city and the entire 10-county Pittsburgh region of southwestern Pennsylvania are globally recognized for innovation in sustainability and green building techniques and products, as they relate to energy – one of the region’s key economic sectors – and its efficiency. This achievement is in addition to the city’s monumental cleanup of its air and water resources, which began the 1940s.

Pittsburgh’s penchant for green is now showcased in the CSL at Phipps, a facility which houses the organization’s environmental education and research programs. The facility not only produces all of its own renewable energy with solar panels, geothermal wells and a wind turbine, but it also treats and reuses all water captured on site. It is surrounded by a restorative landscape and a green rooftop featuring native plants, and there are a lagoon, rain gardens and constructed wetlands to help visitors better understand and appreciate how delicate nature is, especially in light of humans’ demands on it.

Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the CSL, using interpretive signage and kiosks to explore one of Earth’s greenest buildings. Credit: Denmarsh Photography, Inc.
Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the CSL, using interpretive signage and kiosks to explore one of Earth’s greenest buildings. Credit: Denmarsh Photography, Inc.

Visitors can explore the CSL via interpretive and interactive signage and kiosks and view a “Green Gallery” of changing photography and art exhibits. In warmer weather, visitors will be able to explore the green outdoors, including meandering paths, a boardwalk, hillside amphitheater, a fountain and wildlife habitats.

Incorporating plenty of innovation and products that are born of the region, the center represents “green Pittsburgh under one roof” and points to how smarter energy usage and reducing the impact of the built environment on Mother Nature can be not only beautiful, but uber-efficient. Phipps officials and other community leaders hope that it will be a model for the world. The facility can demonstrate how possible it is to embrace Living Building architectural and landscapes standards, which go beyond the more familiar Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. And it further positions “Emerald City” Pittsburgh as the go-to place for this advanced thought leadership, as well as for products and services to construct the greenest of buildings.

Read more about the Center for Sustainable Landscapes from the Phipps website, and check out these stories about the CLS and its potential for Pittsburgh, as presented here on There’s also a video interview with Living Building Challenge Creator Jason McLennan captured when he visited Pittsburgh last spring.


Through the latter part of the 20th century, the Pittsburgh region’s population has been less ethnically diverse than that of other U.S. cities of similar size. That is slowly changing, however, as a small-but-growing number of immigrants and internationals are drawn to our stable economy and educational offerings, including the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship program to city school graduates. The region has also become a haven to refugees rebuilding their lives after fleeing unrest in places like Bhutan, Myanmar, Iraq and Africa.

Aiding in the transition is the Allegheny County Department of Human Services’s Immigration and International Advisory Council. As Adriana Dobrzycka of Vibrant Pittsburgh says, the council is “facilitating connections and multiplying scarce resources” to help international newcomers build on their own strengths while integrating into the Pittsburgh community.

You can read more about the department’s work – and that of such partner organizations as Jewish Family & Children’s Service, Pittsburgh Muslim Family Support Services and the Latino Family Center — in a new report, “Lessons from the DHS Immigrant and International Advisory Council.” It’s the second .pdf document on this page.

Bill Flanagan

A big part of the Pittsburgh comeback over the past 30 years has been investing in human capital through our region’s 36 colleges and universities to provide innovation and skilled workers to improve our existing industries and to support entrepreneurs to build new ones. The infrastructure that’s been put into place is getting national recognition.

Kiplinger ranks Pittsburgh among “10 Great Cities for Starting a Business,” based on criteria that include high concentrations of small businesses, low cost of living (specifically for self-employed people), an educated workforce, availability of startup investment dollars and low business costs. (They tossed in a couple of high-cost areas like San Francisco because they have large pools of skilled workers that might make up for the expense.)

About Pittsburgh, Kiplinger reports, “The city built on steel and coal might prove to be a diamond in the rough for entrepreneurs. Pittsburgh is looking to become the “new center of innovation in American energy” and putting up the cash to get there. On top of nearly $143 million the area raised in startup capital during the first nine months of 2012, the area’s research and development funding through Carnegie Mellon, the University of Pittsburgh and other institutions amounts to $3 billion annually.

“State-sponsored economic development group Innovation Works provides funding, business guidance and other resources to promising projects. With the Allegheny Conference of Community Development, it formed the Energy Alliance of Greater Pittsburgh to connect local energy entrepreneurs, researchers and investors. It also created tech startup accelerator AlphaLab, which runs a 20-week program twice a year that provides select companies with funding, office space, mentorships and other assistance to get up and running.”

It’s taken 30 years to put all that infrastructure in place:  to nurture individuals, drive innovation and create our diverse, knowledge-intensive economy. And it’s great to be named in the same company as Dallas, Kansas City, Atlanta, Denver, Seattle, Indianapolis, Orlando, Nashville and San Francisco. What’s easy to overlook is that it’s the result of decades of hard work and investment in the most important resource our region has – our people.

Laura Fisher

An op-ed in the Feb. 4 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette draws attention to an important issue already challenging our region’s economy and quality of life: the widening gap between available, well-compensated jobs and individuals available to fill them. As the presidents of the community colleges of Allegheny, Beaver, Butler and Westmoreland county noted in the op-ed, this “skills gap” is seen in today’s estimated 1.5 million job vacancies in the United States for jobs that require more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree.

We also see this locally. Last fall the Allegheny Conference’s workplace committee – which works in partnership with the region’s community colleges, technical schools and our public workforce system – released an occupational analysis that found there will be thousands of jobs available in 14 critical jobs in all seven sectors making up our energy economy. All but one of these requires at least some post-high school training. With Baby Boomer retirements accelerating, that labor supply shortage is likely to radiate across non-energy fields as well.

After the economic upheavals of  the 1980s, many young people were advised to pursue careers elsewhere. Since then, though, our region has diversified its economy dramatically, and we now have more people employed than during steel’s mid-century heyday. The old “there are no jobs in Pittsburgh” refrain is no longer true.

It is true, however, that just a high school diploma won’t get you a good job any more. Some post-high school training is essential, and certificate and associates programs offered at community and technical colleges can lead young adults — and mid-career professionals who upgrade their skills — to well-compensated jobs in energy, advanced manufacturing, life sciences and more.

The Conference applauds the work of the community colleges and technical schools in providing and expanding this training. Job seekers are urged to check out programs and projects – such as ShaleNET and JobTrakPA – that are available in the region, as well, the Conference’s career awareness and job search portal. Pittsburgh does have jobs – and the training needed to get them.

Bonnie Pfister

Opportunity_Index_SideIMGThe most commonly discussed measures of economic health are generally gross domestic product and poverty rates, but they don’t capture the full picture. That’s according to The Community Opportunity Index, a project that looks at such issues as education, housing, public safety and political processes to measure a region’s well being. In a recent report that breaks down opportunity scores by county, four Pittsburgh-area counties – Allegheny, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland – are well above the state and national averages in economy and education. Armstrong, Beaver and Lawrence also excelled in the economy category. You can check out the report at

In related news, PittsburghTODAY reports that for the eighth month in a row, the region has reached a record number of people in the labor force. The number of unemployed as well as the number of employed continue to grow. Taken together, the three indicate a strengthening economy.

Both of these reports may come as a surprise to many western Pennsylvanians. The closing of many of our steel plants through the 1980s created an exodus of skilled workers, and the idea of Pittsburgh as a place without jobs or opportunity has persisted – even among many business and civic leaders. The 1980s and 1990s were very painful times here, but that’s changed for the Pittsburgh region overall. In the past several years, this has emerged as a place with a hardy, diversified economy, where more people are employed now than even during steel’s zenith. These reports underscore that new reality.