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.

Suzi Pegg
“Most Livable” Lisbon, Portugal

Leaving Spain, I’ve landed in Lisbon, a “most livable” city – just like Pittsburgh – per the Economist Intelligence Unit. This lovely city represents a brand new market for the Pittsburgh region – one that found its way onto our radar screen because of Carnegie Mellon University. In Lisbon, CMU has an agreement with the Portuguese government – through its Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education – for a long-term collaboration to significantly expand research and education in the area of information and communications technology. The latter also happens to be one of the key sectors and economic drivers in the Pittsburgh region. I continue to be amazed to discover Pittsburgh’s mark in so many places worldwide.  Our region is more influential than many people may realize. Here in Portugal, where fishing is a major industry, the Pittsburgh region is not so much a “small fish.”

Lori Spears, CMU Portugal

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of meeting representatives from some Portugal-based companies brought to Pittsburgh for a visit by the CMU Portugal Program team. While these company representatives were in town, we talked about a number of ideas for collaborating, including joining forces when I travel to Europe with the PSO on its tour.  My “sister in success-building” is Lori Spears from CMU Portugal. We began exploring ideas, and soon it was clear that collaborating to further introduce the Pittsburgh region to Portugal as a North American business partner or destination for foreign direct investment had lots of potential. Mind you, we were aware that this was charting new territory, but that wasn’t going to stop two intrepid ladies who are especially keen on Pittsburgh. Our “Portugal, Meet Pittsburgh” presentation was a success. I was pleased to see familiar faces – including some business types who were part of the delegation I met earlier this year in Pittsburgh.  One gentleman, in fact, happily provided an impromptu testimonial about Pittsburgh to the group. As they say, there’s nothing like third-party validation. The program, Lori and I agreed, could not have gone better.

The support of a regional asset, such as Carnegie Mellon University, makes this type of success possible, as do other regional assets, such as Mike Matesic, CEO at Idea Foundry. Mike supported us with briefing notes on entrepreneurship for the presentation, and he has the distinction of being one of the founding partners of the CMU Portugal Program. He’s a mover and a shaker.

As I’ve said earlier, Pittsburgh’s mark truly is everywhere, and I couldn’t be prouder to be promoting the region’s amazing assets and people.

Stay tuned for more missives from across The Pond.  Until then, cheers!

Frog decided to get in on the act at the business seminar in Lisbon, offered in cooperation with CMU and its partners in Portugal. He’s brushed up so that he wasn’t ‘green behind the ears’ on the finer points of business investment in Pittsburgh



Downtown Pittsburgh’s Fairmont Hotel was the setting for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development’s annual meeting on Thursday, Nov. 8 where a capacity crowd of nearly 600 civic, business and political leaders gathered to hear the organization’s annual progress report.

Allegheny Conference leaders, including Conference Chair Charles Bunch (chairman & CEO, PPG Industries, Inc.) and Conference Vice Chairs David Malone (president and CEO, Gateway Financial Group) and Laura Ellsworth (partner-in-charge, Jones Day Pittsburgh) reported on efforts over the past year to grow the economy and improve the quality of life in the Pittsburgh region. This is the first year of the Conference’s new 2012 – 14 agenda, which guides the organization’s work. It’s organized into three strategic priorities – Enhance Opportunity, Strengthen Communitiesand Energize Tomorrow’s Economy –  under the umbrella of “Sustainable Prosperity.” Here are highlights of the progress reported on at the meeting.

CEO Dennis Yablonksy speaks at the Allegheny Conference’s Annual Meeting on Nov. 8, 2012

Enhancing Opportunity – building on our strengths to connect businesses and individuals to opportunity

The pipeline of the Conference’s marketing affiliate, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, typically has about 90 projects in it at any given time. Today that number is 150 – indicating significant interest in the region. Economic development deals such as the expansion of Aquion Energy with a manufacturing facility for environmentally friendly aqueous hybrid ion batteries in the former Sony plant in Westmoreland County and the building of a new facility for Germany-based industrial door manufacturer HormannFlexon in Washington County underpin the region’s strength in manufacturing, as well as energy.

The Conference has launched a new initiative to accelerate the growth of African American-owned businesses in the region. Working with 113 Industries, we’re using an “open innovation” approach that encourages the adoption of best practices and new ideas. We’re beginning by identifying models across the U.S. that have been shown to enhance entrepreneurial opportunity for minority-owned businesses.

Strengthening Communities – removing barriers that prevent communities from realizing their potential

Fragmentation in Pennsylvania is a problem because  it undermines municipal health. One area where the problem is paramount is pensions. The Conference, working in concert with the statewide Coalition for Sustainable Communities, continues to pursue reform of binding arbitration and municipal pension reform to strengthen the fiscal health of communities.

Energizing Tomorrow’s Economy – seeking competitive tax and regulatory policies and reinforcing our region’s leadership as the new “Center of American Energy”

The Conference and its affiliate, the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, has made some progress in improving business climate. In the past year, the unemployment compensation formula has been reformed, resulting in reduced costs to employers. There has been progress on lawsuit abuse reform. The overall business tax burden has eased with the continued phase-out of the Capital Stock and Franchise tax and improvements to the structure of the Corporate Net Income tax. To increase public awareness of our region’s energy opportunity, the Conference launched the Energy to the Power of Pittsburgh regional public awareness campaign to spread the word about energy-related job opportunities in the 32-county greater Pittsburgh region – now and into the foreseeable future.

We’ve made progress on the workforce front, with the convening, development and launch of the multi-state ShaleNET and now ShaleNET U.S., a comprehensive recruitment, training and placement program for high-demand jobs in the natural gas industry.

(L-R) Tom Grealish (Henderson Brothers), Jack Ouelette (American Textile Company), Laura Ellsworth (Jones Day) and Dan Grealish (Henderson Brothers)

While our region has made significant progress on a number of fronts, Conference Chair Charles Bunch identified five challenges as being top priorities in 2013. These include:

Skills Gap

A skills gap is emerging in our region as thousands of jobs are going unfilled across the 10 counties. A recent report by the Allegheny Conference and Energy Alliance of Greater Pittsburgh highlights 14 high-demand, hard-to-fill occupations that exist today in our energy sector.  If current trends continue, tens of thousands more may become available within the next decade. Industry must create awareness of this opportunity and partner with schools engaged in workforce development.

Transit and Transportation Funding Crisis

There is a critical need for transit solutions that work. We must keep in mind that this year’s successful negotiation of a funding package to stop the proposed Port Authority service cuts is just a one-year fix. The solution, the Conference believes, is in the recommendations of Governor Corbett’s Transportation Funding Advisory Commission for raising $2.5 billion annually to address transportation infrastructure needs (roads, bridges, rail and ports) and stabilize transit.

Site Shortage

We’ve been successful in creating thousands of acres of “shovel-ready sites” for investment and development. But now, our regional inventory of these sites is running low; many are fully occupied. Without a shovel-ready inventory, employers will set up shop elsewhere. Given the special challenges of our terrain and the additional expense of replacing aging infrastructure, this is an issue the public sector must address.

Capital Squeeze

To turn innovative ideas into new companies, our region relies on the ready availability of venture capital, which of late has been in increasingly short supply, especially  homegrown venture capital funds that are more likely to keep start-ups in our region as they grow. It is critically important to identify new sources of such venture funds.

Pension and Binding Arbitration Concerns

Pennsylvania is home to one quarter of all municipal pension plans in the nation, many of which are chronically underfunded. Without pension and binding arbitration reform, local governments will continue to reduce services and raise taxes as they struggle to meet the basic needs of their residents and business.

Want to know more?
The Allegheny Conference in partnership with the Pittsburgh Business Times produced a 12-page insert, which highlights these regional priorities and the progress made by the Conference over the past year. The insert ran in the Nov. 9 edition of the paper. If you missed it, check it out below.

2012 Imagine Insert

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 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 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.