Ben Kamber

After more than a decade, college basketball’s top tournament made its way back to Pittsburgh. According to VisitPittsburgh‘s Craig Davis, the NCAA championship, which took place at the CONSOL Energy Center, was conservatively estimated to have a $7.1 million direct spending impact. And as Duquesne University’s (which hosted the tournament) Phil Racicot says, the NCAA chose Pittsburgh in part due to the city itself — its first tier accommodations were a significant factor in the decision.

ITRA Global — a global organization of real estate site location consultants — is holding its annual conference in Pittsburgh at the end of the month. Carrie Holstead of Carrie S. Holstead Real Estate Consultants helped to bring this significant conference to Pittsburgh which represents an enormous opportunity for the region. Since these site location consultants operate throughout the world, their being in Pittsburgh may bring the region to mind when advising clients on where to expand or relocate to.

Why is it so difficult to hail a cab in Pittsburgh? According to Jamie Campolongo, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Transportation Group (which owns Yellow Cab) it’s mainly due to a cultural issue – Pittsburghers and taxi operators simply aren’t accustomed to a system where hailing is preferred to calling. But that’s all about to change. Campolongo says that renewed demand will make Pittsburgh a “hail town” by mid 2013.

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.

Bill Flanagan

Our region got some good news this week, especially for a place that has always prided itself on the progress we’ve made in cleaning up our smoky skies. We are breathing a little easier. The Allegheny County Health Department has announced that the Liberty/Clairton area meets the annual air quality standard for fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) for the first time and has come into compliance more than three years ahead of the required attainment date of August 2015.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald calls it “great progress and a significant milestone for Allegheny County’s air quality,” although he says we must continue working to improve air quality.

Work is continuing to bring the Liberty monitoring station into compliance by 2014 with the 24-hour standard, which is 35 micrograms per cubic meter. The 24-hour fine particulate level at the Liberty site was 38 micrograms per cubic meter in 2011. The seven other monitoring stations already meet the 24-hour standard.

Air quality improved at every monitoring site in 2011, with fine particulate levels well below the annual standard of 15 micrograms per cubic meter – Liberty (14.0), Avalon (13.1), North Braddock (12.3), Harrison (11.6), Lawrenceville (11.1), Clairton (10.7), South Fayette (10.6) and North Park (9.0). The bottom line – the air quality in Allegheny County is the best it has been since the industrial revolution began 150 years ago.

The air quality improvements, especially in the Liberty/Clairton area, are due to recent pollution controls that have decreased emissions from the U.S. Steel Clairton Coke Works and from other sources upwind, particularly out-of-state power plants. Additional controls at the Clairton Coke Works will further improve air quality over the next three years. These include repairs to existing coke ovens and the construction of ultra-low-emission quench towers.

It’s been a big investment – around $600 million — and a big step toward continued improvement of our region’s air quality.

Phil Cynar

This week, Fred Rogers – Pittsburgher extraordinaire, educator, minister, songwriter, author and creator and host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood – would have celebrated 84 years.  His birthday was yesterday, March 20.

From Pittsburgh, for more than 30 years, the nationally-aired show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, allowed children everywhere to accept – through the magic of television – Mr. Rogers’ signature invitation of “won’t you be my neighbor” – sung by Fred himself at every program’s opening.

In honor of this exceptional Pittsburgher’s birthday, I caught up with Jim Futrell, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance’s VP of Market Research to pick his brain about a personality who’s a softer – yet significant – part of Pittsburgh history. It’s Jim’s job to know a lot about Pittsburgh – including the people, places, events that move the region forward.  However, when asked to wax about Fred Rogers, Jim put aside data details and his tough market research exterior and got personal about his remembrances, which go back to his days growing up as kid in Albuquerque, New Mexico – about as far from Pittsburgh as a boy could get.  Despite the distance, Jim was a devoted fan.  He shared …

“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.”

Thanks, Jim, for a trip back in time to a Neighborhood that many of us won’t forget either.  Your memory is eternal, Fred Rogers.

Author’s Note:  when he’s not crunching data about the Pittsburgh region, Jim Futrell indulges his fascination with amusement parks all over the U.S.  In fact’s he’s written several books on the subject.  Read Jim’s article on Mister Rogers’ Land of Make-Believe ride at Idlewild Park in Ligonier, Pa.

Ben Kamber

Looking for a new career? How about a career in the building trades? The Builder’s Guild of Western Pennsylvania, an organization which represents 17 building trade programs, is recruiting for its next class of apprentices. This year they plan to take on about 700 apprentices, tuition-free, in fields such as carpentry, electrical work and construction. Jason Finke, executive director of the Builders Guild discusses the type of candidates they are looking for and why they are planning to recruit hundreds of more apprentices this year as compared to previous years.

With the drawdown of military troops from abroad, the need to connect returning veterans to career opportunities will become ever more critical. Hiring Our Heroes, an initiative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is partnering with local chambers across the country to organize jobs fairs for veterans. Chip Holsworth of the Southwestern Pennsylvania ESGR discusses the Hiring Our Heroes job fair that was recently held at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh.

For 40 years, the Western PA Minority Supplier Development Council (WPMSDC) has been connecting minority owned businesses in the greater Pittsburgh region with potential customers throughout the world. Each year the council recognizes top performing companies and this year, the Novus Group, a staffing company was an award recipient. Ron Alvarado, president of the Novus Group and Alexander (Nick) Nichols of the WPMSDC discuss the rationale for choosing Novus for this year’s award.

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.

Phil Cynar

There’s something to be said for serendipity. On the heels of the recent launch of the “Pittsburgh:  Best of the World” campaign – and on the threshold of spring’s arrival – FoxNews.com has named Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens as one of the world’s 10 best indoor gardens.

While we can’t discount the possibility that Fox News heard about our “best of the world” campaign, it’s a likely bet that historic Phipps was already on the radar as a green gem – not only because of which it contains, but also how it is constructed.  Bursting with the beauty of nature – everything from bonsais and orchids to a tremendous new “Tropical Forest India” exhibit – Pittsburgh’s Victorian-style glasshouse conservatory is a perpetually green retreat, even on a gray day, and – in the case of Fox News’ review of world-best indoor gardens – holds its own alongside Montreal’s Botanic Garden, the U.S. Botanic Garden in D.C and Berlin’s Botanischer Garten.

But Phipps has colored itself even greener by its embrace of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, including a Silver LEED-certified welcome center (the first LEED-certified center in a public garden in the U.S.) – underscoring that the conservatory is serious about sustainability and conservation in order to protect and preserve the planet.

In May, Phipps will take its green commitment to an even higher level when its new facility, the Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL), opens. The CSL will be one of the world’s first “living building,” exceeding the highest green building standards with net-zero energy and net-zero water technologies. In addition to being a testament to Phipps’ commitment to green, the CSL is a model – “all-things-green under one roof” – for how Pittsburgh is a global leader in innovation for green building technologies and products.

Yes, Pittsburgh – one of the most polluted places on the planet, once upon a time – is now a new “emerald city” and a must-see destination for lovers of green. If you haven’t been before – or haven’t been in some time – plan a visit. Pass on Paris. You’ll love Pittsburgh (and Phipps) in the springtime.

Jim Futrell

For the past five years, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance have celebrated “Wins” day, a Wednesday in March when we tote up all the announced investment and development projects, or “wins,” of the previous year.

In 2011, the 10-county Pittsburgh region landed 286 economic development wins – 242 as corporate expansions or new facilities, 44 as real estate deals. That translates to 11,440 new and 5,620 retained jobs, as well as capital investment of $1.5 billion. You can read more about this in my column in this week’s Pittsburgh Business Times. Download a copy of it here, read it online (with subscription) at Pittsburgh Business Times, or pick up the March 16-22 edition on a newsstand.

Underscoring our emerging role as the new center of American energy, there were 79 energy-related wins, including new business or expansions by extracting companies and those in the natural gas supply chain of turbines, pumps and electrical components, as well as wind-energy developers. The growth of financial and business services contributed to these gains, too.

Advanced manufacturing also did well in 2011, as the national trade journal Industry Week recently noted.

You can read my column here, our blog post about our “Wins” day here, our detailed news release with links to growth in individual sectors here, and catch comments about it from our CEO, Dennis Yablonsky, here.