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 – 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.

(L to R) Dennis Yablonsky, CEO, Allegheny Conference; Dan Carlson, general manager, new business development, Shell Chemicals; Iain Lo, vice president new business development and ventures, Shell Chemicals; Beaver County Commissioner Dennis Nichols; Beaver County Commissioner & Chairman Tony Amadio; Beaver County Commissioner Joe Spanik

Shell announced today that it has signed a site option agreement to build a petrochemical plant in Beaver County to process natural gas from the Marcellus Shale. The facility will include a “world-scale” ethane cracker, a facility that breaks down large molecules from natural gas into smaller ones. The location is in Potter and Center Townships near Monaca.

The facility is expected to generate thousands of construction jobs and employ hundreds of people full-time after completion. Shell announced in June 2011 that it was looking to build the plant somewhere in the Appalachian natural gas footprint, but until today it was not known if that plant would be located in Ohio, West Virginia or elsewhere.

Shell said in a statement that it looked at various factors to select the preferred site, including good access to liquids rich natural gas resources, water, road and rail transportation infrastructure, power grids, economics, and sufficient acreage to accommodate facilities for a world scale petrochemical complex and potential future expansions.

Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance and the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, called the announcement historic, as it would be the single largest “from the ground up” industrial investment in the region in a generation.

“This project is the natural next step in the development of the market for natural gas in our region, ensuring that more of the economic benefits of this rich natural resource remain here for our residents and businesses,” Yablonsky said. “But today’s announcement is just the first step; we must continue to work together to make this proposed business investment happen.” Check out the YouTube link below for more from Yablonsky on this announcement.

Dan Carlson, Shell’s General Manager, New Business Development, called the agreement an important step for the project. “We look forward to working with the communities in Pennsylvania, and gas producers across Appalachia, as we continue our efforts to develop a petrochemical complex,” Carlson said.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett said he and key cabinet members has been working with Shell officials for many months to reach this point. “Shell now recognizes what we already knew; Pennsylvania is ideal for this project,” Corbett said. “Not only do we sit atop the richest known reserves of natural gas in the world, but we have a world class workforce, an expansive transportation network including rail, roads and waterways, excellent education institutions and a thriving quality of life here in the Pittsburgh region.”

Tony Amadio, chairman of the Beaver County Board of Commissioners, said he welcomes the opportunity this project represents for his county and the broader region. “We recognize that today’s announcement is just beginning the process of turning a plan into reality,” Amadio said. “We look forward to working together with our federal and state officials and municipal and school district leaders to bring this investment home to Beaver County in the months to come.”

Shell said it will now pursue additional environmental analysis of the site, further engineering design studies, assessment of the local ethane supply and continued evaluation of the economic viability of the project.

In addition to an ethane cracker, Shell is also considering polyethylene (PE) and mono-ethylene glycol (MEG) units to help meet increasing demands in the North American market. Much of the PE and MEG production would be used by industries in the northeast.

Click here to read a press release from the Allegheny Conference and the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance about the announcement.

Dennis Yablonsky on the Shell announcement:

Phil Cynar

Thanks to continued strength across a diverse economy, the Pittsburgh region landed 286 economic development deals in 2011, pushing ahead of its performance in the previous year and maintaining its momentum toward pre-recession levels of business activity.

The Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, a partnership of 50-plus private and public sector leaders and economic development professionals from 10 southwestern Pennsylvania counties, each year collects data on announced investment and development projects, or “wins.” The 286 wins of 2011 represent nearly $1.5 billion in capital investment and are expected to create 11,440 new jobs. The number reflects an increase over the 272 projects logged in 2010, and approaches the 290 wins reported, pre-recession, in 2008.

David J. Malone, Vice Chair of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, speaks about the region’s 286 “wins” at the March 14 Allegheny Conference luncheon.

“Across all 10 counties of the region and all of our five key industry sectors, companies are expanding and growing. Deals increased in the region – an important indicator of investors’ confidence,” said Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and its Affiliates, which include the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, or PRA. “The region is both attracting and retaining investment because of its stability. Existing businesses in the region are expanding – accounting for the majority of the deals in 2011, but attraction projects also increased over the past year to 58, up from 47 in 2010. This is the highest number recorded since we started tracking wins five years ago. Companies are not only expanding existing operations here, but they’re opening new facilities.”

Cutting across a number of industries, energy – one of the region’s key economic drivers – accounted for a total of 79 wins. These reinforce the depth of the region’s assets in traditional and renewable energy resources, energy supply chain and energy conservation. During 2011, there were 39 investments announced by companies in the natural resources industry – companies involved in the extraction of coal and natural gas, which includes the Marcellus Shale gas play. This is an increase from 32 investments in 2010, 25 in 2009 and only 11 in 2008.

The region’s other key sectors had strong performances in 2011:


Check out this video of Allegheny Conference CEO Dennis Yablonsky discussing the impact of the 286 wins: