Ben Kamber

The Pittsburgh region and the nation gradually emerged from the recession’s tight grip in 2011, and according to PNC’s Chief Economist Stuart Hoffman, 2012 is not looking too bad either. Hoffman predicts this modest recovery will continue in the new year with a predicted 2.5% national GDP growth and the creation of an additional 1.5-1.75 million private sector jobs. But will the ongoing European economic crisis play wildcard in this outlook? Hoffman laid out his predictions on a recent edition of Our Region’s Business.

A collaboration between two of the region’s cutting-edge tech start-ups, Mechatar toy robots were one of the hottest toys of the holiday season. If you didn’t receive one as a gift (but did receive some gift cards), there may be no better time than post-holidays to pick one of these innovative toys up. Bossa Nova Robotics‘ Sarjoun Skaff and Jake Witherell of Schell Games demonstrate the Mechatars and speak about the collaboration that brought the toys to market.

Metis Secure Solutions, a start-up based in Oakmont PA, has created a breakthrough emergency notification system with a broad range of applications – from university campuses to high-rise office building to military bases and beyond. As president and CEO of the company, Mark Jay Kurtzrock, remarked, the Metis Secure system “communicates the right information to the right people at the right time.” He sat down recently to explain why universities such as Carnegie Mellon, Slippery Rock and Point Park have decided to install the system on their campuses.

“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

When it comes to digital media and entertainment technology, can Pittsburgh compete with places like LA, San Francisco, Seattle and Montreal?

Schell Games designers at work / Photo copyright Schell Games

You bet, due in large part to Carnegie Mellon University and its one-of-a-kind Entertainment Technology Center (ETC).  At the ETC, founded by the late Randy Pausch (author of Last Lecture) and his colleague Don Marinelli, right and left brain thinking – the arts and technology, loosely speaking – are married.  The result is top-tier, hybrid talent that is intimate with nearly every aspect of video game development, virtual and augmented reality, themed and location-based entertainment and “edutainment.” That’s because of the ETC’s unique project-based approach to its master’s degree in entertainment technology.

Increasingly these talented graduates are finding the best place to turn their ideas into reality is Pittsburgh. Reversing early “brain drain” trends, many ETC alums have started spin-out companies that are not only successful, but are putting the region on the global radar as a hub for entertainment technology.  Among them are Electric Owl Studios, Etcetera Edutainment, Evil Genius Designs and Schell Games.  CMU’s ETC and these four spin-out companies are profiled in the article, “Game Changers,” in this January’s Site Selection, the magazine of corporate real estate and area economic development.  Read the complete story here.

Phil Cynar
Doris Carson Williams (in orange sweater) and a group of African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania members visited the White House and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in fall 2011. (Photo courtesy AACCWP.)

On Monday, the United States will honor the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a federal holiday, as it officially has done – across all 50 states – each January since 2000. But here in the Pittsburgh region, the African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania celebrates Dr. King’s vision, conviction and legacy related to non-racial discrimination every day.

“It is wonderful that we have an official day set aside on which the nation honors Dr. King, but we should all strive to make living up to his ideals a part of our daily practice.  Dr. King is an exceptional model,” said African American Chamber President and CEO Doris Carson Williams. The second-largest minority chamber in the country, the African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania – through the joint efforts of its leadership and members – is doing just that:  leading by example and communicating the value of developing strong relationships within the region’s business and professional community.

“Our work to achieve parity in business opportunities for African American business owners and professionals is underpinned by a simple notion:  treat each other with dignity and respect.  Although simple, this is a cornerstone to increasing diversity in our Pittsburgh region and the pathway to strengthening and growing all of the places that are home to Pittsburghers and western Pennsylvanians.

“There have been significant improvements in the region, but we would applaud moving from good to great,” she said. To achieve this, the region must be a place where African Americans have full participation in the public and private sectors and where young African American professionals and other skilled minority talent have real opportunities. ”

Strides have been made toward expanding opportunities for the African American business and professional community. Carson Williams pointed to the Chamber’s work to establish a Business Institute in 2004 with the assistance of Carnegie Mellon University President Dr. Jared Cohon. Since that time, this Institute has given more than 3,500 small business owners and professionals the opportunity to participate in an annual program designed to strengthen business acumen in the areas of marketing and communications, legal, finance and accounting, and social media/information technology.

“In 2012 I hope all of the region’s business and community leaders will join me in looking to ourselves and our organizations to identify steps we can each take to raise the bar for everyone in the Pittsburgh region,” said Carson Williams.

I came to the Allegheny Conference in July 2011, explaining that I was in the midst of a mid-life re-boot, and the Conference generously gave me a shot as its first-ever video production intern – an opportunity that allowed me to produce 60-some videos for, the blog of the Conference and its Affiliates. As I completed my time as intern, senior vice president of communications and public affairs Catherine DeLoughry asked me whether I felt re-invented. My answer’s at the end, but first the back story.

In 2009, a seismic financial shift struck my family when my husband was part of a mass firing by a major global corporation. At that time, I had been a stay-at-home mother for five years. Both of us immediately sought full-time employment. Luckily, my husband found his current position, but at a 20 percent pay cut.

My own situation was unnerving. Nobody wants to hire someone without a degree who has been out of the workforce for so long, a recruiter at an employment agency told me. My helplessness turning to anger, I decided I never wanted to be a financial liability to my family again. I finished the few credits I needed at the Community College of Allegheny County to get an associate’s degree, and researched my transfer options.

Chatham University not only accepted every one of my transfer credits, but gave me significant scholarship aid based on my grades and financial situation. I headed to school there in fall 2010, at the age of 40, having been of legal drinking age before most of my young counterparts were even born. Yes, it was scary, but if I’ve learned one thing about bravery over the years, it’s that you feel the fear and you do it anyway. And as Mr. Spock said, the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few, or the one. So, off I went.

I chose a double major because I found it the perfect combination of legitimizing my current resume while allowing me to develop some new skills. I was one of Chatham’s first two students to ever use the experiential portfolio program, which allowed me to collect a semester’s worth of credits based on professional and life experiences. Already having a sizable portfolio from various jobs as a freelance writer, I lost out on staff positions because of my lack of degree. Now I’ll have the communications and professional writing side of my major to legitimize that. The film and digital technology side adds a bag of mad multi-media skills that I hope will make me more marketable.

I’ve learned a lot of new programs and concepts from my classes, but not as much as I have learned through my four internships: as an audio support intern with the Teenie Harris Archive; a professional blogger for BRAVO-TV’s Top Chef University; a game design intern at Schell Games in the South Side; and of course my multi-media production internship with the Conference.

I’d tell other adult students that I found nothing but respect and support from companies when applying for internships. If you show dedication, ability, passion and a willingness to learn, you may get even more consideration based on anything you’re also bringing to the table from your prior experiences.

My advice to others is, DO go to school. Befriend your school’s career development office, and do as many internships as you can in your new career field. If something you want to do isn’t on your resume yet, take advantage of being a student to put it there by availing yourself of internships, student activities and other opportunities available only to students.

Make no mistake, though: if you’re considering this kind of a re-set, it will be impossible without the support of your family, crazy-good time management, a committed and helpful academic advisor and some seriously hard work. I’ve been an overachiever with a 3.93 GPA, because I feel if I’m going to nag three kids about their grades, mine had better be infallible. I hope I’ve set a good example for them, showing them that dedication can pay off, and that it’s never too late to choose again if you’re dissatisfied with your life.

Looking toward my May graduation, I see a great many career options that I didn’t before. And now, I’ll have a more current resume, a strong multi-media and writing portfolio, and a double degree. Corporate communications, media production, advertising agencies: there are plenty of opportunities in Pittsburgh. I also look forward to more big-budget films coming to town, because opportunities also exist there. One job I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d hold was as a writer for video games, and I now have inroads there, too.

I especially appreciate the chance to have worked with the fantastic bunch of folks at the Allegheny Conference because they really do love Pittsburgh and they work unbelievably hard to be stellar regional ambassadors. These people run around like crazy to make sure they’re delivering the best and most current, correct information to their Regional Investors and the public. I admire all of them and am pleased to call them friends and colleagues as I leave.

So, do I feel re-invented? Absolutely. I’ve gone from weak and bleak to large and in charge. It’s completely possible to do in Pittsburgh. I’m proof.

Ben Kamber

In just 15 months, ShaleNET — a multi-state recruitment, training, placement and retention program for jobs in the gas industry — has graduated 65+ people. Many of these graduates have now landed good paying jobs in the burgeoning Marcellus Shale industry — an industry expected to grow steadily over the next several years. As CONSOL Energy’s Gary Slagel remarked on a recent episode of Our Region’s Business, his company’s natural gas division alone is estimating 500-750 new hires over the next five years. Slagel is joined by Byron Kohut, director of the ShaleNET Western Hub and Col. Grey Berrier II, deputy commander of the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team to discuss the program’s progress and the value it can offer returning veterans.

Have you ever met someone, say a potential date or business associate, but weren’t quite sure if they were being completely truthful? Well, now there’s an app for that. Created by an Iowan inventor, “Docket in Your Pocket” allows you to perform a quick, comprehensive background check on just about anyone via your smart phone. Matt Haindfield, creator of “Docket in Your Pocket,” sat down to talk about his product and explain why he decided to launch it in Pennsylvania.

As the oldest Chevy dealership in the U.S. under continuous family ownership, Bridgeville’s Colussy Chevrolet is only 7 years younger than the Chevy brand itself. Tim Colussy, co-owner of Colussy Chevrolet, takes us through the dealership’s remarkable history, which started when his 17 year old grandfather began the business back in 1918.

“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

For innovators and entrepreneurs, Pittsburgh can be the perfect place for a soft landing. It’s a real alternative to the west coast, the mecca that beckons tech visionaries wanting to make it big. But for Shoefitr, a start-up company specializing in a proprietary web application for online shoe sales, Pittsburgh is – pardon the phrase – a perfect fit.

Co-founded by a team of three recent Carnegie Mellon grads – Matt Wilkinson, Nick End and Breck Fresen – Shoefitr is satisfying online shoe buyers with correct fits the first time, reducing customer disappointment and dissatisfaction. At the same time, the company’s proprietary application is saving online shoe purveyors big bucks annually in the returns department.

Shoefitr’s been lauded as a start-up “most likely to be acquired,” but the team isn’t all that anxious about when that will happen. In a recent interview with WTAE TV’s Sally Wiggin, the young entrepreneurs talk about loving what they’re doing and why they love doing it here. The Pittsburgh region has exceptional networks to support entrepreneurs of all ages, including Innovation Works – an organization that’s part of a statewide system advancing Pennsylvania’s knowledge-based economy. It’s the single largest investor in seed-stage companies in the region – as well as one of the most active in the country – and was one of the key partners that helped Shoefitr achieve its current success.

While it’s a metro of significant size, Pittsburgh is small enough to be accessible – a “big small city” – as it’s been characterized. Here, people connect easily and relationships are formed, and yet there are a disproportionately large number of resources for innovators and entrepreneurs to tap to turn their visions into money-making realities.

Watch the WTAE TV interview with Shoefitr here and learn more about other successful entrepreneurs who call the Pittsburgh region home.