Bonnie Pfister

Christmas may be over (though Epiphany comes this weekend, as does Eastern Orthodox Christmas for those on the Julian calendar) but the sustainable outings featured in’s Five Golden Things series continue into January and beyond.

The 2011 Winter Flower Show at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens continues through Sunday, Jan. 8, but of course Phipps is worth a visit at any time of year — as a place of verdant beauty but also as a world leader in sustainability.

Seasonal decorations remain up through Saturday, Jan. 14 at the Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning, which are a public tribute to the region’s immigrant past — and its future — year round.

And of course, Venture Outdoors offers outings through our region’s singular topography in every season, from cross-country skiing and high-octane hikes to strolls and beer-tastings through historic neighborhoods for people (and sometimes pets and/or children).

Five Golden Things highlights winter holiday outings that underscore the Pittsburgh region’s commitment to sustainability in many forms, including the use of wind power for some of the city’s most traditional and beloved seasonal icons. Read the entire series here. And if you haven’t already done so, please sign up for automatic blog updates via RSS feed to your email account, at or

Here’s to a healthy, sustainable 2012 — for our region and us, every one.

Let’s start the year by debunking one of the greatest myths about Pittsburgh’s regional economy – that manufacturing is dead and has been replaced almost entirely by “eds and meds.”

Wayne Freed is vice president of Impact company Hannon Electric, which employs 10 people at its electric motor testing and maintenance facility in Ambridge.

Back in August 2011, PRA Market Research VP Jim Futrell wrote of the strength of the manufacturing sector in Research Roundup, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance market research team’s take on economic trends. (Sign up here to get the Roundup as part of our monthly PRA Post.) Jim’s analysis shows that manufacturing generated a disproportional amount of gross regional product per worker, about $10,000 more than the national average. That data also showed that the manufacturing industry was ranked as sixth in employment, but third in revenue, underscoring the value the sector brings to the economy.

More recently, a Jan. 2 Observer-Reporter article, “We Still Make Things Here,” highlighted a number of Washington County’s growing manufacturing firms. Among these was Aquatech, a Pittsburgh Impact company that has achieved success in water treatment. However, Aquatech is not the only Impact company in the manufacturing industry – 43 of the 150 companies are manufacturers.

Despite this strength, there is still a belief that manufacturing in the region is dead. While it can easily be conceded that manufacturing does not look like it did in the steel heyday – with the Homestead Steel Works running for miles along the Monongahela River – the industry has evolved to operate in a smaller footprint making more specialized products.

There is no guarantee that the world economy will improve this year, but the growth in local manufacturers is a good indicator that our region is holding its own. More importantly, the growth isn’t just related to the Marcellus Shale; the Observer-Reporter mentioned consumer goods manufacturers All-Clad Metalcrafters and World Kitchen, among others.

Pittsburgh has a lot to brag about, and its leadership in life sciences and information communication and technology is certainly part of it. But at the same time, manufacturing – both a part of our region’s rich history and its promising future – has bragging rights, too.   Manufacturing is strong, growing stronger, and continues to bring value to our regional economy.

In order to best focus the goals of the Impact initiative, we regularly meet with executives from growing companies to better understand their needs and challenges. Recently, we had the chance to sit down with executives from two of these companies: Janice McGee, president of The Empyrean Group; and Ted Ford, CEO of Knepper Press. Ted might already be familiar to readers, as we profiled him in a Five Questions segment last summer.

Both executives discussed the challenges they face. As a staffing agency, The Empyrean Group is concerned about maintaining cash flow and access to working capital. For Knepper Press, access to capital is more of an issue for its customers, such as small publishers who might struggle to pay for the product they’ve ordered. In addition, both Janice and Ted provided policy suggestions for our government officials, including tax incentives for small businesses and loss carry-forward tax credits. Finally, Ted cited the need for the federal government to address entitlement spending, which will give small businesses more confidence that the long-term deficit is more under control.

To hear directly from Janice and Ted, check out this brief (3:26) video.

Suzi Pegg

FIVE GOLDEN THINGS: This is fifth and final of our posts on holiday outings that underscore the Pittsburgh region’s commitment to sustainability in many forms.

As someone in the business of bringing people from far and wide to Pittsburgh, I find The Nationality Rooms in the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning to be among the region’s truly unique places to share with visitors. At Christmastime they are especially beautiful, festooned with the colorful trappings of winter holidays that are observed by cultures and religions around the globe. (More about that – and special holiday tours — below).

To me, the Nationality Rooms underscore the ultimate sustainable resource: people. Pittsburgh was built into an industrial powerhouse because of the hard work and innovative thinking of native-born men and women, and those who came from afar to make a better life here. European immigrants – particularly from Eastern Europe – were among those powered the steel boom beginning in the mid-19th century, while African-Americans who moved north during the Great Migration of the 20th century helped keep steel and other regional industries humming.

Immigration to the United States still comes from Europe, but we are increasingly seeing newcomers from such places as China, India and Latin America, with some of the highest skilled immigrants choosing Pittsburgh. “Old Europe” is still important when it comes to seeking new trade and investment for our region. I will be part of a delegation led by Governor Tom Corbett to France and Germany in 2012, which together are the top source of foreign direct investment in Pennsylvania. (My research colleagues here at the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance calculate that German-based firms are the largest foreign employer in our 10-county region, with 84 firm providing jobs to an estimated 10,585 people. Thirty-one French-based companies employ an estimated 3,475 people.)

But you don’t have to go to France or Germany – or anywhere – to take in the visual flavor of dozens and countries and cultures. The Nationality Rooms here in Oakland are actual working classrooms furnished in the style of their respective countries – down to switch plates, door handles, hinges and even wastebaskets.

The concept was developed by Pitt Chancellor John Bowman in the late 1920s as a way to emotionally and financially invest the community in the cathedral’s construction amid what would soon become quite trying economic times. The region’s ethnic communities were invited to design the rooms in styles popular in their home countries around 1787, the year the university was founded. Each group was responsible for its own fundraising, acquisition of materials, and labor costs, with Pitt providing upkeep upon completion.

Eastern European cultures are especially well-represented among the rooms, as are those of China, Japan, Syria-Lebanon and Armenia. The African heritage room reflects an Asante temple courtyard from Ghana, and Yoruban carvings depict such ancient kingdoms as Egypt, Ethiopia, Congo and Zimbabwe. Nine additional nationality room committees have made requests, with Swiss and Turkish rooms planned to open in 2012.

Around Christmastime, the 27 rooms are decked in seasonal finery, and ethnic dance performances are featured early in December. The decorations remain up through Jan. 14 (although the building is closed Dec. 24-26, and on Jan. 1). From Dec. 27-31, 90-minute guided tours are offered every half-hour from 9 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. (tickets cost $3 for adults; $1 for kids). If you can’t make it during the holiday, narrated-tape tours are available on weekends throughout the years. For more information – or to take a virtual online tour of the rooms – check out  the website of the Nationality Rooms.

Ben Kamber

FIVE GOLDEN THINGS: Fourth of five posts on holiday outings that underscore the Pittsburgh region’s commitment to sustainability in many forms.

Seasonal eye candy is plentiful in Pittsburgh. But for an experience that wows and is “greener” than even the reds and greens that traditionally dress this time of year, pay a visit to Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens for the 2011 Winter Flower Show. Themed “The Nutcracker:  A Fresh Arrangement,” this extravaganza of flora delivers a fresh and exhilarating experience — not just for the freshness of the flora but for the global thought leadership it’s providing in green building technologies. More on that below.

The Phipps’ Winter Flower Show has been a cherished tradition for many throughout the region, but my first encounter with this wonderful wintertime display occurred only recently.

When I entered the stately Palm Court room, the first of many dazzling spaces within the conservatory, I was struck by two things.  First, a serenity filled the air (which itself seemed especially fresh because of a plethora of healthy plant life). If you need a reprieve from the busy bustle of the season – or from the dreary weather, even post-holiday (the winter show is up until Jan. 8)  – this is the place to catch your breath.

The second thing I remarked upon was the attention to detail.  Each plant, flower and decoration seems to be in its perfect place.  The Palm Court is reminiscent of a picture-perfect 19th-century mansion, with a towering evergreen decked in Victorian-style ornaments as its focal point. Prints from this bygone era line the walls, showcased in frames created from all sorts of succulents.

Nodding to the Nutcracker ballet theme is another display, “the land of sweets.”  There, a whimsical gingerbread house and sugar-plum fairies festooned in flowers appear amid water features and other fun fancies.  And not to be missed – no matter what your age (although kids seem especially drawn to it) – is the South Conservatory’s amazing model railroad, which pays homage to Pittsburgh with several of its miniature buildings and landscapes.

Even more impressive is the fact that the conservatory all year-round is a world leader in sustainable building practices. Its iconic glass greenhouse may harken back to the Victorian era, but Phipps is firmly of the 21st century with its commitment to sustainability and intelligent building technologies. It will unveil its “greenest” building to date in the spring of 2012.

Called the Center for Sustainable Landscapes, the building will not only be Phipps’ most environmentally friendly building, but it will be one of the most sustainable buildings in the world.  Through a mix of cutting-edge energy and water efficient technologies, this 24,000- square-foot education, research and administrative facility will be net-zero in both energy and water usage. This means that the building’s utilities will be completely offset by its ability to conserve and treat water, as well as generate and conserve energy resources.

What this all adds up to is a green building first, with Phipps primed for a trifecta of top sustainable certifications: LEED Platinum certification, the Living Building Challenge, and SITES (“the LEED of landscapes”). All of this underscores the global leadership and commitment to sustainability by Phipps and the Pittsburgh region.

To learn more about Phipps’ green commitment and its Center for Sustainable Landscapes, check out the video below featuring Executive Director Richard Piacentini. And be sure to make your way over to the spectacular Winter Flower show, on display through Jan. 8.  The perfect cure for the post-holiday blues is under one glass roof.

Bill Flanagan

It’s nice to end a year on an up note. For our region it’s coming in the form of new international recognition.

On Dec. 12, The Financial Times ran a story, “ ‘Steel City’ Pittsburgh Develops a Soft Side.”  It was one of three cities profiled in a midwestern swing by correspondents Christopher Booker and Christine Spolar. Detroit and Lordstown, Ohio — right on the edge of our “greater Pittsburgh” region — were also profiled in text and a video on the newspaper’s web site. Our region is portrayed as the shiny spot on the “Rust Belt,” citing the economic, environmental and quality-of-life transformation over the past 30 years, with an emphasis on the growth of new, technology-based industries and our region’s strengths in health care and financial services.

The other global story is in the December 2011/January 2012 issue of fDi, or Foreign Direct Investment, another Financial Times publication.” The Pittsburgh Regional Alliance hosted Michal Kaczmarski earlier this fall during a multi-day visit to our region. Kaczmarksi’s story, “From Steel to Silicon,” also details the transformation story, with an emphasis on research, innovation and commercialization. He profiles entrepreneurs who decided to remain in the region after college – or relocate here from bigger cities — because of our network of opportunities to start and nurture their businesses.

Both of these publications are widely read globally, especially by business leaders and individuals that influence foreign direct investment. The stories come on the heels of a Richard Florida article in The Atlantic noting that we’re home to two of the world’s top research universities; global HR firm Mercer’s recognition of our region as among the “Top 50” in the world for quality of life; Farmers Insurance Group’s ranking of Pittsburgh as the most secure place to live among nearly 400 U.S. cities of 500,000 or more; and National Geographic Traveler’s naming us as among the 20 “Best of the World” places to visit in 2012. We’re supporting VisitPittsburgh’s efforts to really beat the drum about that in the New Year.

The coverage tees us up quite nicely for next year, when Pennsylvania will be a keystone state for the Presidential campaign and our region will be in the international spotlight again thanks to a couple of major events, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in May and the One Young World Summit in October. The Presidential candidates will bring national and international media with them, and the two events will bring thousands of the best and brightest young people from around the world to our region.

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Happy Holidays and Happy New Year,