Barbara McNees

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, on Jan. 18 the Port Authority of Allegheny County announced a possible 35 percent cut to transit services to close a $64 million budget deficit. On behalf of the business and civic leadership community, we are extremely concerned about the impact this cut could have on our region’s people, communities and economy.

The Port Authority has already taken important steps to reduce operating costs, boost productivity and contain legacy costs. The funding gap the agency faces is  in fact part of a much larger transportation funding crisis confronting our Commonwealth.

We believe that there is a solution that we can move forward on today.

Last year, Governor Corbett’s Transportation Funding Advisory Commission (TFAC) outlined a realistic and achievable framework for meeting the state’s transportation and transit funding needs, which the Allegheny Conference, the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce and other business groups across the state have endorsed.

We are asking everyone to contact Governor Corbett and the General Assembly and ask them to tackle transportation and transit funding now.

We’re working together with the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP) and others on this issue. You can find more information on the PDP’s site (  and on the Allegheny Conference website ( including a sample survey for employers to use to determine the impact of the proposed transit cuts on their employees.

The Allegheny Conference and its affiliates are committed to working with partners across the region and the state to enact the TFAC recommendations and put an end to this funding crisis. Please join us.

Ben Kamber
(L to R) Razi Imam, 113 Industries; Sylvie Tran, Shell Appalachia; Rosie Rios, Treasurer of the U.S.; Michele McGough, solutions4networks; Randy Cheetham, CSX; Lou Camerlengo, Five Star Development

Members of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, an affiliate of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, met in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 18 with senior Obama Administration officials to discuss strategies to spur the economy and create job growth.

As participants in a day-long White House Business Council forum on jobs and the economy, Pittsburgh area business leaders joined representatives from several northeastern states to help identify ways to strengthen ties between the Administration and the region’s private-sector community. White House officials said they are seeking feedback on economic policy while ensuring that business leaders are aware of federal programs and resources that may help them create jobs.

“My goal in attending is to help gather our administration’s support to provide funds for our local manufacturing companies. These companies need to be able to innovate by adopting new technologies coming out of U.S.-based universities,” said Razi Imam, CEO and founder of 113 industries, an Open Innovation services firm in the region. Imam is part of the six-member regional delegation.

Other representatives from Chamber-member companies included Shell Appalachia; Pfizer, Inc.; Five Star Development, Inc.; CSX Transportation; and solutions4networks. Each provided feedback to Administration officials from a southwestern Pennsylvanian perspective – a region that has consistently outperformed the national economy and its benchmark regions during the recessionary period.

“Ever since Pittsburgh hosted the G-20 Summit in 2009, the White House has increasingly looked to the Pittsburgh region for insights on how to improve the national economy,” said Barbara McNees, president of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce. “This is not surprising in light of the region’s relative economic stability during the recession as well as its economic, environmental and quality of life transformation, which can be a model for other cities and regions.”

Click here to learn more about the White House Business Council and here to read more about the Council’s recent roundtable held in Pittsburgh.

Bonnie Pfister
Allegheny County Airport Authority

The Allegheny Conference’s Ken Zapinksi, who is the staff director for the Regional Air Service Partnership, underscored the “use it or lose it” element of nonstop flights from Pittsburgh International Airport in a Jan. 13 Pittsburgh Business Times column:

“…But every time someone chooses a connecting fight over a nonstop, it sends the airline a signal that the convenience of the nonstop just isn’t valuable enough to justify purchasing a ticket. That’s the language that airlines understand better than any sales pitch that airport executives or community leaders might make about Pittsburgh wanting more nonstop service…”

You can read Zapinski’s column here, or at the Pittsburgh Business Times.

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.