Bill Flanagan

I caught the national tour of Billy Elliot at the Benedum Tuesday night. The musical, set against the backdrop of a British miners’ strike in the early ’80s, shows young Billy wrestling with societal pressures as well as his love of family in deciding to move to far-away London to study ballet.

It reminded me quite a bit of Flashdance, the 1983 movie set and filmed in Pittsburgh just about the time our region hit rock bottom with an 18.3 percent metro jobless rate. (When I arrived in Pittsburgh in 1982 they were filming in the subway that was under construction.) The film told the story of an aspiring dancer fighting to overcome expectations about her place in the world. But most of all the musical brought back a lot of memories for me of Pittsburgh during the same period: The impact of industrial restructuring on communities, a young person who wants a better life and must leave the area to find it.  The production and the performances were extraordinary — but it was the cultural parallels that really hit home.

According to the production notes, the British miners’ strike resulted from Thatcher administration privatization policies. The dispute left the United Kingdom virtually without a coal industry. Most of its coal now comes from Ukraine. The Pittsburgh story has a happier ending. Our manufacturing industries retooled to become globally competitive, with labor and management often working in partnership to make it happen. We’re emerging as a global center of innovation in energy. And young people are returning here and staying here in greater numbers. Still, there are places and people that have been left behind — many of them in the former mill towns, much like the former coal towns in the U.K.  We have much left to do to strengthen these communities, but our region is far better positioned to succeed than it was in those dark days of the early ‘80s.

Oh, and it’s worth noting that Flashdance—The Musical will open its national tour at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh next January.  It premiered in London in 2010.

Ben Kamber

On Jan. 26, WQED aired the latest in its series of programs devoted to the opportunities and concerns related to the Marcellus Shale. This time, the focus was on the economic impact that natural gas is having on the region – now and into the future .

A panel of experts from a variety of disciplines  answered questions from hosts Michael Bartley and Tonia Caruso as well as from everyday Pittsburghers via “man-on-the-street” interviews and social media outlets.

The Allegheny Conference’s own Dennis Yablonsky participated in the panel discussion,  detailing the depth and breadth of the opportunity that natural gas represents for the region. He was joined by Michael Krancer, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection; Jan Jarrett, president and CEO of PennFuture; Thomas Murphy, co-director of the Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research; and Matt Pitzarella, director of corporate communications and public affairs at Range Resources.

The robust discussion provided a framework for understanding some of the key issues related to shale exploration and extraction. You can watch the full, one-hour special on WQED’s “Managing Marcellus” website here.

Bill Flanagan

First National Geographic Traveler named Pittsburgh one of the 20 “Best of the World” places to visit in 2012. Then last week a university study of most-literate U.S. cities found Pittsburgh to be in the Top 10.

Now U.S. News & World Report has ranked Pittsburgh as the Number One place for cheap, last-minute getaways. The newspaper says the region is an “up-and-coming” tourism hot-spot that boasts a thriving arts scene. Citing information from discount travel site, those who planned a spontaneous Pittsburgh getaway saved “a whopping 59 percent” on hotel rates, finding rooms for as low as $90 a night. The magazine notes that clothing and food are exempt from sales and use tax, too.

The timing couldn’t be better. More than a few of the old G-20 Partnership partners are getting together this year to make the most of the “Best of the World” designation. We’ll be focusing attention on such upcoming conferences as the National Society of Black Engineers in March, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in May, and the One Young World Summit in October. We’re also working with Delta Airlines’ Sky magazine as we did in 2009 to produce a special supplement focused on our region, especially the growing international recognition we’re getting for thought leadership when it comes to sustainability and quality of life. Meantime, if you’re flying Delta in May, watch for the in-flight video we’re producing in partnership with the Allegheny County Airport Authority and VisitPittsburgh.

By the way, the science fair’s organizers are looking for 1,000 judges with a minimum of six years of professional experience in science, engineering and the like, or hold a Ph.D., M.D. or similar degree. Please RSVP to ISEF at pitt DOT edu if you will commit to recruit science fair judge volunteers within your organization.

Pittsburgh is one of just three places in the United States that will be hosting this event over a 10-year period. Los Angeles and Phoenix are the other two. The science fair will bring close to 2,000 high school students to our region from 65 countries. Something like one-fifth of them already have patents!

More information about ISEF 2012 is available here, including this video and registration links for those interested in serving as general volunteers and foreign language interpreters (Mandarin, Spanish and Russian especially are needed).

Please do what you can to help.

Phil Cynar
Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer (gesturing) is seated to the right of Allegheny Conference CEO Dennis Yablonsky

This week, business leaders from nine Great Lakes states, including Pennsylvania, joined forces in Washington, D.C., to advance the multi-state region’s economy and position it as a powerful economic engine for the nation.

More than 30 members of the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition met with U.S. and Canadian leaders to discuss a newly honed plan for growth and continued job creation within America’s most formidable economic region.  They emphasized the need to grow America’s valuable manufacturing base – a key point in President Obama’s Jan. 26 State of the Union address.  The Great Lakes region of the U.S. offers the abundant and affordable sources of base load energy that manufacturing requires and – at the same time – possesses the high-tech expertise necessary to manufacture world-class products.

Allegheny Conference on Community Development CEO Dennis Yablonsky was among the leaders representing the Pittsburgh region in D.C.  He said, “We strongly urge the federal government to take steps favored by the coalition that will result in even more domestic economic strength and more jobs. The Coalition includes some of the best business minds in America.  We stand ready to work with federal leaders and our Canadian partners to help our [Great Lakes] region grow and create even more good jobs for Americans.”

Read the complete release here.

Ben Kamber

From orange juice to motor oil to steel, Esmark Inc. is back. This one-time Chicago conglomerate now focuses on steel services and oil-and-gas production from its headquarters in Sewickley, employing 400 people as one of the region’s largest private firms. Jim Bouchard, founder and CEO of the new Esmark talks about the lessons learned from Pittsburgh’s storied steel industry.

The Power of 32  has been described as one of the most geographically ambitious regional “visioning” projects ever attempted. Over the past few years thousands of people from 32 counties across Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland and West Virginia have gathered to develop priorities across themes of economy, education, environment and transportation. Chesapeake Energy’s Scott Roetruck — a West Virginia native and a Power of 32 steering committee member — discusses a proposed regional “fund of funds” as well as site development fund.

CONSOL Energy is on a hiring roll, adding 1,000 new workers each year for the past six, with 1,400 more expected to join the payroll in 2012. While the Marcellus Shale natural gas boom is part of that, so is the retirement of Baby Boomers from the region’s still-strong coal industry. Men and women with little experience – but a willingness to show up on time ready to learn and work — can earn total compensation of more than $100,000. Nick DeIuliis, a member of the Power of 32 education committee and president of CONSOL Energy explains why working with K-12 educators is key to connecting Pittsburgh-area workers with those jobs.

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.

As renewable energy industries such as solar and wind continue to grow nationally, it’s important to evaluate the already existing occupational and industrial infrastructure within the region to determine our true renewable energy potential. The Pittsburgh region is already poised to provide the equipment, technology and skills to be a supply chain leader, especially when compared to its benchmark communities and the nation as a whole.

Many of the industries along this supply chain – including metals, plating and electronics – are already established (and highly concentrated) in the region. While not all of these industries are necessarily involved in the wind energy market, there is great potential for many of our region’s companies to get involved and register real economic gains.

The Pittsburgh Regional Alliance conducted an analysis of the potential wind has for the region. You can read the full report here. The findings are based on a methodology developed by the U.S. Department of Energy-funded Renewable Energy Policy Project (REPP). The REPP process breaks down renewable energy industries into their individual supply chain industries and then tracks these industries based on employment numbers.

These findings speak to the potential wind supply chain. Pittsburgh already has more than 70 companies directly involved in the wind supply chain including ABB, Alstom Grid, Brad Foote Gear Works, Converteam (recently acquired by GE), Kennametal, PPG Industries, and many others. Wind firms such as Gamesa, GE Wind and Iberdrola are also located in Pennsylvania.

The PRA Post, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance’s monthly economic development e-newsletter, highlights development news from throughout the 10-county region of southwestern Pennsylvania to a regional, national and international audience. Each edition of the Post includes “Research Roundup” – an analysis of regional economic trends and opportunities compiled by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance’s market research team.    

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