Developer eyes bringing LED manufacturing to Pittsburgh

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Over the past eight years, Millcraft Investments has rehabilitated stores and offices in Downtown Pittsburgh for residential uses. But its newest conversion project isn't about bricks and mortar but street lights.

The Washington County developer is exploring partnering with a Slovenian company seeking to establish a North American base for its LED lighting business.

Millcraft officials, including chairman Jack Piatt and president Lucas Piatt, will travel to Slovenia next week to meet with Robert Grah, the head of Grah Lighting, one of Europe's largest LED-light companies.

The Piatts and other Millcraft officials met Monday with Mayor Bill Peduto to discuss their interest in the venture. As a councilman and now as mayor, Mr. Peduto has been trying to entice Mr. Grah to establish a North American headquarters and assembly and manufacturing plants in Pittsburgh.

Lucas Piatt said after the meeting that Millcraft is interested in working with Mr. Grah but stressed that discussions are "very, very preliminary."

"We're going over next week to discuss options with them. We love the technology and the sustainable nature of the product," he said.

Millcraft also may be interested in purchasing the technology and deploying it throughout the region, he said.

"I think we're seeing a lot of other cities and municipalities doing it across the country right now. It's a great way to save energy and do it in a sustainable way as well," he said.

Millcraft officials became interested in the venture after learning about Grah and the Slovenian firm's search for a local partner. They have talked to Mr. Grah through German partners.

While now known mainly for development, Millcraft has a background in steel and coal mining machinery manufacturing. Jack Piatt said that LED lighting could be "something for our future." On the development side, Millcraft also may be interested in providing space for the lighting company should it decide to locate here.

Mr. Peduto said Mr. Grah is looking for a local partner to help in creating a North American company and in building an assembly and eventual manufacturing plant.

The Slovenian entrepreneur has narrowed his list to a handful of cities, including Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Denver. Mr. Peduto said Millcraft's involvement could give the Steel City an edge because of its background in steel and its connections in European business markets.

"Knowing both men, I think there's a really good opportunity for them to get together," Mr. Peduto said.

He stressed the city is committed to landing Mr. Grah's North American headquarters this year, adding that he wants Pittsburgh to be the first major city in the United States to have all LED street lights.

"I have to feel -- with having a partner like Jack Piatt and Millcraft Industries and the commitment of the city government to see this through -- that we have to be considered at the front of a pack now," the mayor said.

Mr. Peduto sees the plant as a part of his goal to bring a new era of manufacturing in Pittsburgh, one built on "the foundation of technology and sustainability."

"Landing this company to Pittsburgh would help to build other opportunities as we look not just around Western Pennsylvania but around the world to make Pittsburgh a manufacturing global leader again," he said.

The North American operation, he said, would start with a small staff charged with assembling parts manufactured in Europe "with the understanding and the commitment that Pittsburgh would become the manufacturing location in the future."

He expects the majority of the street lights in the United States to be converted to LED over the next two decades.

"The city that understands that and creates opportunities will be the ones that will have the jobs ... today," he said.

He did not know how many jobs the proposed venture would create.

Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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