Slovenian delegation touches down to explore possibilities in Pittsburgh region


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In the early 20th century, immigrants from the small nation of Slovenia joined millions of other Europeans who flocked to Western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio hoping to get jobs in the region’s booming steel mills and coal mines.

Eventually, the corridor that stretches from Pittsburgh to Cleveland became the strongest concentration of the Slovenian diaspora in the United States, and the region still maintains a thriving Slovenian community, said Gorazd Renceljcq, economic counselor for the Embassy of the Republic of Slovenia, Washington, D.C.

That’s why Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Akron were selected as destination cities for a Slovenian delegation that touched down this week to explore possible business alliances between Slovenian and U.S. companies.

Among the participants are officials from about 15 companies, including a nuclear services firm that already is working with Cranberry-based Westinghouse Electric Co., and an aluminum products business that is interested in establishing operations in the U.S., according to the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance.

“We thought in Pittsburgh there is a bit of a mirror image [with Slovenia] of two economies transitioning from [metals manufacturing] to new, high-tech technologies and industries,” said Mr. Rencelj.

As part of the trade mission’s activities Thursday, Slovenia will open an office of the consulate in Pittsburgh, and has named Petra Mitchell, president and chief executive of Catalyst Connection, as the honorary consul of Slovenia for Pennsylvania.

Her role, she said in a phone interview, will be to serve as a business liaison to promote economic connections with Slovenia and “to facilitate trade and friendship between the peoples of the two countries.”

Nestled between the Alps and the Mediterranean Sea in south-central Europe, Slovenia was once under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian empire and later part of the socialist republic of Yugoslavia. It became independent in 1991 and joined the European Union in 2004.

Its population totals around 2 million with most of its workforce employed by service industries. The country’s manufacturing base includes aluminum and other metals, machinery and equipment.

“On the business-to-business side, our region is still very strong in manufacturing … and aligned with industries in Slovenia,” said Ms. Mitchell, whose full-time job at Hazelwood nonprofit Catalyst is to assist Pittsburgh-area companies grow their operations and payrolls through training and other consulting services.

A native of Slovenia who came to Pittsburgh with her parents when she was 5 years old, Ms. Mitchell, 48, became a U.S. citizen in 1976. While growing up in Ross, she visited her native country every few years and is fluent in the Slovenian language. She holds a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from the University of Dayton, and a master’s degree in engineering with a concentration in manufacturing management from the University of Cincinnati.

At a Slovenian-American business conference held in Cleveland last October, Ms. Mitchell presented an overview of the Pittsburgh region in which she highlighted opportunities for Slovenian companies to tap into the Marcellus Shale and energy sectors, and to connect with new technologies and manufacturing innovations being developed by local universities.

At least one Slovenian business has had its eye on the Pittsburgh region for a while: Grah Lighting has a memo of understanding with Millcraft Investments of Washington County to possibly pursue a joint venture to develop a North American base to assemble and manufacture LED lights. Grah has toured several local industrial sites that could serve as locations for the venture.


Joyce Gannon: jgannon@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1580.

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