Forum: Pittsburgh a model for South Korea's emergence as tech powerhouse

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South Korea is best known to Pittsburghers as the birthplace of Steelers star Hines Ward, the setting for TV's "M*A*S*H" and as the neighbor of North Korea and its arsenal of nuclear weapons. The nation's development as a technology center, however, and its recent trade mission to Pittsburgh suggest an exciting, growing business relationship between the two regions.


Wan-Mo Kang and Edward J. Kabala are partners with Fox Rothschild LLP, one of the 125 largest law firms in the nation, with 14 offices in seven states. Kang practices in Princeton, N.J., and Kabala is partner in charge of the firm's Pittsburgh office.


Judging by the accolades Pittsburgh has received in the South Korean press, our city's economic redevelopment, industrial cleanup and university/business cooperation are a role model as this vital Asian nation re-emerges in world markets.

Last fall, South Korean VIPs ranging from urban planners and university professors to journalists made a fact-finding visit to Pittsburgh to study balanced development. The group was charged by President Roh Moo-hyun to collect best practice concepts that can be applied to South Korea's economic and population challenges.

Hosted by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance of the Allegheny Conference, the group met with our major universities, as well as with representatives of Alcoa, Seagate Research, the Pittsburgh Technology Council and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, among others.

The delegation was impressed with Pittsburgh as a "clean city well known for high technology and life science," said the Kookje Daily Newspaper (Oct. 16, 2006).

The United States is South Korea's second leading trading partner, receiving 16.9 percent of overall exports. In turn, South Korea is our seventh-largest trading partner.

South Korea's top exports were chemicals, computers and electronics, and primary metals, followed by machinery, electrical equipment and foodstuffs. Samsung is a well-known exporter, producing semiconductor, mobile handset and television screen technology.

Statistics compiled by the Pennsylvania Korea Office in Seoul show that Pennsylvania's exports to South Korea have grown steadily over the past five years. In 2005, exports totaled $460 million, up 36 percent from 2000 totals of $338 million.

Ken Yang of the Pennsylvania Korea Office estimates that life science, medical devices and diagnostic equipment have great potential to be hot trade segments, as well as Pittsburgh-based biotechnology, nanotechnology, tissue engineering, robotics, data storage, cyber securities, and advanced manufacturing.

Our firm, Fox Rothschild, spurred by partners Dennis Carleton, David Jaffe and Robert Whitehill, has been working to recruit a South Korean software company to establish a U.S. beachhead in Pittsburgh.

The city was chosen for the trade mission -- and this is important -- because one of the delegates once had worked for Alcoa and knew our turnaround story; because Carnegie Mellon University has three mini-campuses in Seoul; and because business investment traction has been created by the Allegheny Conference, the Pennsylvania Korea Office and key business and political leaders in Seoul.

The specific attributes of Pittsburgh that the delegation was sent to observe were:

Economic growth and industries fueling change;

Innovation clusters and knowledge-based economic development initiatives;

R&D and innovation strategies;

How private industry, local government and academia cooperate in the development of centers of innovation or knowledge-based industry clusters;

Pittsburgh's strategy as a clean/green city; and

Development of initiatives for fostering cultural, leisure and tourism activities.

In the Kookje article, Woo-Seung Kim of Hangyang University said that CMU has leveraged technology as a "core factor" of creating "a new city, tolerance and talent. ... Pittsburgh's sound partnership with academic institutes, industry, government and local community is what South Korea should learn."

One local Korean company leveraging Pittsburgh's advantages is Adcus, a U.S. subsidiary of Korea-based Ad Chips. Adcus primarily develops data file transfer technology used in iPods and digital cameras. Adcus program manager Min Kyu Song often says that his firm moved its U.S. headquarters from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh because of the "far better" business environment, excellent infrastructure and particularly close working relationship with The Technology Collaborative. Not to be downplayed, he likes to say, are Pittsburgh's "kind, warm and safe neighbors."

South Korea's enthusiasm for Pittsburgh is reinforcing positive perceptions of our city's transformation, thanks to strong relationships, and should open the door wider for expanded trade, even as our city helps South Korea plan for its own future.


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