WASHINGTON -- Pennsylvania doesn't appear anywhere on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's top 10 lists of exporters, job creators or producers of college graduates, but travel to the southwest corner and you'll find a center of innovation so strong that it's the national business group's best role model for job creation.
The Chamber released its findings Wednesday in two reports issued at the conservative business group's annual Jobs Summit. One of the reports highlights Pittsburgh and Denver, cities that over the past two years had more job growth than the country's other metropolitan areas with populations of more than 1 million.
Pittsburgh showed 3.9 percent job growth and Denver showed 3.8 percent, while the average for the other 49 largest metropolitan areas is 2.8 percent.
The Chamber attributed the cities' success to networking and business partnerships, but the cities have one more thing in common: a history of hosting huge conventions that put the eyes of the world on them.
Denver hosted the 2008 Democratic National Convention; Pittsburgh, the 2009 G-20 world economic summit.
"You simply cannot put a dollar figure on the kind of marketing that occurred. ... Everybody knows about Denver now," Mayor Michael Hancock said during a panel discussion Wednesday.
Likewise, the G-20 helped raise Pittsburgh's profile as a convention destination and as an innovative city that transformed itself after the decline of the steel industry.
"It enabled us to show off our city, to show off some of the things we have, and we did ... gain some business growth from that," Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said. It was worth the disruptions caused by road closures and security measures surrounding the summit, he said.
Planning for those disruptions helps strengthen ties between regional collaborators, said Kelly Jean Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.
"We started to see ourselves as being able to achieve things we never could have achieved before," she said. "We now believe there is no limit to what we're capable of doing."
The Chamber report concluded that civic collaboration and business partnerships are central pillars of Pittsburgh's and Denver's success.
The report highlighted three Pittsburgh collaborations. The TechBelt initiative encourages investment in southwest Pennsylvania, northeast Ohio and northern Virginia; a collaboration with businesses in 11 other states and two Canadian provinces promotes development around the Great Lakes; and the Power of 32 partnership supports a common future in 32 counties in four states surrounding Pittsburgh.
"We're within 30 minutes of three other states ... so a lot of what we're doing doesn't stop at those artificial boundaries. We've started to cross state lines," said Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.
He and Mr. Fitzgerald said partnerships within and outside the region allow it to leverage community investment. Universities, health care institutions and businesses are keys to that.
Bayer Corp. is one business that has grown along with the region. It began with a handful of employees in one building in Pittsburgh and now has 13,000 at 50 sites across the country, including 2,700 in Pittsburgh.
"We do basic research, so the universities there are critical to us," said Greg S. Babe, Bayer president and CEO. "Innovation is everything we do, and Pittsburgh is a great place to innovate."
Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue said it's time to use the lessons of Pittsburgh and Denver to push innovation throughout the country.
It's no easy thing.
"The smaller the geographic and economic unit, the easier it is to get your hands around it," Mr. Donohue said. Pittsburgh and Denver are "two very, very much improved, extraordinarily well-managed entities, and we think that will have an effect on the states over time because I think we've got pretty good leadership there."
Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: 703-996-9292 or firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published June 14, 2012 12:00 AM