Tom Wolf visited some of Pittsburgh’s cutting edge startup companies Monday as part of his “Fresh Start” tour focusing on Pennsylvania manufacturing.
Mr. Wolf, the Democratic candidate running to succeed Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, spent about an hour chatting with young entrepreneurs and touring AlphaLab Gear’s East Liberty office space, an incubator for local start-ups that also provides some early investments.
“This is an amazing example of, I think, what we can do here,” Mr. Wolf said, adding that these startups have the potential to lead to jobs throughout the state’s economy. “If any of these, or all of these ideas work and become commercial successes, it’s going to be because a lot of people have participated in this, and I think that’s where Pennsylvania and this country benefit.”
Mr. Wolf found a very welcoming crowd among the young entrepreneurs.
“It was the surprise of the day,” said Jayon Wang, 23, co-founder and CEO of LifeShel, who did not know the candidate would be stopping by. “It’s great to see politically active figures taking an interest in start-up communities.”
The young inventors, mostly in their early 20s, were casually dressed, sporting a style associated with Silicon Valley, decked out in shorts or jeans, sneakers and polos. Wearing a suit and glasses, Mr. Wolf appeared like a soft-spoken professor, surveying the final projects of pupils eager to show off their work.
“You guys have been modest about this stuff, but this could be revolutionary for retail,” Mr. Wolf said to Arden Rosenblatt and Alejandro Sklar, two 25-year-old graduates of Carnegie Mellon University who co-founded PieceMaker, a 3-D printing company.
Among the other startups Mr. Wolf surveyed were SolePower, a company making shoe inserts to power mobile phone chargers (“It could even go in dress shoes,” said co-founder Matt Stanton, a 2012 Carnegie Mellon graduate, surveying the candidate’s outfit); Romeo Delivers, a subscription service to provide gifts for significant others; and IdentifIED, a start-up drone company, along with several others.
Mr. Wolf heard a good deal of praise of Carnegie Mellon, whose renowned robotics program educated many of the workers, and TechShop, the industrial workshop President Barack Obama visited last month.
Showing about a 20-point lead over Gov. Corbett in recent polls, Mr. Wolf seemed wary of wading into the budget controversy that has consumed Harrisburg in recent weeks, deflecting questions about how he would handle the budget that, as of late Monday, Gov. Corbett has refused to sign.
“After four years of a Wolf administration, I would not want to be in the situation of saying, ‘Jeez, for the fourth year in a row we’re looking at a budget deficit,’ ” Mr. Wolf said. “I would hope that if I exercise the leadership that I think the governor’s supposed to exercise right from the start, I would not be in this situation having to accept or reject, to do either one, with this kind of budget.”
Mr. Wolf insulted what he called “smoke and mirrors” and “made up revenue figures” in the budget the state legislature passed last week.
The campaign for governor is expected to heat up in the weeks ahead. Mr. Corbett recently told The Associated Press that his campaign will begin airing ads hitting Mr. Wolf for a lack of experience in government.
Matt Nussbaum: email@example.com, 412-263-1504 or on Twitter @MatthewNussbaum. Jim O’Toole contributed.