Ravenstahl lures high-tech businesses

Initiative to nurture city's technological climate grew out of trip to Asia

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Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has formed a task force to nurture high-tech businesses, an initiative that grew out of his recent Asia trip and a decision to more forcefully inject himself into a critical economic sector.

Mr. Ravenstahl hopes that bringing representatives of education, business and the nonprofit community together will yield a more unified approach to attracting and growing high-tech ventures.

Mr. Ravenstahl convened the first meeting in his office Dec. 6. The 40-person group included Audrey Russo, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council; Carnegie Mellon University President Jared Cohon; and Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, who traveled with the mayor to Shanghai, China, and Seoul, South Korea, in October.

Mayoral spokeswoman Joanna Doven said the task force will make policy recommendations for improving the city's high-tech climate.

She noted that the Urban Redevelopment Authority last year launched a Pittsburgh Entrepreneur Fund to provide capital to high-tech and green businesses moving from the startup phase to rapid growth. The URA this year established a fund to help health-science entrepreneurs whose ideas are too nascent to quality for commercial loans.

"We're looking to identify more gaps and to fill those gaps," Ms. Doven said of the technology task force.

She said its work could include efforts to make foreign students feel more welcome in Pittsburgh, influencing immigration policy so the city can retain foreign nationals who graduate from city universities and better market the city to high-tech entrepreneurs in other parts of the country.

Ms. Doven said the mayor also wants to make sure groups aren't duplicating efforts or unnecessarily competing against one another for funding or other resources.

Mr. Yablonsky said there's also a need to identify more capital for growing companies and to provide managerial expertise to researchers who aren't necessarily talented business people. He and CMU said the city already has an impressive high-tech sector, but should work with Mr. Ravenstahl to enhance it.

"We support his vision that, by working together, we can add even more jobs and contribute further to the city's economic vitality," CMU spokesman Ken Walters said in an e-mail.

Ms. Doven said the task force's second meeting will be scheduled at the beginning of the year.

The mayors of other cities have established similar panels to propel high-tech growth. Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had a task force on biomedical research as far back as 1998.

The keynote speaker at a Shanghai business expo organized by that city's mayor, Mr. Ravenstahl told the story of Pittsburgh's transition from a manufacturing economy to one based on education, health care and technology. He also met with business people in Shanghai and Seoul to sell Pittsburgh as a place to locate new enterprises.

At one point, Mr. Yablonsky said, the mayor mused about a more coordinated approach to nurturing high-tech industries, including a look at "what's working, what's not working" with existing programs. Mr. Yablonsky said the task force grew out of that conversation.

Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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