PowerUp Pittsburgh tries to spread innovation outward from Oakland
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Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl on Thursday unveiled efforts to channel some of Oakland's high-tech energy to neighborhoods struggling with vacant storefronts and other signs of decay.
Joined by university leaders and economic-development officials, Mr. Ravenstahl announced PowerUp Pittsburgh, an initiative that grew out of a breakfast meeting on his visit to China last year.
Mr. Ravenstahl said he envisions a "hub-and-spoke" system with research and entrepreneurship in Oakland -- the city's university and hospital corridor -- spilling into other neighborhoods. The initiative complements his efforts to extend a spate of residential and commercial development and other improvements, the so-called Third Renaissance, from Downtown into the neighborhoods.
While spin-off from the universities and hospitals already has benefitted East Liberty, Lawrenceville and other neighborhoods, speakers at Thursday's news conference said a more concerted effort is necessary, especially as Pittsburgh redoubles efforts to grow its "innovation economy."
"Now is the time to build on that strength," Mr. Ravenstahl said. Carnegie Mellon University President Jared Cohon said, "Today, we are committing to doing even more."
Mr. Ravenstahl announced PowerUp Pittsburgh in advance of President Barack Obama's visit to Pittsburgh on Tuesday. The visit, to be highlighted by a President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness meeting, includes a stop at the IBEW hall on the South Side.
As part of PowerUp Pittsburgh, the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority will create a new position -- director of innovation -- while CMU and the University of Pittsburgh jointly will appoint an economic development director. The schools previously had a person in that role, but the position has been vacant for two years.
PowerUp Pittsburgh's overall goal is to ramp up the city's already-established high-tech economy.
To that end, a new Pittsburgh Innovation Economic Panel will work with start-ups and nurture "the next Steve Jobs who might be at CMU or Pitt right now," Mr. Ravenstahl said, referring to the founder of Apple who died Wednesday.
He said development groups also will coordinate their applications for federal technology grants.
Mr. Ravenstahl will lead PowerUp Pittsburgh along with Mr. Cohon, Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.
Development groups, such as Regional Industrial Development Corp. of Southwestern Pennsylvania, Innovation Works and Pittsburgh Central Keystone Innovation Zone, also will be involved. William Generett Jr., opportunity zone president and CEO, said the initiative is an opportunity to reach out to struggling minority residents.
"A lot of our work today needs to be connecting that group to the benefits of the innovation economy," said Mr. Generett, whose opportunity zone takes in parts of Downtown, the Hill District, the North Shore and Uptown.
Speakers at Thursday's news conference didn't give any specific goals for job-creation, but Mr. Ravenstahl said he expects to see vacant storefronts used for business start-ups and research ventures.
"That will kind of be the litmus test for me -- which neighborhoods are experiencing jobs, which neighborhoods are experiencing opportunity," he said.
Mr. Ravenstahl, Mr. Yablonsky and Mr. Cohon visited Shanghai last year to tout Pittsburgh to Chinese investors. While discussing Pittsburgh's future at breakfast one day, they talked about increasing the high-tech sector of the local economy. After returning home, Mr. Ravenstahl established a high-tech task force.
First Published October 7, 2011 12:00 am