US Airways will build in Moon
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When US Airways announced last week that it would build its new operations center in Moon rather than moving to the Sun Belt, it had a symbolic impact that rivaled the impact of 600 jobs.
"If they had not chosen to build it here, they would have been keeping the question mark out there: 'How long is US Airways going to be part of the region?' " Airport Area Chamber of Commerce director Sally Haas said.
Instead, she said, the message is that "Pittsburgh is on the upswing. People want to locate their facilities here and keep their facilities here. I think they're seeing that Pittsburgh is a place people want to be."
The announcement, which came Feb. 20, was the first good news out of US Airways in a long time. Hit hard by the sudden drop in air travel after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the airline shed local jobs by the thousands over the next few years. In 2005, it merged with America West Airlines, and moved to join America West in its Tempe, Ariz., headquarters.
Overall, the Pittsburgh area lost roughly 10,000 jobs.
The Phoenix, Ariz., area, which includes Tempe, put in a strong bid for the operations center, as did Charlotte, N.C. US Airways President Scott Kirby said the impact of trying to move an experienced workforce from Pittsburgh -- the 450 who work in the airline's operations center in Findlay -- was a large factor in the decision.
The airline has 150 employees in an Arizona operations center; those jobs will be moved to Pittsburgh.
The decision, according to Ms. Haas, "speaks to our workforce, says that they recognize that we have the kind of multi-skilled workforce that they need.
"You need a lot of different kinds of workers to run an operation, and we have them here, beyond just mechanics."
US Airways will build on 10 acres of county-owned land along Ewing Road, part of the Cherrington office complex.
Moon Assistant Manager Jodi Noble said township officials are delighted to have the operations center coming there, though obviously keeping the airline in the region is more important than which municipality it will call home.
"I think anything that helps preserve the USAir presence is a good thing," she said. "It would be good no matter where it came in the region, but it's a boon that it's coming here in Moon."
Ms. Haas and Ms. Noble noted that the lost jobs did not cripple the economy in the airport area. In fact, growth has been strong in the office, light industrial, warehousing and retail sectors.
The keys were adaptability and diversity.
"I think that was the one message that come through loud and clear," Ms. Haas said. "We need diversity."
"We were abe to mitigate our economic losses because of our diverse tax base," Ms. Noble said.
And unlike many others, Ms. Haas thinks Pittsburgh is "a champ" when it comes to turning lemons into lemonade.
She used the history of the old airport as an example -- it went from a dairy farm to a major international airport to a business park. "Change is ongoing, and in each generation of change you have to give something up to keep going forward," she said.
"I think there are still a lot of hills to climb, but that just means there are opportunities. From the top, that hill looks out into the universe."
First Published March 1, 2007 12:00 am