Top 50: Out-of-town companies loom large in region

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There's something a bit discomforting about reflecting on the Pittsburgh region's future being impacted by the decisions of executives who rarely get stuck in traffic on the Parkway East or follow contract talks between the Steelers and Big Ben.

That unease can be seen in the intense interest in just how many jobs The Bank of New York Mellon has retained/taken out/brought into Pittsburgh since last year's summer wedding of a New York financial services giant and a 138-year-old hometown institution.

Will the planned acquisition of Murrysville medical equipment maker Respironics Inc. by a Dutch company threaten jobs, even if Royal Philips Electronics executives have offered assurances they won't make dramatic changes to the local 1,700-person workforce?

Don't look for guarantees in a business world where long-term strategies regularly get revamped, restructured and redirected in the unsentimental light of the bottom line. That's as true for Pittsburgh-based H.J. Heinz Co. as it is for Italy's Finmeccanica, which owns homegrown Union Switch & Signal.

But, as any local government that has competed for a new plant knows, companies based somewhere else can inject resources and opportunities.

Much as Pittsburgh might prefer serving as the headquarters for more Fortune 500 companies, the region has shown it still has ideas that get the business world to take notice. More than once, an outside company has either discovered this slice of Pennsylvania or made new investments because of work already being done here.

German conglomerate Bayer already had ties to the region when its acquisition of another company two years ago brought Marshall medical device maker Medrad Inc. into its portfolio. Employment at the subsidiary has grown since then.

Downtown-based Wheelabrator Air Pollution Controls Inc., a subsidiary of German corporation Siemens AG since 2005, was recently listed as a recipient of a state grant to help with an expansion that could create more than 500 jobs.

The list of companies drawn here by the work of an entrepreneur -- from this generation or an earlier one -- includes Ariba, FedEx, Del Monte Foods, Citizens Bank (Royal Bank of Scotland) and the various owners of former pieces of the Westinghouse empire.

Appreciating the value of such corporate citizens is one thing. Figuring out what their top management might be planning next is a different challenge -- something that's arguably easier when top executives attend the local church or cheer at their kid's basketball games in Fox Chapel or Sewickley.

But it is pretty simple these days, even with out-of-town or foreign companies with significant operations, to watch the same things the executives of those businesses do: performance statistics such as stock price, revenue growth and profits.

Just as technology has made it simpler for Cincinnati-based Macy's to track merchandise all over the country, workers and investors and economic development agencies can follow the retailer's quarterly results even if they don't run into its executives at the grocery store.

And, with all the jobs involved, they probably should.

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Teresa F. Lindeman can be reached at or at 412-263-2018.


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