How the Pandemic Offers a Reset Button for Cities and Regions

Take yourself back to February 2020. For me, the year couldn’t have started off better. I am relatively new to the Pittsburgh region, having relocated in the summer of 2019 to serve as the president of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, a partnership that advances Pittsburgh’s economy and attracts strategic investment opportunities. I had just toured the region’s 10 counties, visited development sites and local campuses, and spent time with the many partners. We were in the midst of enacting a broad strategy for the Pittsburgh region to proactively build off the region’s unique and valuable assets.  

On a personal level, moving into a new home, meeting new faces, and discovering local restaurants, museums, and causes all made the transition here even sweeter. Like many others, I knew more about the products, innovations, and cultural gems that Pittsburghers produced than the neighborhoods and communities that make up the region. I was feeling great about the opportunity to serve the region, while building an equally fulfilling life here.

The world around this optimism would obviously change. The pandemic’s health, equity, and economic impact on the region would reset the year’s priorities but also shift how economic development work must be approached moving forward. With a post-pandemic life finally in a distant sight, the lessons from this period offer the right moment to make meaningful gains in the areas critical to the future.

The backbone of this work is a solid message. Fortunately, we were in the midst of developing a new brand to tell the world about Pittsburgh. Even during a pandemic, we successfully launched Pittsburgh Region. Next is Now., and this has paved the way for our current efforts.

We are…

Positioning the region as the location of choice for robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence (RAAI) investment. The pandemic has advanced the pace of the fourth industrial revolution. Enterprise companies and manufacturers are adopting deep technologies, partnering with new firms, and hiring top tech talent. This expertise is our regional strength. We’ll do what we can to ensure every local growth firm (for example, Astrobotic) has our support and the broader international business community has the latest market intelligence on why we’re a good fit for their next investment.

Leveraging local economic assets for high-growth national sectors. You may have missed this news but Pittsburgh is ranked as one of the top emerging life sciences hubs in North America. This is not the only area where the development community has identified tremendous opportunity for the region. We’re also a top destination for sustainable building materials, which are needed technologies as the world adopts low-carbon and efficiency-driven innovations. The excitement around these areas are opportunities for the region to ensure we capture our fair share of jobs growth and investments projected. 

Promoting the region’s infrastructure and talent for advanced manufacturing. The more familiar I’ve become with the region’s industrial and production capabilities, it’s increasingly clear that Pittsburghers are equipped to build the advanced products and systems of the future.  Innovation within manufacturing will be one of this decade’s greatest moments and it will impact everything from energy production to mobility across cities and space. It’s imperative that the region shapes, attracts, and supports this as a continued driver of our economic growth and culture.

Talent Attraction and Support

The pandemic has already had a permanent impact on the flexibility of office work. Our operating assumption that local employers must hire locally and relocate employees has shifted.  Thus our talent work will evolve into providing leadership for a new set of challenges, while still providing leadership on the key areas outlined in our strategic plan:   

Improving Pittsburgh’s ecosystem for diverse talent by attracting and supporting businesses and professional networks with inclusion and equity as core to their mission.The region’s infrastructure to support Black and brown communities doesn’t match the economic potential of the region. Changing this takes time, but progress will appear through announcements, new initiatives which will position the region as a more livable place for all, foster greater connectivity for the region’s diverse professionals, and rank the region more favorable for businesses with equity as part of their agenda. This month, two expansions highlight a path toward progress in the region, Per Scholas entering Pittsburgh and The Advanced Leadership Initiative’s expansion.  

Developing content and programmatic interventions to equip businesses and employers with the tools to attract new graduates, foreign and diverse talent, and high-demand talent. In 2020, we launched the first phase of the Talent Toolkit, to help employers use our materials and content to better tell Pittsburgh’s story.  This year will mark the third iteration of the Pittsburgh Passport, an effort to increase the number of college students who stay in the region.

WIthout question, the pandemic has been devastating on many levels, but in the economic development world, taking this as a chance to hit the reset button and start on a better path into post-pandemic life will help the world recover more quickly and more equitably.