Regional effort, guided by industry leaders, could generate 5,000 jobs in Pittsburgh’s autonomy sector

A new study of the autonomous technology industry in Pittsburgh places the opportunity before the region in clear perspective. The success of that industry could result in 5,000 jobs and a $10 billion economic impact if the region captures just one percent of what is projected to be a $1 trillion global market.

The release of this study marks the beginning of what needs to be a coordinated, regional approach that recognizes and addresses the real-world needs of the industry. Industry leaders can tell us what they need and where they see gaps – and they are the ones who will create those jobs, either in our region or elsewhere. Even as this effort is informed by their concerns and their view of market opportunities, it must also bring to bear the resources and perspective of stakeholders from government, universities, foundations and communities – all important community institutions and all with their own points of view.

This nine-month study, issued by RIDC and the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, with research conducted by TEConomy Partners, was conducted with funding from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, the Pittsburgh Technology Council, the Pittsburgh Robotics Network, and the region’s top autonomous technology companies, including Argo AI, Aurora, Carnegie Robotics, Motional, Seegrid, and Thoro.ai.

It highlighted the need for action in such areas as:

  • Coordinating state resources and leveraging state funding to secure additional federal funding.
  • Changing certain statutes and regulations so that companies have predictability throughout the region as they test and deploy new technologies.
  • Supporting the establishment of demonstration corridors to assist in the ongoing development of autonomous vehicles and smart mobility technologies.
  • Creating a contract manufacturing center and network for local companies as they begin manufacturing key systems necessary for robotics product advancement.
  • Committing to adoption by PennDOT and other transit/transportation entities of autonomous solutions and making it easier for other agencies to begin utilizing these technologies.

We have tremendous resources and welcoming communities in the counties of southwestern Pennsylvania that haven’t yet capitalized on the growth of the autonomy sector. The availability of large sites in these counties is particularly important as companies transition from research and development to testing, manufacturing and deployment. Large facilities will be necessary to fuel the industry’s supply chain. Reaping the benefits of what the Pittsburgh region has to offer requires removing any barriers to companies’ forward progress in the region. 

Even as we listen to, learn from and support these job-creating and economy-driving companies, it’s important to listen to and understand the needs of other stakeholders. Economic development is the art of translating between regional public objectives (jobs, taxes, services) and resources and the needs of private sector job creators to start, grow and invest here in the Pittsburgh region. The market sends opportunity signals and the industry has its own needs as it pursues those opportunities. The universities and public and civic sectors have resources, but they have their own needs and objectives as well.  All too often, the companies don’t understand the art of the possible in the civic realm and the civic sector doesn’t understand the industry’s true needs and motivations.  While they may differ materially, there is usually common ground.

Understanding and translating the needs of each stakeholder group to find that common ground is the key to success. That’s the only way to ensure that the public and civic resources are allocated where they have the biggest impact and, in turn, the civic and public goals are met.

In Pittsburgh, we seize opportunities.  With a roadmap in place, the region can be in a breakout position in the race to autonomous mobile systems industry dominance.  Thinking big and cementing our already strong R&D-driven position with the supporting infrastructure, assets, environment, funding support and policies, Pittsburgh can claim its place as the best location to develop, test and produce autonomous technologies.