Despite the challenges, which included an unemployment rate of 17% and the loss of more than 200,000 jobs at the height of the coronavirus pandemic last year, those in charge of the Pittsburgh Area Primary Development Agency are optimistic for a recovery and for the future.
“This has been a profound human tragedy,” said Laura Karet, the new chair of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, at its annual meeting Thursday. “We have a lot to do and we have to do it.” The meeting was broadcast virtually via Zoom.
Karet, President and CEO of Giant Eagle, thanked frontline staff in the area, including Giant Eagle employees who did not have the luxury of working from home during the pandemic.
Karet is the first woman to serve as Chair of the Allegheny Conference, which coordinates economic development and promotes the Pittsburgh area. The Allegheny Conference was founded in 1944 to make plans for Pittsburgh after World War II. It now serves the 10 counties region including Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Washington, and Westmoreland counties.
“If the region wins, we all win,” said Karet.
Karet succeeds Bill Demchak, President and CEO of PNC. Demchak is now the chairman of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, the conference’s economic development arm.
More than 1,000 business and social leaders from the region watched as Karet, Stefani Pashman, CEO of the Allegheny Conference, and other members of the conference leadership highlight the progress made in 2020 and set out what they want to achieve in 2021.
The group worked to distribute 575,000 personal protective equipment such as face masks to groups in need. The conference also established a covid portal, which is an active clearinghouse for information and statistics on covid-19.
Due to the pandemic, the region has 85,000 fewer jobs compared to January 2020 and the unemployment rate is only about 6%, Pashman said. More than a third of businesses face declines in demand, productivity and cash as the anniversary of the pandemic outbreak in the area approaches, Pashman said.
Despite these numbers, the Group’s executives are optimistic about the future.
In September, the Next is Now campaign was launched as a marketing plan for the region.
Next is Now was designed so that community leaders in each county can use it to make their strengths known to the world.
The group is also working to address issues of racial justice, which continued to emerge in 2020 when the May death of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.
The revived movement was preceded by a 2019 report by University of Pittsburgh researchers highlighting racial and gender inequalities in Pittsburgh.
Eliminating these inequalities is part of the Group’s 10-year work plan published last year. The aim is to recruit and retain skilled workers for blacks and minorities in the region, and reform of the criminal justice system is becoming a priority.
The plan reflects “concrete, righteous steps to eradicate systemic racism,” Pashman said.
She pointed to the conference’s efforts to help pass a 2020 law to facilitate the deletion of smaller criminal records that are preventing some from finding work.
“We will eliminate and improve racial justice for all people. We can and we must do better, ”said Karet.
Pashman also praised the Pittsburgh Passport program, which brought together more than 1,700 college students from 30 countries in a program that was virtual due to the pandemic.
Last year, the conference’s Strategic Investment Fund also provided $ 7 million in gap funding to help Astrobotic, a company working to build payloads that land on the moon, move into the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Manchester .
The conference is also working to meet transportation infrastructure needs, including a high-speed bus plan to connect downtown to Oakland, which received $ 100 million federal funding last year.
The group is also campaigning for tax reform at the state level, Demchak said.
Pennsylvania’s corporate tax rate of 9.9% is among the highest in the country and makes it less attractive for companies to do business here, Demchak said.
Executives in Texas, where there is no corporation tax, have tried to get Pittsburgh-based PNC, which Demchak runs, to move there.
“‘You can come down and move your headquarters here and we will support you,'” said Demchak, the Texan leaders told him.
PNC is not going anywhere, he said, but the tax structure in Pennsylvania needs to change so that more companies either stay in the state or settle there.
In addition to Demchak’s role in PRA, the conference announced new chairs for its other two arms. Bryan Salesky, founder and CEO of Argo AI, the autonomous driving technology company, is chairman of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce. Rebekah Byers Kcehowski, partner in charge of Jones Day law firm in Pittsburgh, is co-chair of the Pennsylvania Economy League in the greater Pittsburgh area. Bill Strickland, Executive Chairman of Manchester Bidwell Corp., is the other co-chair.
“I’m excited to see how the unique strengths of this group of newly appointed leaders – including our first female chairmen – will continue to bring the vision of regional vitality for all to the fore,” said Pashman, who became the first woman to lead the conference. when she was appointed CEO in 2017.
Tom Davidson is a contributor to Tribune Review. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, email@example.com, or on Twitter.
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