PITTSBURGH – Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Matt Erskine and U.S. Economic Development Administration Regional Director Willie C. Taylor today hosted an economic development roundtable with members of the business, academic and non-profit community to discuss the federal government’s agenda, priorities and goals and to hear about the county’s successes and challenges in economic development and job growth.
“Our region has succeeded in creating jobs and new businesses in large part because of the partnerships we have forged among government, business, labor, non-profits and foundations,” said Fitzgerald. “We are happy to welcome Secretary Erskine and Director Taylor to Allegheny County to hear about our successes and to discuss how we can work together to further strengthen our regional economy.”
The group discussed Western Pennsylvania’s emerging energy sector, especially natural gas, and the critical economic role it will play during the coming decades. In addition to natural gas, the region is also a significant player in coal, nuclear, solar and wind energy.
“The development of the Marcellus Shale and other energy sources presents a remarkable economic opportunity for our region,” said Fitzgerald. “We need workforce training and development funding from the federal government to help equip local residents with the skills needed to obtain jobs in the energy sector.”
The County Executive also discussed the conversion of Port Authority buses to use natural gas, which could save the agency an estimated $10 million per year in fuel savings and further promote local natural gas production.
Allegheny Conference on Community Development CEO Dennis Yablonsky raised the need for federal investment in infrastructure, including roads, bridges, airports, and sewer and water systems, as a crucial issue. He said the lack of long-term, predictable funding for infrastructure hampers economic development and job creation.
The group spent a significant amount of time discussing innovation and advanced manufacturing in the region. Fitzgerald applauded U.S. Steel Corp., Allegheny Technologies Inc. and Royal Dutch Shell for committing billions of dollars in upgrades and new facilities in Western Pennsylvania.
Secretary Erskine said strengthening the existing manufacturing sector and expanding and accelerating the development of additional advanced manufacturing capacity is one of the top priorities for the Obama Administration.
“We need to build things here in the U.S. in order to keep the innovation here,” said Erskine. “The federal government will continue to be a partner with the Pittsburgh region.”
The Secretary discussed the Obama Administration’s multi-agency strategy to streamline assistance to businesses and leverage federal funding to support economic development. He also told the group of his agency’s work to improve the federal grant process for businesses, as well as the creation of regional innovation clusters, an advanced manufacturing job accelerator, and $1 billion national advanced manufacturing network.
Carnegie Mellon University President Jared Cohon discussed the importance of spin-off companies from local colleges and universities and how the federal government could support these efforts through funding and policy. Venture capital dollars, especially homegrown funding, were also mentioned as a key aspect to continue developing spin-off companies from university research.
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