Bob Hurley: Looking Back – and Ahead – at Economic Development Success in Allegheny County

by on April 18, 2017

Part VI of a Weekly, 12-Part Series

Note:  The Pittsburgh Regional Alliance (PRA) invited each of its economic development partners from the 10-county region to share insight and maybe some hindsight about business investment and the economy’s growth – at the county and regional levels – looking through the rearview mirror at 2016 and at the road ahead and where it might be taking them, their counties and our region in 2017 and beyond.

Here are some of the responses that Bob Hurley, director of economic development, Allegheny County shared with us.

What do you count as the most strategically significant (not necessarily the largest in size or investment dollars) economic development-related deal or activity in your county in 2016? Why?

“Over the past two years, the Pittsburgh International Airport has increased its nonstop destinations 80 percent to include 68 markets, and in January 2017 it was named Airport of the Year for 2016 by Air Transport magazine.  The growth of our airport is certainly a sign of the incredible work that the team at the Allegheny County Airport Authority is doing, but also the work of the economic development partners and agencies, corporate partners  and others are doing together within southwestern Pennsylvania to attract and grow business in our region overall.”


Last year, the Allegheny Conference released a landmark report, Inflection Point: Supply, Demand and the Future of Work in the Pittsburgh Region, detailing a dramatically changing workforce – both in numbers and skill sets.  What has your county done, is doing or planning to do to turn a regional workforce challenge into opportunity? What do you consider your county’s greatest workforce asset(s) to be and why?

“The 35 regional colleges and universities that call our region home are incredible assets to the region. Through collaborative partnerships with the foundations and universities, we are connecting students from all over the world with regional opportunities, and also providing graduates the opportunity to grow their innovative ideas and companies here.  Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) is transforming its workforce training division into a quality-driven, sales-oriented enterprise that will work closely with the area’s employers and economic development officials. The Center for Professional Development is becoming the trainer of choice for southwestern Pennsylvania for many industries.  In order to help accelerate the region’s economic development, CCAC is working with regional players to forecast what hard and soft skills will be needed of employees and is retooling programs to meet those needs. They are also taking measures to promote the importance of vocational education and the well-paying, satisfying careers available in many fields today.

While we have been successful in diversifying our economy, we need to find new ways to embrace and support real diversity within the regional workforce.  Allegheny County introduced The Immigrant Community Blueprint in 2016, which is a set of strategic priorities and plans developed and designed to help immigrants thrive in, and shape the future of, Allegheny County.  The Blueprint will be implemented over the next three to five years and will involve the intersection and collaboration of government, education, health, community development, philanthropy, social services and economic development agencies and partners.

We are also investing in agencies, plans and partners who are connecting the residents and families in our communities to educational and workforce opportunities.  Partner4Work is the workforce development organization in Allegheny County that recently launched a new strategic plan to connect 40,000 people to jobs by connecting funding, expertise and opportunities. Collaborative work will be done to connect employers with job-seekers, as well as to help job-seekers break down barriers and open doors to opportunity for careers in growing industries.”


What is one of your top priorities for your county, relative to economic development, in 2017 and why?

“The continued growth and maturation of the Airport Corridor is a top priority.  Allegheny County and our economic development partners are preparing for the growth that will come as a result of the Shell petrochemical complex project in Beaver County. In addition to the immediate workforce and supply needs, the project will bring substantial downstream activities to the entire region. Our priority will remain to work with our partners in marketing and attracting business to the 4,000 acres of developable land and the 30 million sq. ft. of available building space.  Significant investment has already occurred, with more than $350 million invested in more than three million square feet of manufacturing, office, industrial and cargo space.”


How important is regional partnership to economic development success in your county and what do you count among your best partnership assets/allies for achieving success. Can you share a particular memory or reflection about a project when partnership moved the needle? If so, please do.

“Regional partnership is extremely important to the success of Allegheny County.   The collaboration of partners throughout southwestern Pennsylvania is what is helping to put our region on the map nationally and internationally.  The work done by all partners relative to attracting the Shell Chemical petrochemical complex – and then following the announcement, the work to collaboratively identify, share and connect to opportunities that the project will present for the people and businesses in our region – is a great example of regional partnership.  We look forward to continued collaboration around this project and hope that this is just the first of many transformative and collaborative projects to come for our region.”


What is better about the economic development/business investment climate in the region now, versus 10 years ago? Conversely, what do hope will be improved within the next decade?

“The significance of the collaboration that is occurring among and between regional economic development partners, universities and private/ public partnerships cannot be understated.  To attract the businesses that we want and to create the diverse and thriving economies and communities that we want, we will have to continue working together across geographical boundaries, industries and sectors.”


BONUS QUESTION (don’t be bashful!): If you were a fan of “Mad Men,” you’ll likely recall Don Draper’s concept – “New York: Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” – for a Bethlehem Steel campaign the Sterling Cooper agency was trying to land. When considering economic development marketing, the product that we’re selling in southwestern Pennsylvania is “10 counties, 1 region.” Channeling your inner “Mad Men,” what would be the headline on an ad you’re charged with creating to market our product – the region?

“Pittsburgh:  Midwestern values embodied in Silicon Valley swag.” 

Read the complete article, “The Rearview Mirror and the Road Ahead,” featuring responses from all of the region’s economic development professionals.  The piece was originally published in the Pittsburgh Business Times as part of a supplement for NAIOP Pittsburgh’s 24th annual awards banquet in March.

Check back on the PRA Blog every Tuesday for the next installment in the series.