Tom Link: Looking Back – and Ahead – at Economic Development Success in City of Pittsburgh

by on April 25, 2017

Part VII 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 Tom Link, director, Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh 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?

“Larimer Choice is a multi-year, mixed-used development in Pittsburgh’s Larimer neighborhood that includes affordable housing, commercial and public space development.  It hit a major milestone in 2016 with Phase I: 85 units of housing (including 56 affordable units) being occupied in Q4 of 2016.  These units have achieved the highest marks for sustainable features including energy efficient appliances and storm water intervention technologies.  The City of Pittsburgh received a $30 million Federal Choice Neighborhood grant toward the Larimer Choice Neighborhood effort.”


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?

“From the URA’s perspective, we are focused on leveraging the city’s world-class assets at our university and medical campuses into job creating enterprise.  The URA supports individual business startup and expansion and creation of the places and spaces – for example, 7800 Susquehanna Street, Alpha Lab Gear, Bakery Square and many others – that house the job- creating companies in our city.  Our greatest workforce asset is the talent generated by our universities and medical institutions, as well as the talent-building underway at a wealth of innovative companies in the city – both early stage and mature.”


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

“There are more than one:  affordable housing, infrastructure and transit improvements, plus business expansion and attraction.  Pittsburgh has the opportunity to be a place for all to have well-paying jobs, great housing, and ease of mobility from home to work to recreation.  If Pittsburgh fails on any of these fronts then it is not living up to its reputation as world-class city and the subject of so much national and international press tied to its story of urban rebirth.”


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.

“It’s critical.  Certainly local government cannot achieve economic development success alone or in a vacuum.  We rely on our partnerships with local academia, the PRA/Allegheny Conference, Tech-Based Economic Development (TBED), state and federal partners and our corporate and philanthropic community to achieve success.    I submit that our working relationships across all of these sectors are paramount to success.  For example, 7800 Susquehanna was developed by Bridgeway Capital with financing support from the URA’s Federal New Markets Tax Credit affiliate Pittsburgh Urban Initiatives, the Richard King Mellon Foundation, PNC Bank and the state’s RACP program.”


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?

“There is genuine collaboration.  From my desk at the URA, I can call partners at the Governor’s office/DCED, Allegheny County, the PRA, Pitt, CMU, other colleges/universities, philanthropy, TBED, the private sector and others for support and expertise to execute opportunities.  I get the sense that, as a region, recognize that we will rise and fall together.

While much of Pittsburgh shining, there are portions of the region – including many parts of our city – that are not witnessing robust economic revival.  This needs to change in order for our region to best compete in a challenging and competitive national and international environment.”


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:  where you can put your money to work and find peace of mind.

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.