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Pittsburgh Goes Global

Here’s a switch: instead of top-down party planning, you are being asked to to plan your own party, in any part of September, all of September if you want, then link it to Global Pittsburgh Celebration. Have an event – any event – celebrating Pittsburgh Global Diversity. Everyone is welcome to recognize, celebrate, and most important grow Pittsburgh’s incredible international business.

"The Pittsburgh community is made up of people from all over the world who have come here to be a part of the transformation of our region,” offers Sunil Wadhwani, Global Pittsburgh Celebration spokesperson. “Immigrants have and continue to bring their talents, skills, energy, and diverse cultures to make Pittsburgh a unique and interesting place in which to live and work.

"It is in that spirit that we launch this celebration in Pittsburgh's 250th anniversary year as a recognition of the diversity and rich culture that has long been part of our region's history. These are exciting times to live in Pittsburgh,” he adds, “times that demand a commitment to our sense of community."

That community is home to more than 330 foreign-owned firms, employing more than 50,000 local people. That number jumps to 130,000 when all international business is taken into account -- from megaliths like Westinghouse to CMU-born-and-bred start-ups like Vivisimo and Plextronics.

On the Map
While thousands of Pittsburgh companies trade products and services all over the world, more than 100 global companies – with more than $1 billion in revenues -- have operations in Pittsburgh. And more than 10,000 overseas students attend Pittsburgh’s three dozen colleges and universities, some of which, like Carnegie Mellon, have campuses around the world.

“We are truly on the map,” says Roger Cranville, OBE, Canada’s Honorary Consul and a Global Pittsburgh coordinator. “Because we’re doing $8.2 billion in exports from here, a lot of people are watching what’s happening. Many Pittsburgh companies, already doing good business in North America, are now taking that global opportunity. Just as one example, 34 companies from this region have operations in China – and some have multiple operations. There are 90 Pittsburgh-based operations in China alone.

“Why?” Cranville asks.  “The Chinese, and others, want the best, and in a lot of cases Pittsburgh has the best. We’re still recognized worldwide as a metals and chemicals leader, for example. In manufacturing, transportation equipment, robotics, and so on, we are truly global.”

If April is the cruelest month, at least according to Eliot, then September is the best to celebrate all this activity, Cranville thinks. “We felt it was our most dynamic month for international activity,” he says, “especially with the September 9 International Bridge Award, this year going to Vivisimo.”

Given by the Pittsburgh Council for International Visitors, the International Bridge Award acknowledges those efforts to build bridges between Pittsburgh and other parts of the world. Held this year at the Westin Convention Center Hotel, this year’s recipient is Squirrel Hill’s Vivisimo. (The word is Spanish for lively, bright, or clever; the founders picked it to demonstrate their vision of enlivening the process of cycling through internal search engines.)

If Vivisimo seems a little like the United Nations, there’s good reason. Literally flying the flags of the home nations of its employees, they’re up to 15 these days (not including such alien climes as California and New York), Zambia, South Korea, India, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, Canada, Japan, and so on. Even the three founders are foreign-born, coming from  Canada, France, and Cuba.

“When we started the company in 2000,” CEO Raul Valdes-Perez recalls, “California was as global as we got. Things have certainly changed.”

Indeed. While it’s not necessarily easy working overseas – Valdes-Perez chortles his way through a story about being stranded in a European country with no money, no cell, and no local language – he says, “it pays to go out of your way to show the customer that you’re hungry, that you’ll go the extra mile.

“It’s easy to do international from Pittsburgh,” he adds, “if you have the right people.” Having himself lived in Brazil and Spain, and taught in China, Vades-Perez is the first to know that “there are a lot of nuances overseas. Some are well known – like giving and receiving business cards in Japan – and some are very subtle. The rules of behavior are different – and it pays to know the rules.”

The Nuclear Powerhouse
Locally, the mother of them all is Westinghouse – after growth, expansion, contraction, now doing business as Westinghouse Electric, providing fuel, services, technology, plant design, and equipment for commercial nuclear power. With Westinghouse technology the basis for nearly 50 percent of the world's operating commercial nuclear power plants, the Westinghouse flag flies in Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, and all over Europe – France, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Russia, Ukraine, and Bulgaria. With Monroeville’s Westinghouse boasting 3,000 Pittsburgh-area employees, “the nuclear industry is in rhythm with the future,” says Charlie Pryor, President and CEO. “It’s on the threshold of dramatic growth.”

Smaller, but hardly less visionary, Plextronics’ Andy Hannah also dreams of worldwide markets – and changing the world. From Harmarville, Plextronics has blazed a global trail in tiny, printable transistors (RFID tags) for consumer packaging, as well as printable solar cells to power portable electronic devices.  Their goal: $50 billion by 2015.

“We’ve had a 400% revenue growth over the past three years,” Hannah says, “in part because we do business globally. Currently, 40 percent of our revenue is international. And we expect that international will grow faster than national, with a significant spike in revenue, first in Asia, second in Europe.

“Because we’re in printed electronics, which is such a hot area,” Hannah adds, “we get entrée. We know companies’ problems with printed solar cells, display screens, and so on. For us, it’s easy to call up a company in Asia and say, ‘we know you’re trying to commercialize this technology. Let us send you some data that can solve your problems.’”

Then, as is his wont, Hannah waxes visionary. Just as Westinghouse – from electric to nuclear – literally changed the world, so might Plextronics’ printed light sources. “Billions of people have no access to power,” he says. “Our technology offers affordable energy to anybody on this planet who wants it. And once they have that, their quality of life will increase. Globally, we will have a more educated workforce – the distribution of power and knowledge will become truly global. Once that happens, it will lead to a greater understanding between cultures. Which in turn opens the avenue for world peace.”

The International Bridge Award dinner, the signature event of Global Pittsburgh Celebration, is September 9th at the Westin Convention Center at 6 p.m. For more information, click here.

Abby Mendelson’s latest book, End of the Road, a collection of short stories, is available at amazon and bn.com.

Main picture, clockwise from top: At Vivisimo - Terry Lee (South Korea), Tanmay Sinha (India), Anton Prevosti-Vives (Spain), Jechul Kim (South Korea), Phil Hayes (U.K.), Vincent Thomas (Ireland), Ashka Pezzi (Poland), Santosh Perla (Zambia), Ariadna Font (Spain), Laxmi Vennam (India)

Sunil Wadhwani

Raul Valdes-Perez

Andy Hannah

Photographs copyright Brian Cohen (U.K.)
Art direction for main picture Ariadna Font

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