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Looking good Pittsburgh. PittsburghTODAY report highlights the state of the region

PittsburghTODAY released its 2013 Today & Tomorrow report and the news across many sectors is enlightening.
 
With the economic recovery still underway in much of the country, Pittsburgh is the only benchmark region out of 15 that has experienced job growth and housing price appreciation. In addition, the labor force is at an all-time high and young people are returning and staying in the region.
 
Southwestern Pennsylvania continues to be one of the most affordable places for moderate-income families to live. A Brookings Institution study says so too, listing Pittsburgh as one of three cities in the U.S. to have recovered from the deep recession that began in 2007.
 
The region, however, has work to do in several areas, including transportation, the environment and issues pertaining to diversity, particularly in helping African Americans in the region to achieve the same quality of life as whites.
 
Among the highlights:
 
Population: It has been official but bares repeating: the region is attaining and attracting young talent. The region’s population of 20- to 34- year-olds grew by 7% over the last five years and is expected to grow another 8% in 2020. Three decades earlier the region was losing more than 50,000 people than it was attracting, mostly young adults.
 
Jobs: Jobs grew by a non-seasonably adjusted 1.7 percent in the seven-county Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) from November 2007 to November 2012. Certainly not robust, but it was better than any of the Pittsburgh TODAY benchmark regions. Pittsburgh was the only region to post job growth over that period.
 
Tourism: Visitors to Southwestern Pennsylvania pumped $8.1 billion into the local economy in lodging, recreation, retail, food and beverage, transportation and other spending during 2011,the latest year the full data was reported. This is a 9.6% increase over 2010.

Housing: Pittsburgh was the only region in which the 5-year housing prices rose from 2007-2012.
 
Environment: While fine particle pollution is slowly decreasing, and met federal air quality standards for the first time in 2011 since the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, smog and sewage spills and the health of our rivers remains an issue.
 
Fracking: Across the region, a survey shows that far more residents are convinced of the economic potential of the Marcellus Shale gas industry than are against drilling for it. More than 70% of those surveyed believe that gas drilling is boosting the local economy.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: PittsburghTODAY

An app for those nasty potholes; Deeplocal sells transit app RouteShout

Just in time for the spring thaw comes a new weapon against  Pittsburgh potholes, a smartphone app that tracks their location and subtly takes the city to task for leaving them unattended over time.

Carnegie Mellon University's RODAS Project--that's Road Damage Assessment System--gives GPS-linked smartphone users the tools to snap pictures of potholes and upload them on Facebook. The photos are then automatically tagged on an online map, marked by bright red dots, creating a virtual overview of potholes to alert officials (and drivers) where the potholes are.

The project, started last summer, was the original idea of Chilean Heinz grad Veronica Acha-Alvarez and inspired by a similar successful project in Chile. The Chilean app offers contests, (subtly timed with local elections) to identify the largest potholes.

"We are creating a secure, independent source of information about potholes that can be used to alert government agencies and to monitor their response," says Robert Strauss, professor of economics and public policy in the H. John Heinz III College.

Widespread publicity this week drove more than 800 hits to the site in one day, he adds.

Involving the community in identifying and monitoring the pothole problem is the primary goal of the project. The team also is considering other ways citizens may assist, including an adopt-a-pothole program that gets the community more involved with repairs.

"Kind of like a  pet rock," says Stauss.

"PennDOT found it interesting," he adds. "This new public database is a new tool people can use to monitor what road crews are doing and to judge the efficiency of government."

In other app news, Deeplocal's award-winning transit technology, RouteShout, was acquired by Atlanta-based RouteMatch Software Inc., developers of traveler information systems. Financial terms were not disclosed.

RouteShout, which marks the first sale of a Deeplocal asset, allows riders to access up-to-the-second transit arrival times from their mobile phones. It will provide the "missing link" of real-time arrival data needed for intelligent transit systems, says Tim Quinn of RouteMatch.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Robert Strauss, CMU; Deeplocal



Sprout Fund supports 20 new biodiversity projects with $190,000; PLSG on the move

Good news for the region's biodiversity and life sciences industry.

PLSG received $500,000 in funding that will help to establish a life sciences campus on the South Side at the River Park Commons Business Center.

The funding comes from a Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grant from the state. The new campus will provide space for four to six wet-labs in addition to the existing 9,000 square feet of life sciences labs. PLSG will also move its office to the campus.

"The demand for this campus is significant as an increasing number of new biotechnology companies are being launched throughout the nation, and geographic clusters to house these new, start-up companies are highly competitive," said John W. Manzetti, President and CEO.

In other news, 20 biodiversity projects received $190,000 this week as part of a new initiative to support the stewardship of Southwestern Pennsylvania's natural resources.

The Sprout Fund and The Pittsburgh Foundation hope to jumpstart community-based biodiversity projects in the region through the Spring Program. The funded projects were selected from among 75 applications, says Dustin Stiver of The Sprout Fund.

"These projects offer an exciting array of innovative solutions to the many environmental challenges we face," says Stiver. "With diverse objectives and creative approaches, they give promise that the biodiversity of our resource-rich region can be preserved and enhanced for generations to come."

Six biodiversity projects received $20,000 awards including:

BioShelter and Food Systems Center at the Garfield Community Farm, where a permanent bioshelter will extend the farm's growing season and offer educational opportunities to the nearby elementary school;

Green Roofs for Bus Shelters in East Liberty, introducing flora and fauna into the urban environment through a living green roof on Penn Avenue;

Heritage Seed Bank and Nursery for seed banks and educational opportunities in the preservation of native heritage or heirloom edible plants;

Native Appalachian Garden, part of Pittsburgh Botanical Garden, cultivating woodland species of the region;

And Take a Hike: Backyard Biodiversity for a traveling presentation that will lead elementary school children on an exploration of the Earth's biomes at the Carnegie Science Center.

The other 14 recipients receiving $5,000 awards are include outdoor classrooms for children, ecological gardens, artificial chimney habitats for neotropical migrant birds, rain gardens in schoolyards with the help of Nine Mile Run Watershed Assoc. and native plant restoration projects.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: PLSG, Dustin Stiver, The Sprout Fund


Pittsburgh aspires to be the most tech-savvy city in the country

The e-democracy race is on and if Councilman Bill Peduto has his way, Pittsburgh will blow the door of city government wide open and leave cities like Boston in the dust.

Peduto invited several Pittsburgh-based tech companies to City Hall this month to discuss using a mix of homegrown technologies to promote a unique blend of tools that would help constituents to better track goings on.

Among those who came to the table were online social political network MyGov365, searchable video data company Panopto Inc, web-based broadcaster Vivo and the Carnegie Mellon developer of YinzCam technology, which allows mobile phone users to watch replays of Penguins action inside the arena.

This is just the beginning, says Peduto. The discussion won’t be limited to these companies.

“Pittsburgh can be a model of e-democracy for the world. We want Pittsburgh (government) to not only be on the forefront, but to offer leverage to our own Pittsburgh-based companies to use the city as a test market to sell their products worldwide.”

Pittsburgh has $52,000 to webcast council meetings, which should be enough to cover the webcast and more, Peduto says. The city plans to award a contract to begin providing webcasts and searchable video by the end of this month.

Other proposed initiatives include an iPhone application for city government, a searchable database of all council votes and records offered by MyGov365 and offering online access to community meetings.

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Councilman Bill Peduto, City of Pittsburgh

Image courtesy Councilman Bill Peduto

Getting ready for the G-20 Summit--weigh in now!

When leaders of the world’s most important emerging-market countries come to Pittsburgh this fall, what will they need, see and experience?

Suggestions poured in this past week during three public brainstorming sessions. Not able to attend?  Share your ideas and sign up for potential volunteer opportunities at the Pittsburgh G-20 Partnership Web site by clicking here.

“We’ve gotten some really great ideas, things we hadn’t thought of,” reports Kevin Evanto of Allegheny County. “Many say they want the city to gleam, a display of flags of all the nations, to welcome people in their native language.”

One gentleman suggested inviting illusionists to walk the streets because no one needs a translator to understand the language of magic.

Other thoughts? Pittsburgh must live up to its green image with sustainable opportunities and recycling offered everywhere, at hotels, on the streets, in parks. Stage a special light-up or festival of lights, get the ethnic communities involved, improve signage and enlist university and high school students to volunteer.

“We’re still waiting to hear from the White House on many issues, but we want to be as prepared as possible so when we get direction, we can act,” Evanto adds. “We want to be in a position to respond to the White House right away.”

The county plans to create an online media center so when 3,000 reporters descend, they will find a Web site filled with story ideas and local opportunities.

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Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Kevin Evanto, Allegheny County

Marcellus Shale: drillers move in, environmentalists rally for tax and habitat relief

The largest gas deposit in North America, a reservoir lodged in rock 6,000 feet under the ground, is luring big gas drillers from around the world to our region.

It’s also causing concern among environmental groups across the state.

Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas recently opened a regional office in Pittsburgh to better position the company for Marcellus Shale business, a deposit that spans four states and may contain 50 trillion cubic feet in natural gas estimated at $1 trillion. 

Pittsburgh is the firm's new North Region office; the company’s offices in Charleston, W.Va. and Denver, Colo. will close by the end of the summer and more than half of the impacted staff will move to Pittsburgh, according to the company.

Environmental concerns about the drilling have prompted local groups to rally for a state severance tax on the drillers, money they believe should go to restore and preserve local habitats and urban streams, such as the restored Nine Mile Run Watershed in the East End.

In addition to the tax, PennFuture and others want to place a portion of the funds in the state's Environmental Stewardship Fund, which would reinvest in parks, habitats, waterways and open spaces.

The Marcellus Shale gas deposit runs from upstate New York, across most of Pennsylvania and into West Virginia and eastern Ohio. Most states charge drillers a small tax in exchange for extraction rights.  Pennsylvania should do the same, say tax supporters.

If approved, the tax could generate more than $100 million next year and $600 million by 2013, says Joylette Portlock, Western Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture.

PA Republican senate leaders are against the tax. Now is the time to contact legislators before the drilling is well established, Portlock told an assembled group at East Liberty Presbyterian Church last week.

“There are tremendous environmental impacts of drilling on the local economy,” added Hannah Hardy of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. “This is the best way to ensure that there will be benefits to our community.”

To join PennFuture in support of the severance tax, click here.

To receive Pop City free each week, click here.

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Joylette Portlock, PennFuture

Image courtesy flickr.com



Internships galore, find them and get 'em here

Looking for that perfect intern or internship? The Regional Internship Center of Southwestern Pennsylvania is an indispensable resource.

RIC is an online, local clearinghouse for internships in the region, connecting talented and eager college students with businesses, explains Regina Anderson, director of RIC.

This month the center launched a new streamlined Web site with a complete listing of available jobs-in-training, including resume help and networking suggestions. The site serves as a one-click location where students can connect with opportunities and businesses can recruit talent.

RIC also plans to expand its reach in the next several months to include other parts of the state.

“We’re very unique in terms of the kind of support we provide,” she says. “We directly address the brain drain by helping to attract and retain talent in the region.”

It’s not too late to find work for the summer, notes Anderson. While RIC currently lists internships for the fall, openings are posted on a year-round basis.

More than 400 students participate in the RIC summer program each year. In today’s job market, a student can’t have too many internships, she adds. Those who take advantage of multiple opportunities have an advantage over student job-seekers who’ve only done one internship during their college career.

The cost to participate is $50, but many companies agree to cover the fee.
The RIC is supported by 70 educational institutions in the region and is a program of Coro Pittsburgh. The program is sponsored by the Alcoa and Benedum foundations as well as The Heinz Endowments.

To receive Pop City free each week, click here.

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Regina Anderson, RIC


Image courtesy Coro Pittsburgh



National program turns Pittsburgh high school students into entrepreneurs

If Bob Fragrasso had his way, all high school students would graduate with strong entrepreneurial skills.

We need to help students learn critical thinking in a way that teaches them to care and engage in the business world, says Fragrasso, president of Fragrasso Financial Advisors, one of several underwriters of the 2009 George W. Tippins’ Regional Youth Entrepreneur Business Competition that wrapped up this month.  

“It’s a tangible program that brings together math, critical thinking and human relations. Not every student will turn into Bill Gates, but every student is touched,” he adds. “It makes them more incisive about who they are and where they are going. I’d like to see the entire school system go this way.”

Fragrasso is one of three dozen local business leaders who participated in the competition, which is in its third year. The event,sponsored by the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), provides entrepreneurship education opportunities to young students from low-income communities.

Since 1995, NFTE has served more than 6,000 students at private, public and charter high schools around the region. Twenty-one finalists presented their business plans in May for innovative companies and products. Three finalist were selected: 

First place, $2000 winner Lana Baslan is a graduating senior at Allerdice. Baslan is founder and CEO of Tres, a Arabic, Spanish and French translation service for her east area community.

Second place: Tressa Nemcik, a graduating senior from McKeesport High School, the CEO of Just Baby It!, a custom design business for infant “onesies.”

Third place: Amber Key, a freshman at Pittsburgh CAPA High School, CEO of Birdhouse Greeting Cards, a custom greeting cards business targeted toward teens.

Baslan and Nemcik will compete in the NFTE National Competition this October in New York City.

To receive Pop City free each week, click here.

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Bob Fragrasso, Fragrasso Financial Advisors; Jerry Cozewith, NFTE

Image courtesy NFTE
From left to right: Tressa Nemcik, Amber Key, Lana Baslan and middle school winner Michael Vaughn of Cardinal Wright Regional School. 
 


How can we do better? Regional Visioning Project embraces the bigger picture


A grassroots regional visioning process is underway, a process that helped to enhance world-class cities such as Turin, Italy, and Calvary, Canada.

The Regional Visioning Project is a two-year process that hopes to give the entire region—from leaders on down to citizens, students and retirees—a voice in what the 30-county, four state region around us might look like if we the people come together and rethink such challenges as water quality, transportation and regional job retention.

The ultimate goal? A regional to-do list that will inspire a brighter future.

“I view the beginning as a listening phase where we will connect to as many people as possible,” says Allen Kukovich, former state senator and representative who was appointed executive director of the project and its 55-member steering committee. “You can’t improve people’s quality of life unless you have a groundswell of support. We hope to reach 20,000 people and build a consensus on issues.”

Among the first matters of business is a contest to give the project a name, a moniker that reflects the essence of a region that includes parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland. The project got underway in 2006 and takes its inspiration from the successful model used in places like Italy and Charlotte, NC.


Join the public forum on May 20th to learn more about it at CityLIVE! at the Hazlett Theater on Pittsburgh’s North Side. Panelists will include Mayor Valentino Castellani of Turin, Italy, Maureen McAvey of the Urban Land Institute and Kukovich. The event is free and open to the public.

“The biggest challenge I see is to engage people in this process who haven’t been part of a regional visioning conversation, making them feel valuable and important and making sure the conversation that comes out of this is relevant,” says Candi Castleberry-Singleton, chief inclusion and diversity officer for UPMC and moderator of the CityLIVE event.  

The visioning project is made possible, in part, through $2 million in funding from five local foundations including the Benedum Foundation, Grable Foundation, Pittsburgh Foundation, RK Mellon Foundation and The Heinz Endowments.

To RSVP for the CityLIVE! event, click here.

To receive Pop City free each week, click here.

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Allen Kukovich, Candi Castleberry-Singleton, Regional Visioning Project

Image courtesy Regional Visioning Project


Real talk about city-county consolidation on June 5th

A major public forum and a cast of community leaders will come together to jumpstart the conversation on a city-county consolidation plan this June.

The Pittsburgh Foundation and the University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics will co-host a public forum to encourage a community discussion and promote proposed options on the long-debated merits of making the two geographical and political entities one.

The Future of City/County Collaboration on June 5th hopes to initiate a broad public education campaign, including a series of conferences and town hall meetings that will facilitate unrestricted discussion and bring decision-making information to the widest possible audience.

Guest speakers will include community leaders from Charlotte, Miami and Louisville, together with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Chief Executive, Dan Onorato.

“The issues are too important to ignore,” says Grant Oliphant, president and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation. “It would be irresponsible for us as a community not to consider bold and different ways of managing government, especially in the present economic climate. Our hope is to help the community have that conversation.”

The forum hopes to attract a broad range of community representation—civic and business leaders who can make the partnership happen. Among the agenda topics are enhanced government cooperation, functional consolidation, a full structural merger, federated metropolitan government and more, says Terry Miller, director of the University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics.

The Future of City/Community Collaboration will be held from 8:00 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. on Friday June 5 at the Heinz History Center, 1212 Smallman Street.

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Source: Grant Oliphant, The Pittsburgh Foundation; Terry Miller, University of Pittsburgh




Get the latest election returns, follow the money, get your dog tags--all online

Allegheny County has launched several online initiatives that follow the money and promote greater political transparency.

And there’s a new Web site to renew your pooch’s license too.

Local residents can track election results as they come in (click here), monitor the flow of federal stimulus funding to the county (click here) and review  campaign finance reports filed by municipal, school district, county candidates and political committee (click here) all with the click of a browser.

Need to renew your dog license? The process is now streamlined online (click here).

“Ever since Dan took office we’ve increased our effort to offer services and information online,” explains Kevin Evanto, county spokesperson. “The idea is to make government more open and transparent to residents and taxpayers. We plan to offer a lot more services online in the future.”

Residents who wish to follow campaign money can do so without the hassle of driving downtown, parking the car and standing in line. Campaign reports will be posted and accessible to the public within 72 hours of each filing deadline and will remain online for 5 years.

Care to track the stimulus spending in our region? A complete breakdown of funds and projects is available.

“More than $377 million in federal stimulus funding has already been appropriated for infrastructure, job training, education, health care, housing, energy efficiency and other programs in Allegheny County,” notes Dan Onorato. “These dollars will create thousands of jobs, bolster our economy, and help residents get back on their feet.”

To receive Pop City free each week, click here.

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Dan Onorato, Kevin Evanto, Allegheny County

Image courtesy flickr.com


Join the Pittsburgh walking challenge, win a trip to Nemocolin

Pittsburgh is stepping its way to fitness this month with the 3rd Annual “Ready, Set, Walk!” Challenge.

“We have a very walkable downtown and we want to encourage people to get out and see it,” says Lucinda Beattie, vice president of transportation for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. “The mission is to reduce pollution, decrease traffic congestion and encourage people to integrate walking into their daily lives.”

Participation is easy. Click here to fill out an online registration form and attend one of the three 2009 kick off events on June 1 where you will receive a walking resource kit. Pick up locations are Schenley Plaza, the Mall at Robinson or Market Square in Pittsburgh. Participants will receive a free t-shirt and pedometer to track the miles.

Once a week, log onto the website and record your steps to qualify for a random weekly drawing for fabulous prizes including an iPodShuffle and a $1,000 gift certificate to Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. A celebration of walkers will take place on June 20th with more prizes for top walkers from each neighborhood.

The Challenge, part of America On the Move, is presented by the Airport Corridor Transportation Association, the Oakland Transportation Management Association and the PDP.

Check the website for updated information on packet pickup and to make alternative arrangements.

But why wait till then to start walking? Next week marks Pa. Hiking Week 2009. From May 23rd until May 31, hikers across the state will participate in special hiking events in parks, forests and towns across the state.

There are night hikes, wildflower walks, hikes for people with disabilities, pet walks, geology walks and more. For local Hiking Week details, click here.

The events are planned by DCNR and the Keystone Trails Assoc., a 1,100 member group made up of hiking and outdoor organizations throughout the state.

To receive Pop City weekly, click here.

Source: Lucinda Beattie, PDP
Image courtesy PDP

Rhiza Lab’s Flu Tracker monitors the latest on H1N1—is history repeating itself?

Pittsburgh technology is playing a key role in tracking the swine flu, generating an avalanche of interest around the world and raising concerns about the future threat of the virus.

South Side-based Rhiza Labs, with its web-based Flu Tracker mapping tool Rhiza Insight, has partnered with local biomedical research company Recombinomics to monitor the data and spread of H1N1 around the globe. 

And Recombinomics founder and president Dr. Henry Niman doesn’t like what he sees. Prepare yourself for some not-so-good news.

The spread of H1N1 is following a very similar path to the last outbreak of swine flu in 1918, which began with a mild pandemic in the late spring, waned during the summer months in the Northern Hemisphere and returned with greater deadly force in the fall at the start of the subsequent flu season.

One third of the world’s population was infected in the 1918 outbreak, which killed three percent of the world’s population, says Dr. Niman who has studied the earlier virus is writing a scientific paper on the two pandemics.

Recombinomics studies the sequences of how viruses evolve over time through recombination, a process that assists in the development of new vaccines. Dr. Niman’s extensive research on the 1918 swine flu tells him that this present strain is following a similar path, yet is different in its ability to move from person to person “fairly efficiently.”

“The point that I’m making is not only do we need a vaccine for what exists, but what is likely to exist four to six months from now,” Dr. Niman says. “It’s still early, but this is something that everyone needs to monitor very closely.”

A hallmark of the 1918 virus was it tended to take the lives of younger people between 25 and 45, similar to the present flu pandemic. If the virus resurfaces this fall, the virus could contain properties of human flu as well as avain flu, he adds.

That’s where Rhiza, which specializes in web-based, dynamic data visualization tools, comes in. Unlike other systems currently in use, Dr. Niman's methodology tracks individual reports of suspected or confirmed flu cases using the media and official government statements. Rhiza’s map monitors the confirmed cases with pindrops.

The next big question, says Dr. Niman, is how many cases will surface in the Southern Hemisphere, which is only now entering flu season? History suggests H1N1 will travel south before returning north.

“So far it’s really tracking like 1918; if it doesn’t do anything in the southern hemisphere that would revise things.”

“We’re five days ahead of the CDC in terms of tracking this,” explains Josh Knauer, CEO of Rhiza, whose company Web site was averaging 1,100 users per second this week.  “The eyes of the world are on this as the most accurate predictor of what is coming. It’s a story of the Internet and the citizens who are coming together to help track this emergency faster than the government.”

To view Rhiza's FluTracker, click here. To read more about Dr. Niman’s research, click here.

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Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Dr. Henry Niman, Recombinomics; Josh Knauer, Rhiza Labs

Image courtesy Rhiza Labs




Car shopping? Female friendly car dealerships get nod here

Is it true that men are scrappier negotiators, apt to push harder till they get what they want while women often cave early or fail to push their point at all?

Anne Fleming thinks so and has built a car-buying Web site around the concept, Women-Drivers.com. The site is attracting national attention.

The Bellevue resident was first inspired  by Pittsburgh’s own Linda Babock of “Women Don’t Ask,” a tome on negotiation and the gender divide. With women paying $1,350 more on cars than men, Fleming enlisted Campos Inc. to conduct additional research and launched the site live in October of 2008.

Women-Drivers.com tracks 19,000 car dealerships across the country and offers everything from tools to negotiate the price, female-friendly dealership reviews, "his" and "her" blogs and “groovy car gadgets.”

“We’re a place where women can go to empower and educate themselves,” explains Fleming, CEO and founder who admits to hiring a broker to purchase a used BMW before she got smart. “Today is a new day. Many dealerships now are totally committed to a customer satisfaction experience.”

The site has caught the attention of ABC News and local radio and TV. On the business side, Women-Drivers.com sells analytics to the dealership network so that they can improve their level of service to women – who by the way influence 80 percent of all car purchases, she says. The company, a staff of four, focuses on Pa, Ohio and West Virginia, but plans to go nationwide.

“Consumers love the site because they can share and rate their experience,” adds Fleming. “Dealerships are happy because the higher their ratings, the higher they are featured in our search engine – resulting in more women and referrals coming in their store.”

Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Anne Fleming, Women-Drivers.com

Image courtesy Women-drivers.com

Pittsburgh money lenders reflect on region's first quarter deal flow

A first quarter look at venture capital investment for the region shows what one might expect after the national economy dive-bombed—venture activity is down. Do the figures reflect the local deal flow?

The first three months of any year aren’t much of a crystal ball for the future says the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse and Innovation Works. Both are coming off record years for startup investment in the region. Several deals in progress are missing from the first quarter stats and both investment incubators say many deals are in progress.

Figures from the National Venture Capital Association reported that Southwestern Pennsylvania saw a total of 15 deals valued at $7.28 million for the first quarter 2009. Included in the figures were ReGear Life Sciences at 1 million, Cellumen at $530,000 and two undisclosed companies at $3.8 million and $1.05 million.

National levels are the lowest in 12 years. Figures are from the Money Tree Report from Pricewaterhouse Coopers and the National Venture Capital Association.

The good news is that there’s a lot of money out there, reports John Manzetti, president and CEO of PLSG. Life sciences and energy continue to generate activity regionally. Several deals are in progress and weren’t included in the figures, including Foundation Radiology Group which recently received $10 million.

“Everyone’s sharpening their pencils a bit more, but we’re wall to wall busy,” says Manzetti. “We’ve had so much activity you have to sit here and watch it to appreciate it.”

During a January healthcare conference in San Francisco, PLSG discussed active funding with 40 companies in the region. Many are receiving follow up visits. “People are coming to Pittsburgh to see them, that’s the indicator I use,” Manzetti says.

Innovation Works Matt Harbaugh, chief investment officer, concurs. “It’s hard to draw a conclusion based on this one quarter of deals,” he notes. “I don’t think we’ll know how 2009 will turn out until we get further into the year.”

If the $10 million investment in FRG were included in the NVCA figures, the total would have mirrored the first quarter of 2008, Harbaugh adds. IW reported its best fundraising year in the incubator’s history in 2008.

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Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: John Manzetti, PLSG, Matt Harbaugh, Innovation Works, NVCA

Image courtesy of Carolyn Serrano and Flickr
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