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Oakmont : Pittsburgh Innovates

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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

What makes Paris look like Paris? Software pinpoints elements that give cities distinctive flair

What makes Paris look like Paris?  

CMU has created software that pinpoints the visual elements that give certain cities their distinctive flair, such as the doorways of Dublin or the balustrades and bridges of Paris. 

You don't need a computational data tool to see that places like Paris and Barcelona have a distinct look that sets them apart from other cities. What this research provides, instead, is visual software that scientifically confirms this fact while identifying the subtle features that are unique to each place, such as the cast-iron balconies in Paris, fire escapes in New York City and bay windows in San Francisco.

Researchers analyzed more than 250 million visual elements from Google Street View in 12 major cities in the world to crack their stylistic code. Paris might be the most harmonious of cities studied, from its lampposts to doors, balconies, windows with railings and the shape of its street signs. 

U.S. cities, not surprisingly, showed a relative lack of stylistic coherence, no doubt a result of their melting pot of styles, researchers say. 

This is the first time that finding patterns in large databases—called "Big Data mining"—has been used to identify visual elements, says Alexei Efros, associate professor of robotics and computer science. It may one day prove useful for computational geography tasks.

The research was conducted by CMU and INRIA/Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris.

In other news, CMU researchers report they have mastered a streamlined approach to the painstaking technology behind computer animated movies and games as part of their work for Disney Research, Pittsburgh.

Computer graphic artists often spend hours creating an animated character's subtle movements such as a yawn or the drape of their clothing. Improving the method of modeling these movements will greatly simplify the editing process and enable artists to create more compact, powerful and easy-to-manage models.  


Writer: Deb Smit
Source: CMU
 

Goodbye spinning? Cycling Fusion trains cyclists for the real deal virtually, anywhere

Gene Nacey, an avid cyclist, wanted to push the technology of training to the next level. 
 
A successful entrepreneur, Nacey was the founder of Pittsburgh-based TeleTracking Technologies. a company he started in his basement in 1989 and grew to 300 people. TeleTracking's patient flow system, the "electronic bed board," is the air traffic control of the hospital admissions process. 
 
With 20 years of hospital operations behind him, Nacey began taking a hard look at cycling fitness. Many studios aren't efficiently teaching people how to train on bikes, he says.  They may attract people interested in an indoor aerobic workout, but it doesn't prepare them for the fitness required for outdoor cycling.   
 
So Nacey invested in a small broadcast business in Oakmont and opened Cycling Fusion, a unique in-studio and subscriber-based virtual training program that can be accessed by anyone of any ability from anywhere, including the comfort of their bike at home.

"The Road Map" offers a graduated way to ramp into riding, he says. "We have stratification where we take it easy and build fitness as we go. It never fails; we've haven't lost anybody yet."
 
The studio broadcasts live streams of virtual cycling footage, which was filmed by Nacey and his team on location in Hawaii, France, and Italy. Riders can stream the programs virtually from any location or work out in Cycling Fusion's Oakmont studio. Cycling studios can also subscribe to the feeds, which feature celebrity-cyclists and Cycling Fusion trainers. 
 
"I was preaching to a choir of people who understand indoor and outdoor cycling," explains Nacey. "I realized that I could provide better training for riders of all abilities. Indoor Cycling can not only be fun, but it can make us better, more fit cyclists.
 
"It also gives clubs a way to offer cycling specific training without the expense of an instructor. "It's hard to find people with that knowledge or skill. We have some of the best on board and can teach principles with our instructors."
 
Cycling Fusion employs six, including three developers, a sound engineer and video director. 
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Gene Nacey, Cycling Fusion

Image of Gene Nacey courtesy of Cycling Fusion.
 

Schell Games and Mark Cuban launch BattleBall on Facebook

Do you have what it takes to own the court?

Schell Games and Pittsburgh native Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, want to know. The two have teamed up on a 3D basketball social gaming platform, BattleBall, that was launched this week on Facebook.

BattleBall is available in beta to the more than 500 million Facebook users. An explosive game of one-on-one,  players gain advantages through their selection of attire, equipment and skin color. It all comes together in a showdown on the virtual court.

"It's really an inventory management type game with a very rich graphical cover," explains Jake Witherell, COO. "The game play is all about managing clothing, bonus shoes, special balls and gathering points to gain more powerful shirts and shorts."

Cuban, a Pittsburgh native and graduate of Mt. Lebanon High School, approached Jesse Schell with the idea. "He liked what we were doing and wanted to work together," says Witherell. "Basketball was the obvious theme."

Schell Games was founded in 2002 by Jesse Schell, a world renowned game designer and force at Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center. The company has development countless social and online games, interactive theme park attractions, toys, consoles and handhelds. In addition, Schell Games develops projects for Walt Disney, Sea World and Microsoft.

The firm has offices on the South Side of Pittsburgh and Austin, Texas.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Jake Witherell, Schell Games


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


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.

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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.

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Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Regina Anderson, RIC


Image courtesy Coro Pittsburgh



Fill ‘er up—Howard Hanna jumps on board the Delta non-stop to Paris

The Howard Hanna Company has stepped up support for the non-stop Delta flight from Pittsburgh to Paris with the purchase of more than 100 reservations for company employees.

For the past 20 years, the real estate Hannas and Hanna Travel have rewarded their sales agents with incentives, three levels of trips they can earn based on their annual production. Top sellers will receive a trip to Paris aboard the Delta non-stop, five nights and six days during March of 2010.

“I feel it is imperative we all support our new service from Delta to make sure we retain a valuable airport here to encourage local businesses to grow within the region,” says Helen Hanna Casey, president of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services.  “We want to make it easy for people from everywhere to be able to get here easily!”

The Allegheny Conference has pledged more than $4 million to Delta through the year 2012 in support of the direct flight, should revenue fall short.

“Nonstop air service sends a clear message to the world: The Pittsburgh region is open for bilateral business and foreign direct investment,” says Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

“Regional businesses can now efficiently connect with their global clients, and it’s equally efficient for those abroad looking to do business or invest here to connect with us. Using the service is the only way to ensure that our region doesn’t lose a critical business advantage.”

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Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Helen Casey Hanna, Howard Hanna; Dennis Yablonsky, Allegheny Conference

Image courtesy flickr.com

Call us Green County, Car Free Fridays and other sustainable news

Allegheny County will use $8.1 million in federal stimulus funding to conduct energy audits of county municipal buildings and offer energy-saving upgrades to County-owned municipal facilities.

Duquesne Light will partner with the county on the audits, which will include a review of lighting systems, heating and air conditioning, computer systems and the overall thermal envelope. About $2 million will be spent on the upgrades; eligibility will be based on the percentage of low and moderate income population in each municipality.

Another $5.8 million will be spent on conservation projects at the Courthouse, County Office Building, Jail, Shuman Center and Kane Regional Centers. The reduced energy consumption should save taxpayers an estimated $500,000 annually, the county says.

Allegheny County has also hired Jeaneen Zappa as the region’s first sustainability manager. Zappa will work with County departments and the Green Action Team to identify ways to improve the region’s ecological footprint.

The greening of the county “will result in significant energy conservation projects in local government facilities throughout Allegheny County, which will translate into savings for taxpayers and jobs for local workers,” says County Executive Dan Onorato.

In other green news, BikePGH hopes to clean the local air this summer by expanding its Bike to Work Day to an every week event. Car Free Fridays will start on June 12, a city-wide initiative to encourage commuters to leave their cars at home once a week and walk, bike or take public transportation. The event is sponsored by Port Authority and Mullen.

And Pittsburgh’s first green concert series is back, bigger and better than ever. The free, outdoor Solar Concert Series will feature 13 shows powered by a solar-energy sound system. For concert information, click here.

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Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Dan Onorato, Kevin Lane, Allegheny County; Bike Pittsburgh


Get your game on with deeplocal’s Pickupalooza

On blue summer days when there seems to be no one around to play, Pickupalooza.com is your friend.

Deeplocal has developed a new Web site that matches people and sports and locations around Pittsburgh. Simply go online, pick a game—tennis, soccer, basketball, whatever— that matches your interest, schedule or location and teammates materialize instantly.

Better yet, organize your own game.

“It’s about getting out there, meeting new people in the city and having fun,” explains Heather Estes, director of product evolution. “It’s often hard to meet people with the same interest through the bar and club scene. Everyone wants to play tennis, go for a bike ride or play a sports game. Pickupalooza is a perfect solution.”

The site is generating lots of playing interest, says Estes, who played soccer with 16 Pickupaloozas at Schenley Park on a recent weekend. Friends can send the participation link to friends and post it on Facebook or Twitter. If clouds roll in, players receive alerts on game changes and cancellations.

The most popular games are flag football, soccer and tennis so far, but a move is underway to add board games, tai chi, even Ultimate Frisbee. Players don’t need to register, but those who do create a profile with a game history, upcoming games and neighborhoods where you played.

“We want to connect with different organizations in the city, like sports leagues and city parks, and pass the word around,” says Estes. “We want everyone to know we exist.”

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Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Heather Estes, deeplocal

Image courtesy Deep Local

Metis Secure Solutions pushes campus security to the next level

For close to 100 years, our lives have depended on a ringing bell to alert us of imminent danger. It’s about time that system got a high-tech overhaul.

Oakmont-based Metis Secure Solutions has developed a wall-mounted, hardware and software integrated Emergency Notification System (ENS) for college and university campuses that can do what few other new solutions can—unify communication and send it beyond the reach of other frequencies to dispatch life-saving information where it needs to go.

Two independent wireless data paths, a mesh network and a FM digital sub-carrier, allow Metis to operate when other systems and cell reception could be crippled, says Dave Hockendoner, chief technology officier. “Our system targets a given building or floor and sends a specific message to everyone in every unit on every floor.”

Imagine that during 9-11 when hundreds of people on different floors didn’t know where to turn.

A spinout of Sima Products of Oakmont, Metis was formed last November with the help of the Technology Collaborative and Innovation Works. Its first system was tested at Carnegie’s Mellon Institute, a labyrinth of research labs and dead zones. A successful drill convinced the university to purchase the system, which will be installed campus-wide this summer.

“We gained a lot of knowledge from our collaboration and research with CMU, working in a concrete building with dense construction that can hinder the flow of information,” says Tim Means, marketing director.

The units have LED screens and emit four reponses: light, sound, voice and text messages, offering two-way communication. Security officials and administrators can log into the system from almost anywhere.

While the product was designed for universities and campus environments, Metis hopes to market it in vertical markets such as research centers, high rise office buildings and senior research centers says Mark Kurtzrock, CEO.

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Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Mark Kurtzrock, Tim Means, Dave Hochendoner, Metis Secure Solutions

Image courtesy Metis Secure Solutions

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.

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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




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.

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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

It's green, it's blue, it's the Super Shuttle, hiring drivers

If you’ve got the time, Super Shuttle will take you on a greener ride to the Pittsburgh airport in its efficiently-priced Big Blue Van.

The company is opening a local office here on May 1st.  Unlike regular taxi services, which ferry passengers one at a time, or airport shuttles which travel to and from hotel locations, Super Shuttle picks up passengers where they live or work and coordinates  them in a carpool with others customers from the same area, thereby reducing the cost of shuttle service and the carbon footprint.

“Basically you give up a little of your time for the economical service,” says Ken Testani, senior vice president of sales and marketing. “We typically make about 2 or 3 stops. We take cars off the road.”

Phoenix-based Super Shuttle, a subsidiary of Veolia Transportation, serves 33 airports around the country and more than 50 cities and surrounding communities. The Pittsburgh office is currently hiring drivers for the 20-25 vehicles; drivers will work with the company as independent contractors, says Testani.

Several airlines, including USAirways, Delta, United, Frontier and Northwest, have partnered with the shuttle to offer 50 frequent flier miles for each direction booked.

Booking is done online or by phone. For more information, click here.

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Writer: Debra Diamond Smit
Source: Ken Testani

Image courtesy Super Shuttle

Need free tax help to get through the tax season? Call The Beehive

It’s around the corner, that mind-numbing exercise in monetary aggravation, the deadline to file taxes.

But there is help. Low to medium income families are first encouraged to contact the United Way Helpline at 412.255.1155, a central clearinghouse for all the local non-profits in the region available to assist families with incomes up to $40,000 and individuals with incomes up to $20,000.   Local, state and federal taxes are prepared and filed by IRS certified volunteers and appointments are available.  Appointments are still available!

A free tax prep website is also available. The Beehive, offers a free web based filing service for households with incomes of up to $56,000.  Just click on the money tab and look for the Filing Your Taxes link. 

Or click here for another free service.

Research-based Fitwits and Nitwits teach children about obesity

Food-inspired critters, Fitwits and Nitwits, are helping to educate Pittsburgh youngsters and beyond on good health and the dangers of obesity.

Developed by the Carnegie Mellon University School of Design and UPMC Saint Margaret Family Health Center, the Fitwits program hopes to prevent childhood obesity—a major health problem for children in the U.S.—through an educational approach that reinforces the message in three ways: through family doctors, schools and communities and families.

“We see the program as a very holistic way of thinking about health,” says Kristin Hughes, associate professor at the CMU School of Design. “They (children) see the Fitwits in school and then they might receive the Fitwits health intervention from their primary physician.  Now, with the program taking place at Giant Eagle, kids receive the message in public spaces where we again reinforce some of the same messages.”  

Funded through The Heinz Endowments, the interactive program includes fun activities, lessons and games using animated cartoon characters. The innovative strategy was collaboratively designed by doctors, designers, researchers, community members, foundations and, most importantly, with the help of 5th grade students in Pittsburgh.

Fitwits will debut with a storewide scavenger hunt on March 28th at the Centre Avenue Giant Eagle Market District from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Families are encouraged to bring their children along with their stickers from the Sticker Hunt Game that was implemented in the classrooms of five area schools.

“We would really like the see the intervention work on three levels where we can take Fitwits into other cities and have schools, health centers and communities support the program and grow this idea of networked communities,” says Hughes.

For more information or to play the Fitwits trivia game, visit Fitwits.org.

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Writer: Natalie Coccia
Source: Kristin Hughes, CMU School of Design

Photograph courtesy of Fitwits.org


Sima Products launches VIVO Live!—watch Pittsburgh CEO for Cities in action!

A new Pittsburgh-based technology will connect Pop City readers to tonight’s Pittsburgh CEO for Cities salon on the nation’s Stimulus Package and what it means to Pittsburgh.

At 6 p.m. on Feb 25th viewers can watch and participate through a live stream of “A Stimulating Conversation,” a discussion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Several federal, state and local leaders and representatives will be on hand; Ellen Kight of PPND will moderate. The event is by invitation only.

The live stream is made possible by Sima Products Corp., an Oakmont-based innovator of consumer electronics accessories. Sima will debut its patent-pending Vivo SD streaming kit, a cable system that enables anyone—the most novice of videographers—to share important moments live. The system is compatible with most digital camcorders and will go on sale at Best Buy this spring for $99.

“People can really share their lives with people all over the world,” explains Ilana Diamond, president. “For families with relatives in India or China, this is a way to share family events, weddings, a soccer game with those a thousand miles away.”

Vivo is just one of many innovative products available through Sima Products. Founded in 1973, the company offers more than one hundred products for video, home theater and home safety sold in 20 countries worldwide. Manufacturing is outsourced to Asia.

Among the coolest products is a 144-inch inflatable Home Theatre Kit for showing movies in parks, block parties or a backyard party. And there’s a smart cable, tying together all the electronic chargers you may ever need in a one handy piece.

Sima Products has grown from seven employees to 25 today.

 “One of our goals for this year is to raise our image in Pittsburgh,” says Diamond. “There’s such great technology coming out of our region, it’s unbelievable.”

Join the CEO for Cities Live from Pittsburgh conversation at 6 p.m. on Feb. 25th by clicking here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Ilana Diamond, Sima Products Corp.


Image courtesy Sima Products Corp.

SW Pa’s new Business Quick Guide puts help just a click away

Finally, a quick and easy online quide to 150 non-profit agencies offering business development assistance to the region.

The Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, Duquesne University’s Small Business Development Center and Small Business Councils have come together to create the10-county region’s first, one-stop, searchable database, the Business Quick Guide, to help business owners and entrepreneurs.

“This provides an easy way for entrepreneurs and new businesses not in Pittsburgh—who are considering coming to the region— to look at and access the resources available here. Most business decisions are made online, it ‘s demanded by the marketplace,” says Dewitt Peart, PRA president. “The beauty of it is that it won’t be static.”

Assistance agencies are organized alphabetically and listings include telephone numbers and links to agencies’ websites.  Color codes identify specific types of help or services offered in four main categories: management assistance, funding sources, specialized services and business/trade organizations. 

Online users can customize their searches by selecting those assistance areas that interest them.

The Business Quick Guide is accessible as a searchable database or can be downloaded as a PDF at www.pittsburghregion.org and at www.smc.org. The database and the PDF will be updated regularly throughout 2009 to ensure accuracy.

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Spark lights the creative, high-tech spirit of children and young families

A new Sprout Fund initiative, Spark, hopes to ignite a youthful exuberance for technology in the region, making Pittsburgh one of the best places on earth to be a kid.

Spark provides funding for projects and initiatives that will energize children ages birth to eight in the creative use of technology and the media.  Individuals, organizations, teachers, startups, artists—everyone, actually—will be challenged to think about early childhood education and technology in a new,exciting way.

“We want to use technology to empower and engage children and promote interaction between kids and the adults in their lives,” explains Jocelyn Horner, Sparks program manager.

Projects need not be technically daunting, she adds. It can be something as simple as finding a new way to use digital cameras in a preschool class. “We want to turn technology on its head and use it in a powerful way for kids.”

Spark offers support through two funding streams, Micro Sparks and Super Sparks. Micro Sparks provides $500 to $15,000 for small-scale, first time projects; Super Sparks are once-a-year, up to $50,000 awards to support broader initiatives.

The initiatives may involve health and wellness, recreation and environment, arts and culture, school and learning, and out-of-school and family time. All should be transforming and affect a lasting change around the challenges and opportunities that face children.

The three-year program is supported by the Grable Foundation. The program kicks off with a launch at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh on March 3rd.  The deadline for applications is April 3rd.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Jocelyn Horner, Sparks, The Sprout Fund

Image courtesy The Sprout Fund

Send a text, catch a bus with Port Authority pilot program

The Port Authority of Pittsburgh is reaching out to young riders in an effort to improve the region’s transit system.

RouteShout allows riders to access bus arrival times from their mobile phones. The pilot program, launched by Pittsburgh’s deeplocal, is being beta-tested at 22 stops near areas that primarily serve college students.

Just look for the orange signs at select stops, each labeled with a unique code, explains Judi McNeil, spokesperson. A rider simply texts in the code and instantly receives arrival times for the next buses, a process that pulls timetable and location data from the Port Authority’s database.

Additional features, in the works, hope to turn the region’s bus stops into living kiosks of information.

“If this helps to lessen the 5000 calls coming into our service center every day—people asking when is my next bus—this is something we may want to expand,” says McNeil. “As funding allows, riders will see a greater focus on technology, especially in the Oakland area where the Web-savvy folks are.”

The Port Authority, in the midst of a major upgrade of the region’s transit system. hopes young riders will offer feedback on its service. An online survey, “Don’t Just Sit There, Tell Us What You Think,” encourages younger riders to offer suggestions and suggest new ideas.

New programs underway include smart card technology, the use of a debit card instead of paper tickets for regular riders. City students would be able to use their university IDs to ride.

“There’s a huge focus on green commuting as a way to reduce traffic congestion, pollution and the carbon footprint,” says McNeil. “If we focus on young adopters, there’s a good possibility they will continue to use public transportation for the rest of their lives.”

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Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Judi McNeil, The Pittsburgh Port Authority


Need a loan? Pertuity launches innovative social finance platform

Times may be tough, but online financial services company Pertuity Direct is alive, expanding and rolling out its latest product.

Social lending has evolved and grown dramatically in the last two years, explains Kim Muhota, chief executive and founder. Tighter restrictions in the lending market have created a unique opportunity for Pertuity, who matches good borrowers with low rates.

This month Pertuity launched its next generation social finance platform, a process that eliminates the cost of a traditional bank as middleman. Pertuity does all the credit underwriting. Rates on a fixed rate loan range from 8.9 to 17.9 percent.

“When you really focus on what’s driving consumer nervousness, it’s the worry that banks aren’t going to lend,” explains Muhota.

“Our model better positions us to serve the larger marketplace. The automated, seamless process feels very familiar to consumers. This is for people who are comfortable transacting online, who don’t need the handholding.”

Financial analysts love the product too, he adds. “Many look at our model as the next evolution of social lending.”

Pertuity makes investments through the National Retail Fund, a mutual fund that matches lenders with a diversified group of approved, credit worthy borrowers. Unlike other models, the loans are a three-year fixed rate. They can be used for everything—debt consolidation, small businesses, school tuition or home improvements.

Pertuity makes its money through fees charged on the money transacted back and forth. The process is private; there’s no public posting of personal credit information, no bidding, says Muhota.

In addition to its corporate office in downtown Pittsburgh, Pertuity has opened an office in Vienna, VA. An Innovation Works company, the firm spent the last year hiring a management team and has 12 total employees.

To read about Pertuity's Dare to Compare in Pop City, click here.

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Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Kim Muhota, Pertuity Direct
 
Image courtesy Pertuity Direct

New homegrown green building products get boost from GBA

Keeping the region on the frontline of innovative green product development is the key behind the latest round of grants from the Pittsburgh Green Building Alliance.

Five local recipients received a piece of the $240,000 pie as part of the Green Products Initiative this month. The program is the first of its kind to target product manufacturers in the U.S. and the region.

Thar Process Inc. and Carnegie Mellon University received $80,000 to develop an energy-efficient air conditioning system that will use a natural refrigerant and eliminate the need for ozone depleting refrigeration systems.

Bedford Reinforced Plastics Inc. and the University of Pittsburgh received $100,000 for commercialization of plastic composites that use renewable and recycled raw material, are highly durable and provide better thermal insulation than steel for construction.

GTECH Strategies received $20,000 for a residual silt from water treatment as a growing medium for landscapes and green roofs.

Carnegie Mellon also received $20,000 to develop a wearable bio-sensing comfort controller that will measure a person’s comfort level and help control their thermal environment.

“Through our program, GBA invests in innovative green building products and technologies that enhance our region’s reputation and competence, while positioning Pennsylvania as a hotbed of green building capacity,” says Aurora Sharrard of the GBA.

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Pittsburgh virtual grocer GoodApples.org rolls out home delivery

Founder John McClelland admits he didn’t know the first thing about farming when he started GoodApples.org, a virtual farmers market based in the Strip District.

The company launched in 2005 with a handful of employees, 25 products and one truck. Today GoodApples is the largest online grocer in Pennsylvania with 30 employees, 270 corporate accounts and a fleet of vehicles that delivers fresh, organic and locally grown groceries to 30,000 customers from here to Harrisburg.

This month the company rolled out home delivery for a charge of $6.95 on orders more than $60.

“Everything in our business is mission critical,” McClelland explains. While most grocers buy in bulk, store the goods and then sell, GoodApples moves the goods directly from growers and suppliers into the hands of buyer. “The most attractive aspect of what we do is the freshness and quality of the food.”

McClelland’s background as a software consultant gives GoodApples an edge in managing inventories and Internet data. Initially the company focused on developing corporate accounts, providing online shopping services and wellness programs to company employees. “There’s lots of opportunity in the Pittsburgh wellness market,” he adds. “We hope to expand this nationally.”

Last summer GoodApples rolled out a pilot project to provide inner city neighborhoods with fresh produce. A priority is placed on offering locally grown produce; 40 percent of the produce sold comes from PA farmers. While the economy has slowed business a bit, the company continues to grow with revenues in 2008 of $2.5 million, up from $1.2 million in 2007.

“Our mantra is if we can get it local, we will sell it local,” says McClelland. “We will always work with the local farmers and take what they have. We’re an online natural food market, a true shopping experience.”

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Writer: Deb Smit
Source: John McClelland, GoodApples.org

Image courtesy Good Apples

Signs of the times? Green Sign Experts opens earth-friendly shop

When Pittsburgh’s Highmark went in search of green signage for their building, Audra Azoury saw it as a business opportunity.

“At the time it was difficult to find anything green in any price range,” says Azoury, an Art Institute graduate and graphic designer. “I could see there was going to be a need for this. I’ve always been passionate about the environment. With signage, there is so much waste.”

So Azoury partnered with parent cimpany AdVision Signs Inc., a full service sign company, and opened Green Sign Experts in Robinson Township, a wholesale outlet and the region’s first earth friendly signage shop that promotes the use of all-natural, toxic free materials, serving builders, architects and the construction industry.

Plastic letters are made from extruded sheets of cellulose acetate butyrate (CAB), a renewable resource, rather than a petroleum-based product. Other alternative or reusable materials are promoted like paperstone, cork, bamboo, wood, richlite, glass, metal and kirei.

Azoury admits that not all the signs are as environmentally friendly as they could be, but it is a process. More and more green materials are coming on the market everyday.

“A year ago I couldn’t find CAB, but today it’s available locally,” she says. “It’s baby steps. The more there is a need, the more manufacturers will begin to invest money in the creation of these products.”

Green Sign Experts is working with Artemis in Lawrenceville and the Green Building Alliance to help build the business. “Being in a green city like Pittsburgh, I’m hoping that I’m in the right place at the right time, “ she says.

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Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Audra Azoury, Green Sign Experts

Image courtesy Green Sign Experts

Pittsburgh’s startup web portal gets a facelift

Pittsburgh’s entrepreneurial web portal, Help Startups, will launch a series of new features this month including new widgets and video.

An additional grant from the Benedum Foundation will give local entrepreneurs new tools in the coming weeks as each enhancement is rolled out, says Gary Rosensteel, executive director of Help Startups and a principal at NuCoPro.

“We’ve created an environment for startup companies to receive more exposure,” says Rosensteel. “Companies will be able to post press releases, videos and articles. If we want to build up Pittsburgh, it is going to come from our startup community.”

In addition to a vibrant new look, site features include:

·    More information made available on the Home page
·    Entrepreneurial news assembled from a number of other web sites via RSS feeds
·    Widgets that you can grab to share Help Startups information on your site
·    Expanded User Profiles can be viewed by other users, including listings of social network connections
·    Companies can post Press Releases, highlighted on the Home page
·    A dynamic link is provided to Yet2.com where you can search through thousands of innovations that are available or that companies are seeking
·    Featured Companies and Videos will regularly be updated on our Home page

Help Startups was launched in 2007 with the help of the Heinz Endowments and Benedum Foundation.

Image courtesy HelpStartups.com

Join Pittsburgh Rootscamp, an unconference for progressive political organizers

Waging a campaign for clean air, a political candidate or a new high school? Pittsburgh RootsCamp is the unconference for the times.

RootsCamp was initiated by The New Organizing Institute, a progressive movement that promotes a sustainable society and participatory democracy by building power through the support of diversity. The day will be facilitated by founder Michael Morrill, creator of Keystone Progress, an online advocacy organization that seeks to unite the voices of progressive political groups in  Pennsylvania.

RootsCamp tends to attract politically-minded people for a day of grassroots learning and organizing, explains Lizandra Vidal, convener of the Pittsburgh conference. It’s a participant driven forum that offers an “open space” format that unfolds as the day wears on. Activists, organizers, leaders and politicians come together to share and learn in a fast-paced environment. No spectators or tourists allowed.

“The coolest part about it is that it’s an un-conference,” Vidal explains. “It’s built on the people who are there.”

RootsCamps have been successfully held in 8 cities in the U.S. and more are planned around the country. Pittsburgh RootsCamp will be held on Saturday, Jan. 24th at the United Steelworkers Building. The cost is $10, which includes lunch.

For more information, click here.

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Image courtesy Pittsburgh RootsCamp

Looking for work? Pittsburgh website posts 30,000 well-paying jobs

If you’re looking for a job—and many are these days—the Allegheny Conference on Community Development lists 30,000 job openings on its job search portal, the Imaginemynewjob.com website.

Wielding a powerful, spider search engine, the site reaches out and gathers all the online job postings within a 71 mile radius of the city. Listings are drawn from Monster, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and individual company websites; duplicate postings are eliminated, explains Dewitt Peart, executive vice president of economic development and president, Pittsburgh Regional Alliance.
 
“Despite the recession, there are opportunities here,” he explains. “We’ve diversified our base and there’s strength in our diversification. Pittsburgh may be a place you want to consider if you’re looking for a job.”

While Imagine doesn’t offer a breakdown of jobs by type, more than 25,000 are full-time positions and more than half pay $40,000 per year or more. A free service, the website allows job seekers to search for positions based on location, salary range, title, company and job type. Users can establish customized accounts, join the network “Linked In,” listen to podcasts and read more about the region.

October marked the third straight month that Pittsburgh reported strong employment figures, a growth rate of 0.6 percent that was well above the rest of the country, which fell by –0.1 percent.

Launched in September, more than 28,000 people have visited Imagine and stayed more than six minutes. The conference launched a marketing campaign in the Washington D.C. corridor this fall.

 “We’re getting hits from all around the word. The word is spreading and we’re being referred,” Peart adds.

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Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Dewitt Peart, Allegheny Conference on Community Development

Image courtesy Allegheny Conference


Pittsburgh gets a new venture fund for life science startups

Two prominent business leaders have launched a new venture capital fund to help fuel the growth of the life sciences industry in the region.

Peter DeComo and Gary Glausser have joined forces with Corridor Venture Partners, a targeted $50 million fund that will assist early stage biomedical research in the region with gap funding, money to fuel established startups as they advance to the commercialization stage.

“This region is rich in medical device companies,” says an enthusiastic John Manzetti, president and CEO of Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse. “It’s nice to have a strong life sciences based firm with local partners who know a lot about the community and life sciences in general, and these guys do.”

Both DeComo and Glausser will leave their current jobs by the end of this year to devote time to the enterprise.

DeComo is the CEO of Renal Solutions, which was sold in November 2007 to Fresenius Medical Care of Germany. He will stay on as a consultant to Fresenius  and will continue to serve on the boards of ALung, Thermal Therapeutics, ClearCount and PLSG.

Glausser will remain as a partner with Birchmere Ventures but devote full-time to the new fund. He has more than 25 years of experience as a financial manager, investor and venture capitalist and has served on the boards of Precision Therapeutics and Renal Solutions, to name a few.

There is investment money out there, says DeComo. “This will bring homegrown venture capital to the region, focus on life sciences and hopefully create successful companies that will stay here, employ more people and create wealth.”

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Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Peter DeComo and Gary Glausser, Corridor Venture Partners, John Manzetti, PLSG

Peter DeComo (left) courtesy of Renal Solutions and Gary Glausser courtesy of Birchmere Ventures


My Mobile Witness is your free personal bodyguard

Imagine walking through a dark parking lot and feeling as if you’re being followed. Quickly, you snap a picture of the person behind you before you reach your vehicle. The picture is instantly sent to officials, dated and stamped in case the unthinkable happens.

Pittsburgh-based My Mobile Witness has developed a groundbreaking mobile cell phone technology that may revolutionize personal security and provide law enforcers with irrefutable evidence should you meet with a worst case scenario. Armed with a cell phone, subscribers send phone pictures or texts of suspicious situations--like a license plate or person--to a secure server before something happens.

The information is stored for 6 months before it’s destroyed, evidence that is available immediately to law officials in an emergency. Unlike dialing 911, it allows users to non-invasively register a concern without engaging an official response.

The idea was developed by Pittsburghers and Hempfield High School friends Marc Anthony and Scott Bullens. They were opening a real estate office when they began pondering the nature of the business—how agents, particularly women, meet with complete strangers in isolated locations.

With the help of Ron Knight, a former FBI agent who participated in such high profile crimes as Waco, Columbine and Ruby Ridge, they developed Witness and launched it in October. Photos are assessable only to law enforcement officials through Fusion Centers, federally funded data centers set up after 9-11 to assist in the coordination of digital traffic.

“I’ve had cases in my career where the outcome could have been significantly different if we’d had this tool,” explains Knight, chief security officer. “There’s no more compelling evidence than a photograph. I’m sending my 18-year-old son off to college and he is signing up whether he likes it or not.”

If the tool takes off, cell phones might become critical leverage in certain situations, helping to deter crime, he adds. “If people knew it was out there, some crimes might not occur.”

A virtual company, Witness employs 8 technical employees and several law enforcement consultants. The company hopes to hire and open a Pittsburgh office in the near future.

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Writer: Deb Smit

Source: Marc Anthony and Ron Knight, My Mobile Witness






Pittsburgh’s FlashBox preserves better party memories

If you thought reality TV was riveting, imagine your wedding or event captured by  Pittsburgh-based Flashbox Media.

Developed by three Carnegie Mellon alumni, FlashBox is a portable, interactive kiosk, strategically positioned at a party, that captures video and gains momentum as the evening wears on. By the end, there’s no telling what the video footage may reveal, especially if alcoholic beverages are being consumed.

Co-founder Michael Mandel, chief technology officer, piloted the beta version at his own wedding. “It wasn’t until I got the video back that I realized how different (the footage) was (from a professional videographer),” he says.

“There is no pressure, no one walking up and pointing a camera in your face. You get a cross-section of the wedding you normally don’t get to see—relatives singing songs passed down in the family, friends telling stories, just talking. When I look at this in 20 years, I’ll say, yeah, this was what it was really like to be there.”

The kiosk preserves better memories by capturing the essence of the occasion rather than a deer in the headlights performance, the creators say. Individuals or groups are encouraged to revisit the kiosk with commentary, skits or songs. The final product is a professionally packaged and edited DVD in a keepsake case, a point of pride for the FlashBox makers who have professional television production backgrounds.  
 
Currently only available in the Pittsburgh region, FlashBox markets its technology directly and through local bridal fairs and wedding planners. In the first year, the company booked about 45 events, mostly weddings, bar and bat mizvahs and milestone birthdays and anniversaries. The company hopes to attend 100 to 200 events in the coming year.

To see FlashBox in action, click here.

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Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Michael Mandel, FlashBox Media


Image courtesy FlashBox Media

The hottest gift for the holidays is giving--a Pittsburgh roundup

No gift quite equals the gift of giving, especially in difficult economic times.

Which is why this year’s hottest gift may be to a favorite charity or green enterprise. May the following list guide you to charitable ways in Pittsburgh to make a difference this holiday season.

Neighbor-Aid is a special emergency fund created to support nonprofit organizations struggling to meet the demand from families and individuals as a result of the financial crisis. Administered by the Pittsburgh Foundation, Elsie Hillman, the United Way of Allegheny County and others, donations will help those struggling to pay rent, mortgages and utility bills.  To donate online, click here.

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is raising money to build and sustain Pittsburgh’s community libraries through a contribution to Libraries for LIFE. The Richard King Mellon Foundation has agreed to match every dollar raised for the capital campaign up to one million dollars. For more information, click here.

Investing in Pittsburgh Cares is an investment in the Pittsburgh community. Your tax-deductible donation can help to build a kitchen for a community center, provide a healthy lunch to low-income seniors, or offer a scholarship for a student to participate in our Pittsburgh Young Leaders Academy. For more information, click here.

Join Sustainable Pittsburgh and help to promote a greener, more sustainable Pittsburgh. Click here for details.

…and then in a twinkling, peace filled the air. Happy Holidays one and all!

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Instant podcast gratification the latest at Talkshoe

The Pittsburgh voice of audio social media, Talkshoe, has launched a new service for audiophiles on the go.

Until now, hosts had to schedule their podcast episodes on the Talkshoe website or through Facebook, but with Instant Talkcast there’s a new immediacy to the spoken word.  The service is recorded live through your cell phone and it’s available to all subscribers and through iTunes.

“Now you can literally grab your cell phone, call into our system and initiate an Internet telecast on the fly,” says Dave Nelsen, founder and CEO. “It’s a much richer, more instantaneous way of connecting.”

Instant Talkcast enables users to weigh in the minute they leave the movie theater or sporting event. It’s the voice form of twittering, the popular website where online users post quick, stream of consciousness word-bytes.

Talkshoe uses the same technology—really simple syndication (RSS) feeds—to broadcast to subscribers. The format allows up to 300 people to join in a conversation live. Or subscribers can listen to a recorded feed.

“This definitely bumps social audio media to the next level as people talk, debate and interact with one another,” says Nelsen. “Consumers have never had this ability to teleconference with one another before.”

Talkshoe currently receives over 1 million caller minutes a month. Since early 2007, more than 100,000 calls have been recorded on TalkShoe and they've been listened to 18 million times, Nelsen says. Revenues are generated through monthly subscriptions from business users (the service is free to individuals) and short audio ads placed in recordings.

“It’s exciting to see how a little company in Wexford has become an interesting part of the social media movement,” says Nelsen. Talkshoe is supported by Innovation Works and Blue Tree Allied Angels.

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Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Dave Nelsen, Talkshoe

Image of Dave Nelsen courtesy of Talkshoe



Pittsburgh Signs Project lets the signs speak—so what are they saying?

We are all drawn to signs.

That is exactly how four people, particularly passionate about signs in our region, found one another. Together they started a website and the Pittsburgh Signs Project was born, a labor of love that attracted others to join in a like-minded, crowd-sourced endeavor to collect and photograph old and new pieces of our region’s history that tell our personal stories and reflect the visual identity of our communities.  

This month the five-year project became available as a full-color book, Pittsburgh Signs Project: 250 Signs of Western Pennsylvania, published by Carnegie Mellon University Press. The book highlights the photographs of 60 local photographers and the work of the four authors: Elizabeth Perry, technology and integration specialist at The Ellis School and her husband Mark Stroup, instructor with Goodwill of Southwestern Pa.; Jennifer Baron, editor of Pop City’s Pop Filter and Development News, and her husband, Greg Langel, media and marketing manager at The Frick.

From the Modern Café on the North Side to the Electric Banana and the flying cow, the signs present an eclectic and comforting mix, “a mongrelization of type-styles, graphics and fashions. The futuristic becomes the modern becomes the dated becomes the retro,” Stroup writes. 

“Signs evoke many different reactions in us,” explains Perry. “Signs act as crossroads, a nexus for the community, a source for our memories. For me, it’s about being present in the world, noticing what is around me and appreciating it.”

The book is available at Carnegie Mellon's bookstore, and at the Mattress Factory and Heinz History Center shops, and will be sold Dec. 15th at the Making Connections event at Carnegie Science Center. The project is supported in part by a regional award from Pittsburgh 250 Community Connections and The Sprout Fund.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Elizabeth Perry, Pittsburgh Signs Project

Image courtesy Larry Rippel



Pittsburgh KIVA founder presents the world’s first entrepreneurial charity

Billed as a mix of Google with the do-good ethos of U2’s Bono, KIVA's message is coming to Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh native and co-founder of the San Francisco-based non-profit KIVA Jessica Jackley Flannery will speak at the Regional Learning Alliance in Cranberry Township on Dec. 16th about the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website that empowers individuals to lend money directly to entrepreneurs in developing countries. Flannery, 31, is a 1996 graduate of North Allegheny High School and grew up in Franklin Park.

The concept has generated a storm of media publicity from the Wall Street Journal to Oprah Winfrey.

“The Regional Learning Alliance is proud to offer a program on both philanthropy and the spirit of entrepreneurship during this holiday season with a native that Pittsburgh can be so very proud of," says Justin Griffith, general manager. "She has taken an idea and, in just a few short years, created an organization that has changed the lives of people all around the world."

Kiva has connected with truly promising, real entrepreneurs in impoverished nations worldwide and established a data-rich, transparent lending platform to enable people to connect with and help aspiring businesspeople in need.

Like a social networking site, Kiva posts profiles of potential borrowers and lenders select an individual or group. A little goes a long way in a developing country. Phebe, a widow, farmer and mother of seven in Cameroon, hopes to raise $975 to buy fresh manure, fertilizer, seeds and chemicals to improve her farm and sell crops to the community.

Instead of donations, lenders offer small loans that are sent directly to a microfinance institution in the borrower’s country. The bank monitors the transaction and ensures the loan is repaid. Ninety percent of all active loans are paid on time and the default rate is less than 1 percent. The money is then recycled and loaned again, although that step of the process is still being worked out.

“The Entrepreneurial Spirit” will run from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and includes breakfast, a keynote speech and roundtable lunch discussion. The cost is $70 for the whole program but those wishing to attend only a portion of the day can do so for $35. Twenty percent will be donated to KIVA.

Registration is by mail through the RLA website, click here.


Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Justin Griffith, Regional Learning Alliance

Image of Jessica in Tanzania courtesy KIVA

Pitt takes latest bioscience research on the road to region's schools

University of Pittsburgh unveiled a 70-foot mobile science laboratory that will give K-12 students hands-on knowledge of the latest medical research and advanced biology.

The three-year program was initiated by the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse and involves Pitt, the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative Inc. (PTEI) and the Pittsburgh-based Lyceum Group. The mobile lab will serve 4,000 Allegheny County students and extend beyond to underserved rural districts in Washington, Green and Fayette counties and north to Meadville and Erie.

“Our role is to bridge what’s going on in our research labs with high-quality research that’s changing the face of science everyday with what teachers in our region are required to teach,” says Alison Slinskey Legg, director of outreach for the Department of Biology at Pitt. “This is a fully functional state-of-the-art laboratory.”

The lab contains 26 work stations for 52 students and an upper staging for an additional 10 students and teachers. The interior is enclosed in glass on one side, keeping the temperature constant while providing natural light “so students don’t feel like they’re in a tin can,” says Legg.

The region joins 20 other cities across the country in offering the latest research through mobile programs. Student activities include an opportunity to diagnose and control fictional viral epidemics to an investigation of natural selection in gut organisms.

The University’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) purchased the mobile laboratory for $120,000 and will support its operation with $25,000 annually. The program hopes to hire more staff and raise additional funds in the coming year.

“We need to show kids that science is fun by high school, middle school, and, ideally, elementary school, if we want to foster a pipeline of new scientists,” says Steven Reis, director of CTSI.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Alison Slinskey Legg, University of Pittsburgh, Steven Reis, CTSI

Image courtesy University of Pittsburgh


Guided by progressive principles, Newton Consulting growing

A teacher once told Rick Newton that he should be able to sum up his life calling with a single phrase.

“I’m a vision implementer,” he says. “I have the ability to understand another’s business vision, adopt it as my own and get from point A to point B.”

With a refreshing business model and progressive principles, the IT consulting company has grown in four quick years into an $8 million business with 25 full-time and 25 sub-contracted employees, all of whom work virtually from home or in local coffee shops.

To top it off, Newton Consulting won a Pittsburgh Technology Council Tech 50 award this year in the service provider category.

"What has been tremendously satisfying to me is that this model, built on customer focus, principles and giving away the company, has been successful," says Newton, who strives for a personal and professional balance, working from a carriage house on an old country estate in Washington County. "As the company took off, I had to ask myself whether I wanted a large piece of a small pie or a small piece of a big pie."

Opting for the latter, Newton's virtual model allows the company to pass savings on to customers and profits on to employees, thereby creating a “Wal-Mart-like” low margin model that attracts and retains quality talent. With a strong team of top tier consultants, Newton serves both large and small companies like GlaxoSmithKline, Walt Disney World, UnivarUSA, and local software company, ANSYS

“Newton is not the typical consulting company,” reflects Gregg Gantwarg, vice president of marketing communications, who worked for Newton while launching his own company, Virtual Edge, based on a virtual model. “It’s a very selfless setup. Not the typical corporate line.”

To receive Pop City free each week, click here.


Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Rick Newton, Gregg Gantwarg, Newton Consulting

Image courtesy Newton Consulting

Pittsburgh indicators show economic clout despite national outlook

Despite the downward spiral of the nation’s economy, Pittsburgh leaders express  optimism that the region’s job performance showed strength in September.

While the full impact of the national economy has yet to be measured locally, PittsburghToday reports that the 2008 September job figures posted a record high compared to a national trend of declining jobs. PT's figures are based on the latest U.S. Dept. of Labor statistics.

Pittsburgh gained 7,000 jobs between September 2007 and September 2008 while many major metropolitan regions lost tens of thousands of jobs. In addition, September 2008 was the first time the region had more jobs than prior to the 2001-2002 recession.

“The Pittsburgh region continues to buck the national trend,” says Harold Miller, president of Future Strategies LLC. “Although the job data were gathered before the recent Wall St. meltdown, the two major industries driving our economy – health care and higher education – will probably not be affected significantly. Even UPMC’s reduction in employees last week, while very unfortunate, leaves health care with hundreds more jobs than it had a year ago.”

In times like these, people need to read the numbers carefully, leaders add. PittsburghToday attempts to explain the often muddled number game that can distort what's going on in cities in transition like Pittsburgh.

For example, a region’s unemployment rate is a terrible indicator of labor force growth or loss, says Miller. Technically it could signal either total jobs lost or gained or an increase or decline in the number of people looking for work. Seasonal adjustments, like the typical back-to-school drop in employment in the fall, contribute to misunderstandings.

“In times like these we need to be very cautious and not jump to any conclusions,” notes John Craig, president of Pittsburgh Regional Indicators. “If this is a recession, Pittsburgh compared to other places is rather well placed. We have a unique history of our own and it remains to be seen what we will see.”

To read the Pop City story on PittsburghToday, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: John Craig, Pittsburgh Today; Harold Miller, Future Strategies


Pop City Green Report with the latest sustainable news

The ever widening swath of green continues to spread throughout our region with a number of new initiatives, programs, even a glog.

The City of Pittsburgh has created a new staff position, a sustainability coordinator for a new Office of Sustainability and Energy Efficiency. Lindsay Baxter, who assisted on mapping the Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan, will help propel the region toward continued green growth. She was a former member of the group Clean Air-Cool Planet.

“We made great strides to reduce our city’s carbon footprint, and we will continue to do what it takes to help our region create green collar jobs and improve our residents’ quality of life,” says Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

University of Pittsburgh student Paul Trichon has created a green blog, or glog, a social networking site that connects users and helps to increase environmental awareness. Check it out here.

Chatham University has purchased a 2009 Toyota Prius police car. The purchase was one of several green initiatives recently launched at the school.

The university’s new Eden Hall Farm Campus in Richland Township serves as a living laboratory for students studying women and environmental sustainability. In addition, Chatham serves locally-grown, hormone-free food in its dining hall and waste is composted through a pilot project with Parkhurst and Agrecycle Inc. of Pittsburgh.

Kudos to Palate Partners and Dreadnought Wines in the Strip District who are helping local businesses to go greener, encouraging the use of real plates and glass instead of styrofoam containers and helping businesses to recycle.

A $200,000 grant from the Heinz Endowments will sponsor the Allegheny River Stewardship Project, a community based environmental health program that studies water contamination in the Allegheny River, a flagship program of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health’s Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC).

Writer: Deb Smit
Sources: Mayor Luke Ravenstahl; Walt Fowler, Chatham University; Deb Mortillaro, Palate Partners; Tim Koncewicz; Heinz Endowments

2008 National Park(ing) Day project by artist Sean Derry


And the winner is...Pittsburgh Tech Council honors top companies

Pittsburgh’s brightest tech stars gathered this month to celebrate 50 of the region’s stellar companies and the 25th anniversary of the Pittsburgh Technology Council.

Seven companies and a CEO received Tech 50 Awards during an elegant ceremony at the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland. Featured speaker and Pittsburgh native Regis McKenna, Silicon Valley marketing guru and author, offered sage words as the community strives to take its place among global leaders of technology.

“Innovation today requires a community and culture of big and small companies and universities working together,” McKenna noted. “The most innovative product development comes from companies that are less than 5 years old with less than 250 employees. Small companies become the incubators of larger companies.”

McKenna, whose high-tech marketing firm helped to rocket startups like Apple, America Online and Genentech to the top, encouraged the region to work together to embrace the innovative spirit of entrepreneurs.

PTC Council President and CEO Audrey Russo (see this week's Pop City story on her here) applauded the region’s efforts this year and reflected on the future of renewable energy and biotechnology for the region.

“As the world looks for clean technology, so they will increasingly look toward Pittsburgh,” she said. “If we get it right, Pittsburgh’s brightest days are just around the corner.”

This year’s winners of the 12th annual Tech 50 Awards included:

For a complete listing of the Tech 50 nominees, click here.

To receive Pop City free each week, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Audrey Russo and Kevin Lane, PTC, Regis McKenna, Regis McKenna Inc.

Image courtesy Pittsburgh Technology Council

New weekly online magazine Keystone Edge captures the story of the PA economy

From Erie to Philadelphia, a new economy is emerging in Pennsylvania and Keystone Edge plans to tell the story.

The new online magazine is the ninth and latest publication created by Detroit-based Issue Media Group, a company dedicated to promoting an alternative urban narrative in cities and regions from Michigan to Pennsylvania and beyond. 

Pop City Media was among the first e-zines launched by IMG more than 2 years ago. Other publications include Metromode in Southeast Michigan, SoapBox in Cincinnati and Capital Gains in Lansing.

Keystone Edge promises the latest news on emerging tech sectors and industries in Pennsylvania. The e-zine is available for free by email each Thursday and will feature fresh, original writing, creative photography, videos and blogs as it highlights innovative new businesses, cool places to live and creative people behind the scenes across the state.

"Alternative energy, robotics, advanced healthcare, sustainable building and urban design—these are the industries of the future and we want to show where and how they are emerging here in Pennsylvania,” says John Davidson, managing editor. “There's a lot to cover."

In addition to Davidson, who is based in Philadelphia, the staff includes Joseph Plummer, a former Pittsburgh Post Gazette editor and Pittsburgh Technology Council executive, and Michael Persico, a Philadelphia-based freelance photographer.

"We speak to, and with, the leaders of the future economy," adds Brian Boyle, publisher of KE and co-founder of IMG. "Keystone Edge is about challenging how you see your state and its future."

To receive Keystone Edge free each week, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: John Davidson, Keystone Edge; Brian Boyle, Issue Media Group


Pittsburgh region to benefit from two new STEM education centers

The shortage of science, technology, engineering and math talent—known as STEM—in the nation will receive a major boost with the creation of two  STEM Centers here.
 
The Pittsburgh Public Schools’ new Science and Technology Academy magnet school plans to open in the fall of 2009. Another center is in the preliminary phase, a $40 million vocational career center that will replace the Fayette Area Vocational-Technical School in Georges Township. The center would be built in the University Technology Park next to Penn State Fayette, the Eberly Campus.

The centers, if the Fayette center is approved, will be two of 100 secondary schools promoting science education nationwide through the federal Stem Center Grant Program.

This month Pittsburgh launched a new website to assist parents of students who are considering applying to the magnet program. (To view the website, click here.)

The Pittsburgh program, Dream, Discover, Design, is available to students who live within the boundaries of the city school district. The academy will be located in the Frick building in Oakland.

In an effort to attract a diverse pool of passionate students, the district has devised an innovative “weighted lottery” that it hopes will become a model for similar schools across the country.

“We want to create a school that supports students as they become the best in these fields, students with a passion who are not necessarily the highest achievers in their own schools,” explains Samuel Franklin, project manager. “It’s still a lottery, anyone can apply, but if you meet certain criteria you can enter your application additional times.”

Ron Sheba, manager of the Fay-Penn Economic Development Council, notes:  “What will make this development unique is it will not only address STEM education, but it will be a STEM center for research and training as well as offer the business sector a space for business development and training.”

To receive Pop City free every week, click here.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Samuel Franklin, Pittsburgh Public Schools, Ron Sheba, Fay-Penn Economic Development Council


Pittsburgh doctors offered access to latest in electronic health record technology

Pittsburgh area doctors have an opportunity to access to the latest in electronic health record technology through a revolutionary program being offered in the region.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Pittsburgh Regional Health Initiative (PRHI) are launching a 5-year project that will demonstrate to physicians the benefits of using state-of-the-art health record technology and give them a chance to earn almost $60,000 in incentives. The Pittsburgh region is one of four locations in the country selected for the program by CMS.

“Just imagine the quality care we can provide if every person involved in a patient’s care could access his or her health records at a moment’s notice, and also chart progress on their health status. PRHI adamantly believes that Electronic Health Records can elevate our healthcare system,” says Dr. Karen Wolk Feinstein, president, CEO and founder of PRHI.

Any primary care practice in Southwestern PA with 20 or fewer providers is eligible. Highmark is also making $29 million available to help practices purchase and/or implement the new technology. The application process is underway and runs through November 26th.

Electronic health records gives doctors and medical professionals access to information across a broad spectrum, connecting laboratories, pharmacies, hospitals, even patients with information. The system can be critical in the treatment and management of chronic diseases, streamline processes and reduce medical errors.

For more information on the EHR demonstration or to apply for the program, click here or call 412-594-2554.

To receive Pop City every week, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Karen Wolk Feinstein, PRHI


Visual artist Ann Hamilton among five to receive 2008 Heinz Awards

An Ohio artist who helped to design the Allegheny Riverfront Park, an environmental leader and a molecular biologist in search of a cure for malaria are among the five people named as The Heinz Awards winners this week.

The coveted $250,000 prize, given by the Pittsburgh-based Heinz Family Foundation, recognizes individual excellence as well as qualities of the heart and mind. Awarded to those who’ve made a substantial contribution in one of five areas, it is among the largest individual achievement prizes in the world.

“The awards are important reminder for the region of the life of Sen. John Heinz,” says Kim O’Dell, director The Heinz Awards. “As future generations emerge fewer people will know of his life’s work, which is reflected by these recipients.”

The recipients this year include:

Arts and Humanities: Ann Hamilton of Columbus, Ohio, a provocative visual artist whose local projects include the design of the Allegheny Riverfront Park in Pittsburgh as well as several sculptures and the handrail there.

Environment: Thomas FitzGerald, founder and director of the Kentucky Resources Council, an environmental advocacy organization that promotes environmental responsibility and protects citizens from harm.

Human Condition: Brenda Krause Eheart, founder of Generations of Hope and Hope Meadows in Champaign, Illinois, an intergenerational neighborhood that brings together foster children, adoptive parents and seniors.

Public Policy: Robert Greenstein, founder and executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which analyzes the impact of federal and state budgets on low- and moderate- income families.

Technology, the Economy and Employment: Joseph DeRisi, a molecular biologist, researcher and inventor from San Francisco who is working to crack the genetic code for malaria.

To receive Pop City each week, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Kim O'Dell, Russ Martz, The Heinz Family Foundation


Pittsburgh Regional Indicators reports strong July job performance

While the national economy continued to slide in July, Pittsburgh’s regional job rate showed solid growth, posting better gains than many benchmark regions in the country according to the Pittsburgh Regional Indicators.

The Pittsburgh region reported 4,300 more jobs in July 2008 compared to July 2007 and had higher job growth than 8 out of 14 benchmark regions, including Cleveland, Detroit and St. Louis. Private sector jobs totaled $1,035,600 in July, an increase of 5,400 over July 2007. Only five benchmark cities added private jobs at a higher rate. To read the latest figures in PittsburghToday, click here.

“I think the numbers are very encouraging,” says John Craig, president of Pittsburgh Regional Indicators. “From the very beginning we said we want to measure jobs. Compared to what is going on nationally and among benchmark cities, we’re doing relatively well.”

While the Pittsburgh population has been on the decline, the number of people employed in our region is rising due in part to changes in traditional work practices. “Our labor force is getting back up to being very close to the best days we’ve had in 2001,” Craig adds.

Among the positive notes was the acceleration in Leisure and Hospitality and Administrative and Support Services jobs. Nearly 2,800 jobs were added in these two sectors. Additionally, the Education and Health Services sector continued to post gains, having created 5,300 new jobs in the last 12 months.

Pittsburgh economic prognosticator and columnist Harold Miller agrees in part. “It certainly puts us in a better position than places (in the country) that lose jobs. Part of the reason we’ve stayed ahead is because such a big proportion of our jobs are in healthcare and higher education, economic sectors that are resistant (to a recession).”

The numbers, of course, can be daunting. Meet John Craig and Harold Miller and learn what the numbers really mean at the next CityLIVE event on September 10th.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: John Craig, Harold Miller, Pittsburgh Regional Indicators


Pittsburgh’s Green Apple Bartering swaps everything for anything

Bartering, the world’s oldest form of commercial enterprise, has taken an online twist.

Pittsburgh-based Green Apple Barter Services offers customers an opportunity to swap goods and services, trading everything ffrom surplus inventory to heat exchangers, vacations, even meals at local restaurants. The online company, founded by Michael Krane in 1991, manages $4 million in bartering activity for more than 1,500 clients from Boston to Honolulu.

GAB works like a bank, awarding sellers with credits for goods sold that can be turned around to buy other products and services offered by GAB. The company has moved a total volume of almost $58 million.

For example, when the Firehouse Lounge on the South Side needed a new roof deck, they went to GAB who helped them find a deck company who installed it on trade. The whole deal was sealed with credits, says Justin Krane, director of marketing.

What sets GAB apart from other online sellers is its team of brokers who bring buyers and sellers together to seal deals. GAB employs 15 people in its two offices at its distribution center in the North Hills and administration center on the South Side.

“Most (bartering) companies rely on the Internet to put things together,” Krane adds. “We’ve found we need that direct contact to service people’s needs.”

Large and small companies and individual sellers are welcome. For Pittsburgh traders, credits can pay for a meal at one of 90 local restaurants. “With the economy being a bit long and tall, it’s often better for a company to buy something on trade credits rather than spend the money,” says Krane.

Writer: Sara Brown and Debra Smit
Source: Michael and Justin Krane, Green Apple Bartering Services

Image courtesy Green Apple Barter Services


Pennsylvania ranks number one in the nation in biotechnology

Pennsylvania’s efforts to develop and diversify its biotechnology sector have made it the number one state in the nation, pulling in ahead of hotbeds like California and Massachusetts, says Business Facilities magazine.

BF gave Pa. the top slot in its latest edition. In 2007, Pa. notched fifth in the nation for the most educated workforce and was also noted as having the nation’s third-largest number of colleges and universities. The state was also ranked as the seventh largest cyberstate, according to the American Electronics Association (AeA).

The ranking identified more than 20 key criteria, including the amount of state R&D funding and venture capital investments; the level of concentrated occupational employment in biotech; tax exemptions and university grant funding.

Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse CEO John Manzetti says he isn’t surprised to see the state in the top tier considering the success he has witnessed in the Pittsburgh region. “Anyone in the top 10 can consider themselves a leader in biotechnology and I think we are.

“There’s no doubt that our numbers are spectacular,” he adds. “PLSG is adding three companies a month into our portfolio, which means we’ve unearthed a company or technology where an entrepreneur has an idea to do something. Or we get calls from the outside.”

The Life Sciences Greenhouse Initiative has, since 2001, invested more than $36.5 million in more than 170 projects. Additionally, the Ben Franklin Technology Partners, a statewide network that catalyzes entrepreneurship and technological innovation, leveraged $675 million and created and retained 2,475 jobs.

PLSG has invested $11.5 million directly into 50 local companies and raised $15.2 million in venture funding since its inception. One of its companies, Precision Therapeutics, is on its way to securing $31 million in venture funding this week (see the Pop City story here).

“There are clearly a lot of promising companies out there,” says Sean McDonald, CEO of Precision Therapeutics. “It’s like what happened in the IT and robotic sector, we need one of two companies to breakthrough and be successful and it will grease the way for others coming through. We certainly are aspiring to that.”

Writer: Debra Smit
Source: John Manzetti, PLSG




Buy Fresh Buy Local tours sustainable farms & Phipps Project Green Heart

This Saturday marks the second annual Buy Fresh Buy Local Summer Farm Tour, a delicious opportunity to drive to the farms in our region that raise food using sustainable practices.

The tour runs on July 26th from noon to 5 p.m. and features 13 farms in Allegheny and surrounding counties. Farms will offer produce, pies, chops and other goods for sale, so bring a cooler. Farms will also feature a range of activities from hayrides to picnic spots, vegetable picking and educational talks. The cost is $10 per carload—exact change is preferred. Leave your pets at home.

The tour is an opportunity for the non-farming public to connect with local and organic farms in Southwestern, PA, and encourage their existence. The list and map of participating farms, along with further information, is available online. Click here.

In other conservation and sustainable gardening news, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has established Project Green Heart to encourage professional landscapers, homeowners, and gardeners to use sustainable landscape practices.

Specialists in the fields of horticulture, arboriculture, and forestry designed the curriculum, which includes the areas of soils and amendments, organic lawn care, tree planting and pruning, integrated pest management, and sustainable plant selection.

Project Green Heart also publishes an annual list of ten sustainable plants based on their non-invasive habits, resistance to disease and insects and low maintenance. The participating nurseries and the sustainable plants of 2008 can be found on Phipps’ website. Click here.


Walls Are Bad opens windows to the great local outdoors

Are walls bad?

A new regional website that promotes outdoor activities thinks so, especially if those walls keep you inside or promote hemmed in thinking, says Geoff Tolley, president of GBL Inc., the Strip District advertising firm that joined with digital partner Spaceboy Interactive to design the site.

“Walls hold us back, they stop us from going from where we want to go,” Tolley says. “Outdated perceptions of the region are walls. This is about breaking through and breaking down and showing what the region is really like.”

Wallsarebad.com hopes to build an online community around outdoor recreation in Western PA and promote a wide range of activities while inviting users to share information. The site is supported by local outdoor recreation partners ranging from retailers to outdoor activity professionals, membership organizations and foundations who hope to get the word out about events, places and entertainment. 

“The intent was to be comprehensive and provide a lot of listings, but create on top of that a virtual community where people can share stories, offer suggestions, and share photos,” says Tolley. “Walls are bad but sharing is good.”

For example, did you know that Pittsburgh is number five in the country for mountain biking? That we have more trees per square mile than any other region in the country? And more parks too? Want to find out the best places to take a 5-year-old?

To contribute to the site, users must first register. After that, the sky’s the limit.

“It’s one more reason to live here, come here and stay here, that’s what we want people to understand.”

Writer: Debra Smit
Source: Geoff Tolley, GBL Inc.

Image courtesy Wallsarebad.com

TourAnytime offers Pittsburgh audio tours via cellphone

You’ve walked by it countless times, the colorful Sprout Fund mural on Smithfield Street, and wistfully wished you knew what was behind the distinguished gentlemen under the hairdryers.

Now you can know, thanks to the free regional tours offered by TourAnytime of Pittsburgh. Hosted by the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, TourAnytime offers more than 100 walking, museum and individual tours 24/7 by cell phone through one phone number, anytime your schedule allows.

And MP3 tours with photos and videos are coming soon.

“What makes us unique is we’re not just about Pittsburgh but all of southwestern PA,” says Jan Dofner of Rivers of Steel. “This allows smaller heritage sites to get into the big picture with a technology that they might not have been able to do on their own.”

TourAnytime offers an array of vivid, self-guided tours, from the Battle of Homestead to the fabulous Sprout Fund murals that inhabit the local landscape. Museums, such as the Westmoreland Museum of Modern Art and Mattress Factory, find the technology works well for them too, says Jeff Leber, vice president and chief operating officer.

“It even works for couch potatoes,” he adds.

Roaming charges may be incurred for anyone outside of the 412 area code, but otherwise the tours are free.

“For a region known for its industry, this illustrates that our industrial and cultural heritage is of interest to people,” adds Dofner. “People want to know the stories. We’re hardworking people and we forget how interesting our region is and what we have to offer.”

To begin a tour, simply go to the TourAnytime website and follow the simple instructions.

Writer: Debra Smit
Source: Jeff Leber, Jan Dofner, Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area

Image courtesy TourAnytime

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