Do Markets Define the Place or Can a Place Define the Market?

The Fourth Economy team has been fortunate to have had many project experiences in our first two-years of life. When asked what has been the most notable observation or question that I can take away from our work thus far, it is this – Do markets define a “place” or can a “place” define the market? Throughout our national travels and work locally within the Pittsburgh region, it is clear that many second and third class cities across the country are increasingly realizing new and financially viable mixed-use development and higher density housing projects. Continue reading “Do Markets Define the Place or Can a Place Define the Market?”

Collaboration, Underutilized Assets, and Entrepreneurship in Pittsburgh

 

Last month I attended a discussion in Pittsburgh hosted by GTECH Social Capital Council around the issue of innovation in the reuse of underutilized assets. The event brought together a cross-section of interested participants, including lawyers, entrepreneurs, community and economic development professionals, and artists.

Of course when you hear ‘underutilized asset’, buildings and land automatically come to mind. However, the folks at GTECH, who are already working with assets such as waste vegetable oil and dirt, encouraged us to broaden our definition – and so our discussion turned to assets like neighborhood stories, rivers, hillsides, and people. That last one is important in two ways. Abe Taleb, of ReWork, mentioned that according to 2010 census data, when compared to the 40 largest population centers in our country, the Pittsburgh region has the highest poverty rate among working-age African-Americans. Success stories abound about how Pittsburgh is reinventing itself, but imagine how successful we could be if those efforts included everyone in our city? Second, we have existing networks of people and organizations working towards the city’s success, but many have different ideas of what success looks like and how we can get there. In and of itself, that’s not a bad thing, but it tends to mean that our efforts are often siloed. Bringing all of those organizations together to share ideas and resources could help push everyone’s agenda forward.

Sara Thompson, of Pashek Associates, brought up the concept of economic gardening, a strategy focused on building economies from the ground-up. Instead of the traditional model of economic development, where municipalities participate in the zero-sum game of recruiting large employers to relocate, economic gardening encourages entrepreneurship. This is a comprehensive approach however, which relies on data to make informed decisions; coordinates continued learning and access to educational opportunities; sees community development and place-making as key components of economic development; and facilitates connections between a wide variety of stakeholders. The questioned that summed up our discussion that evening was, “How can we utilize this model in Pittsburgh to bring together the amazing organizations already working in the city to build platforms for entrepreneurship, especially while engaging the most disenfranchised citizens?”

Enter, the Pittsburgh Central Keystone Innovation Zone, or PCKIZ. PCKIZ is a consortium of higher education institutions, businesses, government agencies and community organizations, collaborating to enable the neighborhoods in central Pittsburgh to realize their potential within the knowledge-based economy. Last year, PCKIZ reached out to several local non-profits to create a winning proposal for U.S. Economic Development Association’s coveted Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge.

According to Carolina Pais-Barreto Beyers, Vice President of PCKIZ, “The complexity of this RFP made it clear that we needed to leverage the strengths and expertise of several organizations to craft a proposal that was appropriate for our region.” Furthermore, PCKIZ recognized this as an opportunity to address the needs of the region’s underserved communities. “When such a great number of people are completely disenfranchised from all the good things that happen here, our entire region is compromised,” says Beyers.

Working with the Hill House Association, Innovation Works, Duquesne University Small Business Development Center, the Community College of Allegheny County, and the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, PCKIZ created the Southwestern Pennsylvania Urban Revitalization Project (SPUR). The overall goal of SPUR is to connect residents from underserved communities—particularly the Hill District—with the local energy and health care industry clusters, in part through the creation of employee-owned and/or community based businesses.

And the key to the SPUR’s success? Collaboration, of course. In Beyers’ opinion, “Collaboration among organizations is essential to make an impact of magnitude. Inviting partners of diverse expertise can tackle issues from various angles and in a holistic manner.”

This is just one example of how Pittsburgh is coming together to leverage our existing assets for the continued prosperity of our city. There are lots of ways to get involved, including the upcoming Pop City’s social innovation eXchange (SIX), January 31st at Point State Park. If you have other ideas for how to promote this work in Pittsburgh or elsewhere, leave a comment below!