Reflections on a Week Out on the Town

This is the time of year for “annual” events and this week has already been full of them. A few observations:

I admit to being a fan of the Allegheny Conference’s work and their announcement of the goals of their next three-year strategic plan hasn’t changed that view. The top goal addresses a problem I’m hearing about with shocking frequency – not enough good (meaning appropriately skilled) workers to hire. If this is a problem for construction today, it will be a crisis when work picks up next year. Attracting qualified people from IT to iron workers is a “must win” for Pittsburgh to remain on the current growth path.

The buzz at Thursday night’s Night at the Fights, put on each year by NAIOP Pittsburgh to benefit Habitat for Humanity, was amazingly upbeat. A lot of commercial real estate brokers there and while they are a positive bunch, in public brokers usually talk poor. It seems there are just too many deals and users right now to suppress the optimism. The talk was of a Walgreen’s operations center, Ensinger Plastics, mysterious 250,000 sq. ft. users ready to sign and, of course, the Shell cracker.

The team from Continental Office enjoying NAIOP Pittsburgh Night at the Fights.

The team from Continental Office enjoying NAIOP Pittsburgh Night at the Fights.

Shell’s Ate Visser told the Post-Gazette this morning that the company was exercising its option to by the site from Horsehead Corp. (http://tinyurl.com/mr46xkb). That’s a big deal in and of itself but the crowd last night seemed to be looking for more. If I assimilate what I heard from dozens of people who seem to be in the know about Shell’s plans (all of whom can’t actually be in the know, of course), I would say that our collective impatience will be satisfied next week. Commercial real estate people have been known to spin self-fulfilling prophecies before. We won’t have to wait long to find out on this one.

The other heartening takeaway from two nights of rubbing elbows with regional leaders and real estate execs is that it’s clear that more investors and industries are looking at Pittsburgh than we even know at this point. At the risk of sounding like a sunshine pump, it’s hard to imagine the region being better positioned.

It feels like the polar opposite of 1983. Back then, we couldn’t imagine that the steel industry was really gone for good. Now it seems unreasonable to think that another industry might come back and replace the ones that left 30 years ago. If there is an industrial train pulling into the station right now, there will need to be a monumental coalition of government, foundations, labor and business owners to move the dial on infrastructure, pensions, immigration, etc. Solutions will need to rise above politics or Pittsburgh’s growth will be stunted.

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