Look to universities to boost region economy

2011-11-30T16:15:00Z 2011-12-05T11:00:28Z Look to universities to boost region economyBy Bowdeya Tweh bowdeya.tweh@nwi.com, (219) 933-3316 nwitimes.com

EAST CHICAGO | Pittsburgh isn't the largest city and still is a work in progress in terms of improving living conditions for many of its residents.

But the head of a regional technology trade group based in Pittsburgh said Wednesday the city is revitalizing itself with universities attracting talent from around the world, supporting a network of technology business ventures and building a thriving entrepreneurial culture.

Audrey Russo, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council, told about 50 people at the East Chicago Marina about what Northwest Indiana could learn from her experience and what has worked in the city in economic and business development.

Russo's visit was part of Gary and Region Investment Project's second Urban Exchange event. The Chicago-based Metropolitan Planning Council and The Times are leading the effort to form partnerships with various organizations and develop an investment strategy to revitalize Northwest Indiana's urban core.

Russo said 25 colleges and universities are within 40 miles of the city center, and institutions such as Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh are part of "the secret sauce" that gives the city its flavor. They are hubs for technology commercialization and serve as international destinations for research, which brings dollars and attention to the community.

"The more that you can create that and partner with those universities and those community colleges, the more that you are creating the next generation of opportunity," Russo said.

She said her organization, formed in 1983 to support an area hit with a loss of manufacturing jobs, also works to connect smaller tech companies to larger ones located in or have ties to the Pittsburgh area. She said larger businesses have a civic responsibility to make sure they are open for collaboration with entrepreneurs and young people through internships so both can thrive.

This also has helped infuse the city with a deep talent pool for businesses to draw from. Nearly half of people ages 25 to 34 working in the Pittsburgh area have college degrees compared to the national average of 35 percent, according to 2009 data.

There always will be people who provide lists of reasons why an area is inadequate. For people who feel that way about Pittsburgh, Russo said they need not come.

"If you want to live in a place that is going through a renaissance, you have to want to be involved," Russo said. "If you want to be a passive player, don't come here. That's fine. Because we need people who can make stuff. We need people who want to have an impact."

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