Advanced Manufacturing Leads Economic Growth in Pittsburgh Region

Apr 8, 2015

Pittsburgh Regional Alliance CEO Dennis Yablonsky said 2014 was "a typical, solid year" for economic growth in the Pittsburgh region.
Credit Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

The advanced manufacturing sector led the 10-county Pittsburgh region in the number of investment deals last year, according to the yearly Business Investment Scorecard from the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, the marketing affiliate of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development (ACCD).

PRA CEO Dennis Yablonsky said it was a “typical, solid year” for Pittsburgh, with $2.3 billion in capital investment and more than 10,000 jobs created. He said 70 percent of investment deals funded the expansion of existing companies.

“The PRA focuses, as do our partners, on attractions, but the bulk of the jobs, the bulk of the capital, the bulk of the activity is keeping and growing our own companies,” says Yablonsky, who is also chief executive for the ACCD.

One of those companies is Universal Electric Corporation, which was started as an electrical contracting company in the 1920s. Over the last 80 years, they transitioned to providing custom power distribution and monitoring systems for high tech facilities.

CEO Joel Ross, whose grandfather founded the company, said they’ll gearing up to nearly double the size of their Canonsburg headquarters and manufacturing plant, adding at least 68 more jobs.

“If you know anybody that has experience with electrical assembly or wiring, tell them to apply at my company,” Ross said. “We need some good workers.”

Several company representatives present at Wednesday’s press conference cited the Pittsburgh region’s workforce as a primary driver of their decision to locate or expand operations in the Pittsburgh area, but said more workers are still needed.

Petra Mitchell, president and CEO of economic development organization Catalyst Connection, said the skills needed for manufacturing jobs are changing rapidly.

“While we have a strong need for machinists and machine operators, we also need additional skilled workers to not only operate, but program, maintain and manage sophisticated computer-controlled equipment,” Mitchell said.

Other business leaders said proximity was a huge advantage for the Pittsburgh region.

“We’re within a day’s drive or 500 miles from 40 percent of the U.S. population, 60 percent of Canada’s population, and six of the ten largest markets in the U.S,” said Todd Pierce, COO of Carclo Technical Plastics, which is based out of London and has two facilities in Latrobe and one in Export, Pa.

He said his company recently added 60,000 square feet to one of their Latrobe facilities and went from 130 to 200 employees in Western Pennsylvania over the past year. By the end of 2015, he said they expect to have 240 employees in the region.

Pittsburgh’s innovative spirit and dedication to new technologies were also cited as factors for companies looking for places to land. Mark Goyke, manager for WindStax Wind Power Systems, said his company makes custom wind turbines that can be manufactured in two weeks and installed in one day.

“Pittsburghers seem to really enjoy the idea of green energy, to get off the grid, to find independence … as far as having something that they can create their own electricity,” Goyke said. “That’s what the Wind Stack does. It’s a micro-grid.”

Advanced manufacturing saw $450 million in capital investment and created nearly 5,000 jobs in 2014, far outpacing healthcare and life science ($106 million), energy ($78 million), information technology ($53 million) and financial and business services ($11 million).

The PRA is the economic development marketing affiliate of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. The ten-county region includes Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene Indiana, Lawrence, Washington and Westmoreland counties.