Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Allegheny Conference on Community Development

Mike Madison over at Pittsblog has a long discursive post on The Allegheny Conference on Community Development and what he would say should they invite him to speak in front of the conference's annual meeting.

A snippet:

Right now, Pittsburgh is trying to grow from the top. That's why you're having this meeting: it's growth from the top. So change has to come from the top. And with all due respect to the history of the Allegheny Conference, that's why I'm telling you to go home. It's why I'd send the same message to Mark Nordenberg, who has done an extraordinary job as Chancellor of Pitt, and to Jared Cohon, his equally remarkable counterpart at CMU. Private sector CEOs and top management at the universities need to join forces and -- let it go. They need to turn their technology loose.

Pittsburgh's CEO culture is deep and strong. The top folks are talented and have enormous respect for one another, and they spend a lot of time doing what CEOs do well: strategic planning. We have consortia and greenhouses, alliances and councils and conferences. Strategic planning, though, doesn't grow companies or jobs. There's so much planning, and so much CEO involvement and control, that the money and the talent and the ideas can't find each other.
It's worth a read; although I'll spoil the ending and tell you that Mike wants the Conference to get out of the way and instead focus our energies on developing mid-level managers and capitalizing on tech transfer. [I hope I summarized that correctly.]

I have, of course, a couple of comments:

(1) I would include development of ready-to-go sites proximate to the Universities as a "need". Pittsburgh seems to have a room to grow, but no places for companies to locate RIGHT NOW or expand to RIGHT NOW. That puts us at a disadvantage.

(2) What the heck does the Conference actually DO anymore? OK, I understand what the Chamber of Commerce does (advocates for regional businesses), what the PRA does (advertises the region), and what the PEL does (research & analysis), but WHAT, now that Richard King Mellon is dead, does the Conference actually DO? Having worked in regional government for quite awhile, I've never once heard anyone say "We can't do THAT, the Conference would have our ASS!".

(3) This may be heretical, but why do we need to do Economic Development and what's the big deal with job creation? OK, I understand that (a) an increase in jobs and development leads to an increase in tax revenues, (b) politicians that create jobs and development have an increased chance of being re-elected, and (c) there's a certain amount of region pride involved. That I get. But, and here's the $6.4 billion question: can the region improve without doing all that Economic Development growth stuff? Can we have a better quality region, without a bigger region? I don't know, I'm just asking.

I have other comments, but I'll hold off for now.

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