The Pittsburgh Region has the good fortune to have a significant base of corporate R&D facilities. PPG's Chemicals, Coatings, and Glass Research Centers are all located here. Alcoa's Technical Center - the largest light metals research facility in the world - is located here. Crucible Materials Corporation's Research Facility, with the largest titanium gas atomizer in the world, is located here. Bayer's Material Science division is located here. U.S. Steel's Research Center is located here. The Heinz Global Innovation and Quality Center is located here. Seagate's Research Center is located here. Mine Safety Appliances has its Research Center located here. Sunoco has a Research Center here. The list goes on and on.
Not only do these corporate R&D centers provide thousands of highly-paid jobs for the region, they hold the potential for creating new startup companies for the region. While many of the innovations developed in these R&D Centers will be utilized by their parent corporations to improve the cost or quality of existing products or to introduce new products consistent with the corporation's business strategy, other innovations may produce their greatest value through a new startup company. And those startup companies, if they are successful, will create more new jobs for their home region.
I'm not so optimistic about local R & D spawning new companies here; in fact, some of the highest profile recent R & D moves to Pittsburgh -- Seagate, Intel, Apple, Google -- involve companies that are capitalizing on Pittsburgh's technical expertise (and Carnegie Mellon's expertise in particular) precisely to support corporate growth elsewhere. In fact, there's a case to be made that R & D thrives in Pittsburgh precisely *because* the parent operating companies *don't* live here. Corporate culture can be stifling. Move the idea generators out of the corporate hothouse, and better ideas come along.
Maybe the R & D business strategy for Pittsburgh is to attract corporate R & D for its own sake, not because it spins out other growth. I'm not angling for a new slogan for Pittsburgh, but "Where the Ideas Come From" isn't a bad one.