What I Missed While I Was Away

I've been out of town much of the last couple of weeks, and it's taking a little while to catch up. One thing that I didn't miss, it appears, was the annual meeting of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

Oh the meeting happened all right, but from what I can tell, the ACCD has gone into milquetoast mode. Last year, I was all over the ACCD for an its overinflated sense of self-importance. This year, the self-importance remains, even if the organization wants us to believe that it's eaten humble pie. In a phrase, the ACCD now wants to be the region's therapist. It can help us feel better about ourselves.

From a pre-meeting interview by ACCD and PNC head Jim Rohr:
But with regional employment again on the rise, closing in on 2001's all-time high of 1.54 million for the seven-county metropolitan area, and attributes such as low housing costs and low crime rates, "things are much better than people think," Mr. Rohr said.

"A lot of myths that people think about Pittsburgh are just factually not the case. We're moving in the right direction," he said.

The conference tried to drive home its point that the region is perceived better by outsiders than those who live and work here by opening the meeting with a short musical number, "The Grass is Always Greener," performed by members of the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera.

The region needs to better promote itself and consider its benefits compared with larger and glitzier locations such as San Francisco or Boston, Mr. Rohr said.

The Post-Gazette editorial board is on board with this. I'm still a skeptic. I'd still like the ACCD to acknowledge its past successes and then bow out gracefully, ceding the stage (and the therapist's chair) to the institutions that really should exercise regional political, economic, and cultural leadership: UPMC, Pitt, and Carnegie Mellon. If you want to know why outsiders think so highly of Pittsburgh, it's largely because of what Pittsburgh is doing in higher ed and medicine.

Meanwhile, in other news that I almost missed, native Pittsburgher Tom Vilsack, governor of Iowa, recently announced that he's going to take a shot at the top job.


3 Responses to "What I Missed While I Was Away"

Anonymous said... 11/16/2006 1:44 PM

Economic development investments are made for the public good. How that public good is determined and monitored has a lot to do with the public good that is acheived.
Typically discipline is obtained through the press and local philanthropy. In Pittsburgh's case, the local paper is more of a booster than someone opening debate, and local philanthropies are practically speaking the chief supporters of the ACCD.
Pittsburgh needs a new institutional infrastructure to help the region become economically relevant. The weak performance of the ACCD was highlighted very clearly in the RERI report, and since that time there is even less competition in economic development ideas.

Anonymous said... 11/22/2006 9:17 AM

So the answer to our region's "poor" performance from the 1990's (the days of the RERI reports) is to create new civic infrastructure in 2007? The previous post to me is exactly what the Conference is saying we need to stop. We need to stop with the study and introspection and finding the ideal theoretical process, and put that energy into real change and growth.

Effort spent fighting over who owns the mandate to drive the region's economic future isn't spent improving it. We - like every other aging north east metro - can't afford that.

Universities grow the region.
Foundations drive change.
The Conference facilitates dialog.

At times, some do their job better than others.

Where's the problem?

If we don't focus on making the pie bigger, it won't matter who gets what slice.

Anonymous said... 12/16/2006 11:06 AM

Funny, but from where I sit, it looks more like:

Universities grow themselves.
(See: real estate acquisitions that take remove property from the tax rolls; enterprise-crushing tech transfer deals)

Foundations hand out money, sometimes according to an agenda of tradition, trend-chasing, or personal preferences. (See: benchmarking trips, funding university programs that never reach beyond the walls of the institution)

The Conference satisfies its own desires. (See: that French & Indian War movie, and lord-only-knows-what around this Pittsburgh 250 "celebration.")

The "action" that the commenter above requests is plenty there. Yes, we have way too many pricey, introspective studies, but we also have lots of pricey, misdirected activities. (See: image gap, most PRA-type activities, and so on.)

And activities that don't adhere to a clear agenda for change = wasted resources.

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