PA: Pittsburgh-Area Officials Head to Denver to Study its Economic Success, Growth

May 30--A leading regional economic development agency feels so strongly that Denver sets an example for Pittsburgh to follow that it's heading a delegation of nearly 100 government and business officials to the Mile High City next week.

The Allegheny Conference on Community Development is covering the cost for elected officials -- headlined by Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald -- to meet with Denver officials on transportation; workforce training; health and wellness; and other issues.

Fitzgerald said a group from Denver visited Pittsburgh last year, and the conference led similar trips to Minneapolis in 2004 and to Boston in 2005.

"There's a lot of value to this," said Bill Flanagan, executive vice president of the privately funded Allegheny Conference. "If you rolled back the clock to 1970, Pittsburgh and Denver were basically the same size. Since then, Denver has grown and Pittsburgh has shrunk. The cities have a lot of similarities, and we want to look at the things they're doing to build their economy and grow."

Peduto spokesman Tim McNulty said the mayor will look to draw ideas from Denver's transit system; "eds and meds economy"; diversity and immigration policies; and healthy living initiatives. Denver has the sixth-lowest obesity rate among 189 municipalities nationwide, according to Gallup research.

Peduto recently launched "Live Well Pittsburgh," a campaign to promote physical health and wellness in conjunction with the county.

"There's a lot to learn there," McNulty said.

Flanagan said the trips to Minneapolis and Boston proved fruitful, in different ways.

Minneapolis was a model for economic development.

"The success of their regional strategies helped to reinforce the importance of what we were trying to do in Pittsburgh," Flanagan said.

Boston provided a model for commercializing technological advancements in academia.

"I won't claim that it's cause-and-effect, but Pittsburgh has become better and better in recent years at this sort of commercialization," Flanagan said.

Business leaders on board this time include executives from Michael Baker Corp., EQT, BNY Mellon, Reed Smith, Peoples Natural Gas, Highmark and UPMC. Non-elected officials on the roster of invitees include Port Authority of Allegheny County CEO Ellen McLean and Airport Authority Senior Development Director Randy Forister.

Officials from several of the participating businesses did not return calls.

The Port Authority and airport authority are sending two people. Their agencies will cover the cost, which is $2,750 for two nights or $3,250 for three nights. The meetings begin on Sunday and end on Wednesday, though not everyone will stay for the final day.

Grant Oliphant, president of The Pittsburgh Foundation, a major player in the city's influential foundation community, will attend. Spokesman John Ellis said the foundation gave the Allegheny Conference $15,000 to support the trip.

"The organizers are anticipating that findings may spur the development of new ideas," Ellis said.

This will be Peduto's third trip in two months. This month he was in Germany learning about best practices for urban sustainability in the city of Ludwigsburg. Last week, he was in Cambridge, Mass., as part of a roundtable on revitalizing older industrial cities.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or Staff writers Bill Zlatos and Melissa Daniels contributed.

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