Wednesday, September 23, 2009

G-20 SUMMIT: PITTSBURGH'S "COMING OUT" PARTY... PART I

Editor's note--For the people of Southwestern Pennsylvania, we've known for years and years what a great city Pittsburgh is, but this week, the rest of the world will get to "discover" what Pittsburghers have always known: That the "Burgh" is one of the greatest places on earth to live in and raise a family.

As a part of that "Coming Out" party, Pittsburgh opened its' doors to the journalists of the world Monday by means of a welcoming press conference that featured Carnegie Mellon University's President Jared Cohon, University of Pittsburgh Chancellor, Mark Nordenberg and UPMC Chairman Jeffrey Romoff. The esteemed panel was moderated in a "Meet The Press" style format by Howard Fineman, Senior Washington Correspondent for "Newsweek" and himself a native Pittsburgher.

Your intrepid reporter here at "Pittsburgh's Black & Gold" was on hand to meet these ambassadors of Pittsburgh and later to take part in two of the tours that were organized for the international journalists. "How'd we do that," you ask? Ah, that's a story best told over a snifter of cognac with a cigar in a dimly-lit room. 

Having three men share a dais who have such incredible clout was remarkable in and of itself. However, as the news conference went on, it became apparent how great of a relationship these three Pittsburgh iconic figures have with each other, how committed they are to working together and how proud they are of the accomplishments their respective institutions have managed for the region and ultimately, the world. It also dawned on me how lucky we are to have them.

By the time the combination press conference and media tours were completed on Monday, the gathered journalists had been treated to an incredible insight into what has transformed Pittsburgh one of the world leaders in computer technology, education, medical research and health care. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life for this writer and I am greatly looking forward to sharing my experiences with you over these next three days.

The schedule for this special report will look like this: Today I will focus on the press conference. Thursday I'll report on my tour of the CMU Robotics Institute followed on Friday by my visit to the amazing CMU Entertainment Technology Center that is located on the site of the former J&L Steel plant.

With the G-20 kicking off here this week, I thought it appropriate to report on what the rest of the world will be hearing and seeing about Pittsburgh since this is easily the biggest thing ever to happen in this city during its' entire existence (other than our SuperBowl and Stanley Cup conquests).

AVALANCHE OF SYNERGY TAKES CENTER STAGE AS WORLD'S JOURNALISTS CONVERGE ON BURGH

Picture this if you will. You are a female international journalist from Peking, China visiting Pittsburgh for the first time. You are attending a press conference being held in a grand old building in Oakland... "Soldiers and Sailors Hall" they call it. Across the street you notice a tall gothic-looking structure and you ask a fellow reporter, "What's that tall building across the street?"

"That right there," I asked? " Why that's the "Cathedral of Learning," I responded, smiling as a good host reporter should. 

"Cathedral of Learning? What a nice name! Such a beautiful city!"

Hopefully that message will soon be resonating around the world.



ABOVE: The Cathedral of Learning certainly caught one journalist's eye and why not, it's the tallest building devoted to education in America! I like the "cut of its' jib" too. This school's football team is also 3-0.

So went my first conversation with Wang Shanshan, Washington Bureau Chief for China Radio International. My conversation with Ms. Shanshan was exactly what I had been hoping for when I applied for my own media credentials for this event. I wanted to hear what Pittsburgh was saying and showing of itself, but I also was interested in hearing the initial reactions of other journalists about the city we call home.

Meanwhile, inside there was a gathering of some 150 reporters, radio and TV correspondents who were assembling to hear the Pitt, CMU and UPMC leaders discussing their respective roles in helping make Pittsburgh the vibrant city that it has become. Around the outskirts of the room were representatives of various high-tech companies that were "born" here at the universities and have spun themselves off into successful enterprises. Everything from language recognition software to automated stock retrieval systems were on display.

Once the press conference began, it became clear that the tenor of the remarks was going to center on the avalanche of synergy that Pittsburgh has been the beneficiary of at least since the late seventies.


Howard Fineman, acting as moderator of the discussion, is himself a native Pittsburgher though his work precludes him from living here today. Fineman unabashedly referred to himself as a Pittsburgh proponent and he claimed to "Sing Pittsburgh's praises" as he goes about the country. "I have been in 49 of the 50 states and never found any place nicer than Pittsburgh," said Fineman proudly during his introductory remarks.

ABOVE LEFT: Moderator Howard Fineman. BELOW RIGHT: UPMC's Jeffrey Romoff

His three panelists were equally effusive in their praise of the city. UPMC's Romoff, a native New Yorker, praised the Pittsburgh workforce saying, "The people here come ready to go to work. They come ready to work because they can get there without what people have to go through in other larger cities. Once those people get to work, all they can think about is what they're going to have to go through to get home."

CMU's President, Jared Cohon spoke eloquently about the cooperation that goes on between the institutions here. "I'm originally from Cleveland and believe me, they don't have the cooperation between institutions that we have here. For example, you have the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and they have nothing resembling what is happening here." Cohon also described as, "Stunning" the UPMC announcement to provide $100,000,000 in scholarships for Pittsburgh students.


ABOVE: Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg (left) shares a magazine cover with CMU's President, Jared Cohon (right). Both men have extrordinary power and influence yet choose to wield it together with rather than in competition against each other. Pittsburgh has been the big beneficiary of their cooperation.

Chancellor Nordenberg of Pitt spoke of a year 2,000 resolution where the Pitt trustees pledged to make the university, "One of the most progressive institutions in the world." He also spoke of how the three panelists are all, "Very competitive, but very collaborative. "We're in it together."

In summing up the half hour of remarks, Fineman stated, "With the quality of the people here and their work ethic, for the city to still be around 25 years later and thriving after what happened to the Steel industry speaks volumes".

My own personal observations as a combination lifetime resident of Southwestern Pennsylvania and in this instance one of the few local reporters on hand; I was extremely proud of what these men were citing as their biggest achievement: Not some litany of accomplishments that their own institutions have to their credit, but rather, what they together have accomplished for their students, their patients, their employees...all the people of Pittsburgh, citizens of this country and yes, the world. Their unspoken message on this day was simple yet eloquent: Look what we've accomplished just by working together. It's a lesson that many parts of the world could stand to learn from...perhaps cooperation will be the lesson most learned from the attendees once this summit gets underway. 


ABOVE: TOMORROW: Part II, the CMU Robotics Center tour.