Friday, March 19, 2010

Auld Lang Steel City

It taxes the mind and no less one’s soul, to really try to understand something one hasn’t lived through, dealt with or had at least some interest in or second-hand experience with. And so it goes with some younger people and some non-native Pittsburghers who find it inconvenient and unfortunate that many Pittsburghers don’t seem to want to forget about those days when Big Steel bankrolled a booming local economy in which most people were employed and many of them with higher-paying jobs than compared to these days. The wages and salaries many of these people were making, in terms of buying power, no doubt would make today’s salaries and wages in Pittsburgh pale in comparison.
It’s a commonly accepted truism in the erstwhile Steel City that salaries and wages here have been depressed ever since we lost much of our industrial base.
No matter that Pittsburgh-made steel and many Pittsburgh companies such as US steel and American Bridge Co. worked from their mills and headquarters here to build some of the great bridges and skyscrapers of New York, Chicago, San Francisco and elsewhere (American Bridge is still doing so, by the way); and don’t worry about the fact that phrases such as “Pittsburgh Seam,” “Eichleay Formula” and others and others owe their existence to our robust industrial past, or that many of us and our kin worked with or in businesses involved in industry.
Don’t worry about it, just forget about it or at least minimize it, since it didn’t turn out so well in the end. Don’t worry about these old things that happened before many people were born, or long before some folks set foot in the formerly Smoky City. It’s all a bundle of unfortunate memories, in the view of some Pittsburghers who seem to be doing their best to try to cheerlead for the city, while simultaneously condescending to its residents in patronizing, uber-educated white-collar tones.
But you can’t understand what you don’t fully try to comprehend. If you are closed off from the possibilities of a people seemingly fixated with their recent (and glorious) heavily industrialized past, which many here lived through and many others are still feeling the consequences of, all the preserved buildings in the world won’t help you to truly connect with some of the people whom you might positively influence with all your smarts.
“Just get over it,” is a common and callous instruction to those going through a period of grieving or loss for a loved one. It aint delicate, but it was how we sometimes dealt with each other as boys, urging one another to move on, away from some ugly fact of our lives.
Part of the problem with the intellectual disconnect between some old and new Pittsburghers lies in the fact that generations of Pittsburghers are still hurting, stuck in an underclass or even middle-class poor rut which has them mired them in low-paying work, lack of rest and an understandably warped and negative perception of life. Lack of sleep, lack of opportunity and lack of an ability to advance oneself can lead to a spiritual and mental paralysis in many people. But I guess they should all just move on…. And consider the glories of the Colonial Era in Pennsylvania, when all was fresh and new here.
Wesylvania’s history should not be viewed as some a la carte cafeteria offering, where we pick and choose what we’ll have based on our momentary mood (or guilty conscience). In talking about our proud history—especially that industrial history which made Pittsburghers into the tough people they are known to be worldwide—you have to remember that we are talking about a history of people who aren’t even dead yet. Still, revisionist history isn’t just about altering facts to fit one’s political perspective, it also can amount to paying inordinate attention to one era of history, say 250-odd years ago, versus another era, like 30-odd years ago.
The scariest thing about this dilemma is that the same sort of corporate incompetence of recent decades was visited upon the Rust Belt in the 1970s and 1980s, by companies that were going under or shrinking. This de-industrializing world-change was viewed and is viewed by many as something so perfectly natural—after all, it was just business, they say. It’s as if it were natural as rain that the world leaders in steel should get so fat and stupid that they let the developing nations eat them alive.
But that’s just my perspective—and it’s an inconvenient one, I’ll admit.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Keystone Commons Upgrades Anticipate Growing Industrial Sector

Many have counted out or disregarded Pittsburgh’s industrial sector in recent years, focusing instead on the progress of the education and medicine sectors in the region. But others have quietly continued to build on Pittsburgh’s solid industrial foundation, bringing in more companies and jobs without widely publicizing those efforts.
One of those quiet players in the market is the Regional Industrial Development Corporation of Southwestern Pennsylvania, which for the past 21 years has been redeveloping the former Westinghouse “mother plant” in Turtle Creek, East Pittsburgh and North Versailles, for industry and other business. The businesses housed in the old plant now occupy about 2 million square feet of space.
Soon, an additional 220,000 square feet of space will be available for lease at the Keystone Commons industrial park. The 92-acre old Westinghouse plant site is in the valley beneath the Westinghouse Bridge and spreads through the communities of Turtle Creek, East Pittsburgh and North Versailles.
These days, workers for RIDC of Southwestern Pennsylvania are gearing up for more business, being about halfway through rehabbing the former Crane Shed and East Shop on the old mill site. Currently, Metal Tech occupies some of the building, which is being completely readied for more tenants. The rehabbed space will be available for tenants by spring, said William Burroughs, vice-president, development, for RIDC of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
About $1 million is being spent to rehab the space, which has had asbestos removed from it and is being finished with insulated metal panels to make it more attractive. “Re-skinning” the building and breaking up the space will make it more accessible for use by smaller tenants, Burroughs said.
Would-be tenants already are inquiring about the space. “We have some interest from potential clients,” Burroughs said.
The newly refurbished site could be a good fit for metal fabricating companies that need to assemble smaller parts, or also for machine shops, Burroughs said.
Some of the recent industrial activity in Western Pennsylvania is being driven by activity in drilling the Marcellus shale, Burroughs noted.
“There’s a huge requirement for pipe for that. Contractors who are coming in to drill [the Marcellus] want to set up a yard where they can store pipe,” Burroughs said.
Many of these out-of-state contractors, who are drilling 6,000 feet into the earth, want to have a site with river access that is about 50 acres in size and they are having a tough time finding it, he said.
That is because when it comes to old industrial sites put to good use in a similar fashion to their original purpose, the Pittsburgh area is ahead of much of the nation, Burroughs said. “Keystone Commons is really the bellwether. People can see that site and see that [successful redevelopment] has been done,” he said.
What the next surge of industrial activity will require of the Pittsburgh area is unclear, but Regional Industrial Development Corp. of Southwestern Pennsylvania is looking forward to it, whatever those needs may be.
“You just never know,” Burroughs said. “The phone rings and you’re off in another direction.”

Monday, March 01, 2010

Recipe for Economic Miracle Bread

-Large supply of cheap labor
-Raw materials aplenty
-Good locale with river, rail and road access
-Three pinches of capitalists


-Add one Great Steel Depression
-Halve the labor
-Take away half the dough


-Remove from oven, cool for 10 minutes on Phipps windowsill
-Serve with organic butter, jam and tea to G-20 leaders