Sunday Business Page: InnovatePGH

KDKA's Jon Delano spoke with the Executive Director of InnovatePGH, Sean Luther, about the organization hoping to bring continual innovation to Pittsburgh.

Video Transcript

- This is the Sunday business page with Jon Delano.

JON DELANO: Good morning. I'm Jon Delano. Welcome to another home edition of "The Sunday Business Page." Our special guest today is Sean Luther, who is the executive director of InnovatePGH. Sean, welcome to the show. Good to have you with us.

SEAN LUTHER: Thanks, Jon. Great to be with you.

JON DELANO: So tell us exactly what it is InnovatePGH?

SEAN LUTHER: So Innovate is a public-private partnership chaired by the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. And it's essentially a coalition of-- of Pittsburgh organizations, positioning Pittsburgh as a global leader in innovation and the-- the 21st century economy.

JON DELANO: Well, aren't we already? I mean, it seems to me every time I turn around there's some great innovative things coming out of Pittsburgh.

SEAN LUTHER: Yeah, I mean, it's unquestionable what we're seeing in Pittsburgh, especially related to the artificial intelligence and robotics space, the life sciences and advanced manufacturing and really focused on our academic and research assets. Pittsburgh has emerged as a-- as a major force in innovation.

Our goal is to make sure that that isn't an occasional thing, and every-once-in-a-while story you read about. But that globally, people are talking about Pittsburgh with the same gusto and the same confidence in our rise as a-- as an innovation hub as those of us in Pittsburgh and those of us who are passionate about Pittsburgh success are.

JON DELANO: So in other words, is part of the effort to really make people believe or see or understand that we're just as powerful in innovation as the Silicon Valley or the Boston hub area or some of the other centers that we tend to think of when we think of high-tech and innovation?

SEAN LUTHER: Yeah, I think it's both ensuring that people recognize what we are already doing and where we are already leaders. And we do that closely with our partners, not just at the universities but with the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance at the city and the county level as well.

But also, we need to continue investing in the innovation ecosystem. We want to see more companies translated from campus. We want to see more companies growing and hiring Pittsburghers, like you see at great companies like Duolingo. And so we're really pushing from the bottom, and we're screaming from the top as well.

JON DELANO: Well, one of the new ideas that you have is to create something called the Innovation District in Oakland. What exactly does that mean?

SEAN LUTHER: So an innovation district is a place-based strategy, you know, really applying what Pittsburgh does best, which is neighborhoods, and injecting the 21st century ingredients that really create a knowledge hub and an innovation sector. And so that takes capital. It takes real estate and real estate development. It takes integrating our universities into the entrepreneurship landscape.

And it requires marketing and really ensuring that when people are looking to place R&D hubs around the country and around the world that they are seeing Pittsburgh as a viable and frankly, a first choice of where those hubs should be located. And it's the job of the Pittsburgh Innovation District to really be Pittsburgh's front door in this extremely competitive global race for these types of frontier offices and corporate research and development outposts.

JON DELANO: I don't want to be a Debbie Downer, but aren't we running out of space in Oakland? I mean, I see other companies locating out in these various RIDC-type parks-- industrial parks that are far outside the city. What is it about Oakland in particular that would attract people there? I assume the universities. But is their land? Is there space?

SEAN LUTHER: So first, Jon, I think it's really important that we recognize there are other place-based strategies, both public and privately driven. And you think about the great things happening in the Strip District. You think about all the great things on tap at Hazelwood Green or at the airport at their advanced manufacturing complex.

We know that there are some companies that only want to be within walking distance of our great university assets and UPMC. And so it's really important for Pittsburgh that we're building this matrix that creates a conduit for private investment adjacent to our university assets. And what we found in our state of the Innovation District for 2020 is there is a tremendous amount of square footage under construction and on the drawing board to take advantage of that proximity. And in fact, we have multiple downtown skyscrapers worth of new innovation and marquee office space planned in-- in Oakland over the next three years that's going to keep Pittsburgh competitive, it's going to create Oakland as a hub for these other innovation centers around the city like Bakery Square and the North Side, and it's going to create an economic and jobs creation opportunity for residents of neighborhoods immediately around the Innovation District, which is extremely important to our work.

JON DELANO: Well, Sean Luther, thank you so very much for being with us this morning. We really appreciate it. Thank you, sir.

SEAN LUTHER: Thank you, Jon, we really appreciate it as well.

JON DELANO: And thank you for watching us on this edition of "The Sunday Business Page." Have a great day, everybody.