Pittsburgh Gets Ready to Take World Stage



Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is about to welcome the world as the host city of the Group of 20 economic summit. It is a town that has weathered its own economic storm by making some tough choices and embracing the future. Thirty years after the steel industry lost its glimmer, the old steel city has re-invented itself.

Dennis Verosky's story is the story of Pittsburgh.

He comes from a family of steelworkers, and as a young man took a job in a mill.

"[In] 1985, I was laid off," he said. "In 1986, I started here as a student in X-ray."

When the steel industry started to implode, Verosky went back to school and became a medical technician at a local hospital.

Dennis Verosky re-invented himself in the 1980s. So did Pittsburgh.

Joseph Sabino Mistick - a former city official, now a columnist and college professor - lived through the transformation. He remembers the impact the mill closures had on local families.

"We had to do something dramatic," he said. "And along came health care and education - the universities and our hospital sector, and that just changed everything around here."

Carnegie Mellon University became a hot bed of innovation in computer science and robotics, attracting new business to the area. The University of Pittsburgh grew its medical school and affiliated hospitals into the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, or UPMC - an international renowned center for medical care and research.

UPMC chief Jeffrey Romoff says Pittsburgh looked to its resources and slowly evolved.

"Pittsburgh converted itself moment by moment, brick by brick, and it created a new future for itself," he said.

The city panorama has changed since the days when steel manufacturing dominated the economy.

A skyscraper built to house the corporate headquarters of the steel industry now showcases Pittsburgh's economic diversity and bears the logo of UPMC.

Jeffrey Romoff says UPMC is the biggest employer in town.

"Pittsburgh has morphed with the demise of much of the smoke-stack or the traditional smoke-stack manufacturing," he said. "Pittsburgh has now become really very much a city of the future."

Locals are fond of saying the city is now the jewel of the rust belt. The shroud of industrial pollution is long gone ... its three rivers are clean ... and perhaps most important in these tough economic times, its unemployment rate is three points below the national average.

Dan Onorato is the Allegheny County Executive - the top elected official in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area.

"It is a story for other cities in this country," he said. "And it is a story for other cities and regions in other countries, because we have been there, we have been through it, and their issues are no different from the issues we faced 20, 30 years ago."

Onorato says Pittsburgh's success in surviving and thriving is probably the main reason why President Barack Obama chose it to host the G20.

And it has done so by embracing the three main pillars of the president's economic agenda long before he did. Education and health care came first. Now, says Joseph Sabino Mistick, the Pittsburgh area is moving into a leadership role in alternative energy.

"We know that in order for us to survive, we have to stay ahead of the curve," he said. "And we have managed to stay ahead of the curve, but that is the key to our survival. And energy is the next frontier for us."

It might seem an ironic choice for a city once known for its smoke-filled and blackened skies. But as he stands on a hillside overlooking the city, Sabino Mistick can see a panorama of change.

"There is something about the majesty of it all, that we came from where we came from, that we were hell with a lid off - as a writer once said - and all of this has come from that," he said.

For Dennis Verosky - the former steel worker - the change is awesome. But, he says, the heart of the city is still the same. In the end, the key to Pittsburgh's success is its people.

"You have some of the best educational institutions, and you have supreme medical care, and entertainment and friendly people," he said. "So if you come in, just pull up a chair, and become part of Pittsburgh!"

World leaders will get to see for themselves when the G20 summit opens on September 24.

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