How can Pittsburgh best spread the word that the city has a thriving and welcoming creative industries sector?

That was the question addressed by 60+ leaders at the Connecting Pittsburgh’s Creatives morning conference at Point Park University on Friday. The focus was on stimulating conversation between the creative clusters and finding new ways to collaborate.

Pittsburgh City Planning Director Ray Gastil, a “transformative” urban planner and a former planning director of offices in Seattle and Manhattan, summed up the excitement being generated here.

We find ourselves in a time when Pittsburgh is asking for more, which means an expanded economy shared across a broad range of communities, said Gastil.

The administration is moving forward with an open data forum, encouraging the release and development of a platform that will push this mission forward.

The city will create an entertainment district or districts developed through a nighttime economy manager, Maya Henry, whose has the job of making sure the right people are talking to each other across a broad cross section.

A bike and pedestrian coordinator is being sought, a role that will be filled soon, he added.

“My approach has taught me that success looks very different now,” said Gastil, noting that this may mean “breaking the mold,” and making changes in areas like city codes that have been barriers to positive change. “We are going to unleash a lot of creative energy in the city.”

Connecting Pittsburgh’s Creatives II was the next phase of an initiative that kicked off in 2013, sponsored by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council in collaboration with the Pittsburgh Technology Council and Echo Strategies. The conference featured a morning of speakers, panelists and cross-cluster discussions.

The goal is to unveil the realities of the region’s creative assets, and what it will take to boost them to a new level, said Lou Musante of Echo Strategies who moderated the conversation.

The study began in October of 2013 with a survey that explored how partnerships among the clusters of creative industries will help the region become the next center for creativity, innovation and economic growth.

It focused on the seven key creative sectors in Pittsburgh’s eight-county region: design, communications, entertainment, fine art, data sciences, software and hardware and creative industry support services.

Among the key findings:

Pittsburgh is still a city of makers. The creative industry design sector employs 50,000. The survey also reports that 60,000 to 70,000 freelancers work in the region, a number that is expected to grow in coming years.

Two key sub-clusters—engineering and manufacturing—employ the majority of workers in the design cluster.

Pittsburgh is home to nearly 35,000 people working in software- and hardware-related professions, an occupational cluster that is expected to add more than 6,000 regional employees by 2020. This occupational cluster has been growing at three times the national rate.

In 2010-2011, average sector growth exceeded even the most innovative cities including Austin, Denver, Portland, San Francisco and San Jose.

Pittsburgh still has significant talent retention issues. Pittsburgh ranked 19 in talent retention compared to 20 peer and best-in-class regions. The influx of talent to Pittsburgh, however, is strong.

“Our true sustainability has come from the passion of people wanting to make it happen,” said Nina Barbuto of ASSEMBLE. “We want to build trust, and to work in any community you need to build trust.”

Read the Pittsburgh Creative Clusters Report.

Deb Smit

Deb is an award-winning journalist who loves ancient places and cool technologies. A former daily newspaper reporter and Time-Life Books editor, she writes mostly about Pittsburgh. Her stories have appeared in Fast Company, Ozy and Pittsburgh Magazine.