What’s in a name? That which we call the Mon Valley (or at least a good chunk of it) has launched an initiative to rebrand as East Shore.
“We would not even be having this conversation four or five years ago,” says Bill Pfoff, president of the Enterprise Zone Corporation of Braddock (EZCB), which helps provide new and expanding businesses in Braddock, North Braddock, Rankin and Swissvale with access to grants, loans and state tax credits.
“We were sitting on a pile of money, and had literally very, very few requests for loans.”
Call it a matter of identity. The region has the housing stock, amenities and shovel-ready industrial sites to attract new residents and businesses, but EZCB, the entity behind the new name, believed that outdated perceptions persisted.
“We can’t really push the past in terms of the steel mill history,” says Pfoff, “because that’s not going to excite the younger generations. What are we doing to move forward? What are we doing to attract new people to our area, both residents and businesses?”
Fast-forward to today. “The new vitality of the area has really been good,” he says, but suddenly they were faced with the opposite problem: a shortage of funds.
Since 1985 EZCB has provided $2.7 million in direct loans, leveraged $15 million in other funding and helped to create 430 local jobs. They had enough money to cover their expenses, but were facing a situation where they didn’t have the funds needed to create more jobs and leverage loans.
As a result, Pfoff and others from EZCB met with Bill Flanagan at the Allegheny Conference, as well as other stakeholders, to discuss the idea of a rebrand, something that would challenge perceptions of the area and drive investment.
Corporate sponsor Peoples Gas stepped up with funding for a new website and an intern to help move things along. Z Brand Group created the logo.
“Peoples has worked with many of the Mon Valley communities and we see this as another stepping stone for the economic development of the area,” said spokesperson, Jacqueline Ziemianski.
EZCB Board Member and Swissvale Council Member Julie Grose says that the point of launching an East Shore initiative is about “changing the status quo” — a transformation of perception that’s as true for Pittsburgh as a whole as it is for these four boroughs.
“There’s so much available land and property that could allow people to live, play and work,” she says. “It’s time for that rebirth.”
EZCB member Evan Indianer is in many ways a prototype of the kind of entrepreneur they hope to attract. He is the co-founder and CEO of Unicentric, a software company that moved to Braddock from the Strip District in 2015.
While EZCB has yet to conduct a formal community outreach process, their board is made up of a cross-section of local citizens, business owners, nonprofits and representatives from each of the four boroughs. There has also been a 15-member committee formed within EZCB that is comprised of local stakeholders.
In addition to a packed October 26 kickoff meeting EZCB held at Grand View Golf Club in North Braddock (Braddock mayor John Fetterman and his family were in attendance), Indianer says that next steps involve arranging a summit with community groups and citizens in the area to establish a vision that would support revitalization while understanding and addressing current-day obstacles.
As for those who grew up with an affinity for the Mon Valley name, Grose had this to say:
“The Mon Valley will always be there…It’s not about replacing that history; it’s about adding to it.”