By Kelly Yagatich

I grew up amid the ruins of Pittsburgh’s postindustrial landscape, listening to stories about the past from my parents and grandparents. We’d drive by dilapidated buildings with boarded-up windows in Turtle Creek or Upper Lawrenceville, and my parents would reminisce about the days when Southwest Pennsylvania’s mill towns were booming.

From the backseat, I’d watch clouds of gray smoke emanating from the stacks of the Edgar Thomson steel mill, imagining a different world. The vision of the past that my parents and grandparents painted was one of prosperity and promise.

My story is not unique. It’s part of the expansive mosaic of memories and longing that make up the collective region’s understanding of progress and our future. Pittsburgh’s current economic vision — with its emphasis on eds and meds and technology — challenges the blue-collar industrial history that, for generations, defined our culture.

While we see this economic transition happening all over, here in the rust belt, the contrast between blue-collar and tech work, between rural and urban lifestyles and between past and future prosperity feels particularly stark.

The row house in Central Lawrenceville once owned by my poor, immigrant great-grandparents sold for nearly half a million dollars, while blighted, abandoned buildings now pepper Mon Valley communities — an area with one of the highest childhood asthma rates in the nation.

ReImagining Economic Development 

Southwest Pennsylvanians deserve better. We need to reinvent our regional economy so it doesn’t exploit workers or leave them jobless, sick and poor but builds upon the pride, strength and ingenuity of our workforce to create a better future.

With this in mind, the ReImagine initiative began in Beaver County in 2017, bringing community members to the table to envision a different, more sustainable future and encouraging them to take an active role in shaping our regional economic development. We — a coalition of community members and organizations — are launching a ReImagine Jobs Showcase to connect the dots between our vision and the current reality.

The website highlights sustainable economic development opportunities and job openings in Southwest PA and lays the groundwork for future areas of economic growth. For job seekers, educators, investors and community members, it provides information on and opportunities in nine green economy sectors:

  • Renewable Energy
  • Sustainable Construction
  • Conservation
  • Recreation and Tourism
  • Grid and Broadband
  • Regenerative Agriculture
  • Sustainable Construction
  • Green Chemistry and Manufacturing
  • Workforce Development

Showcasing a ReImagined Future

Just as our steel mills once made Pittsburgh the city that built America, so can our region’s workforce lead the way in creating a new future.

The ReImagine Jobs Showcase is meant to be a starting point. With public and private support, these sustainable industries that are already employing our friends and neighbors have the potential to continue to flourish here.

We’ll never be able to go back to the glory days of my grandparents. What will never change, though, is the need for family-sustaining employment that doesn’t jeopardize the health of our families, communities and planet. Our culture will continue to be defined by the hard work and sacrifice of our ancestors, and Southwest Pennsylvanians will remain proud, dedicated and inventive people.

We hope that you will join us as we explore what it means to ReImagine a future that prioritizes community and worker health and safety. That will be the future we can recall to our grandchildren with pride.

The ReImagine Jobs Showcase website will launch on Thursday, September 3 at 7 p.m. with a live-streamed event featuring a keynote presentation and panel discussion. More information can be found here.

NEXT guest writer

NEXTpittsburgh welcomes op-eds and thought pieces on a variety of topics from the community. If you have an idea, please contact us at info@nextpittsburgh.com