Photo by Bill O'Toole.

On Thursday afternoon, more than 1,200 leaders in business, politics and academia gathered in Downtown Pittsburgh to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and the broader success of our region.

“Having lived here my whole life, I have never been more bullish about where we’re going and our opportunities for the future,” said Allegheny County Executive Rish Fitzgerald in his opening remarks at the Our Next 75 conference.

Fitzgerald was joined on stage by Butler County Commissioner Kim Geyer, who touted the Conference’s growing focus on all of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

“In the 1940s, our local leaders focused on the urban core of Pittsburgh,” said Geyer. “Today we have a region that we are focused on, and we’re working together on.”

Following their remarks, attendees were scheduled to hear from several nationally recognized experts on economic development.

Today’s gathering follows three Regional Visioning Workshops held in May in the surrounding counties earlier this year. In response to those workshops, the Allegheny Conference drew up a list of more than 1,000 local leaders to invite to today’s gathering.

Caterina Fake, the co-founder of Flickr, former chair of Etsy and also an angel investor and renowned podcaster, gave the keynote address.

She was followed by Andy Levine, chairman of Development Counsellors International (DCI), who led the crowd in a brainstorming activity. The goal: to discuss the challenges facing our region and compare notes on what is being done to move the region forward to better align their efforts.

Fake was born and spent her early life in Pittsburgh. “I left at a very young age,” she said. “Nonetheless, I have learned some incredible entrepreneurial lessons here.”

Speaking to the media prior to her speech, Fake said that over the next generations, Pittsburgh has a chance to avoid the perils of income inequality and economic displacement that have plagued innovation hubs like New York City and the Bay Area.

“Here it’s all possibility and potential,” said Fake.

Of course, there were also some sober assessments to go along with all the positivity.

Levine pointed to several areas he thought were in particular need of attention: “Probably the transportation system could be stronger,” he said. “And the population could be more diversified.”

But Levine went on to say that our region’s low cost of living, combined with access to elite research and world-class universities, could well be a winning combination in the next 75 years.

“So you have the talent, and you have a lower cost of operations,” said Levine. “That’s a very powerful mechanism for success.”

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Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.