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Region's makeover intrigues Abu Dhabi delegation touring W.Pa.

| Friday, May 17, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A delegation from Abu Dhabi toured Pittsburgh's top historical, educational and business sites this week to answer one question: How was this region able to reinvent itself after the steel industry collapsed?

The answer is important to the Middle Eastern visitors, because Abu Dhabi wants to broaden its oil-fueled economy beyond its traditional base, the head of the 10-member delegation said Thursday, the fourth day of a five-day tour.

“The main purpose of our visit to Pittsburgh is to enrich delegates' understanding of the challenges associated with diversifying an economy and discuss that with the Pittsburgh leaders who succeeded at that,” said Mohammed Al Ketbi, senior leader of the Center of Excellence for the General Secretariat of the Executive Council of Abu Dhabi. The council is part of the government.

Abu Dhabi is one of seven principalities comprising the United Arab Emirates and is its capital. Dubai is another member of the UAE.

The UAE is the ninth-largest oil producer in the world, and 90 percent of its output comes from Abu Dhabi, according to the International Energy Agency.

Simin Curtis, CEO of Pitsburgh-based American Middle East Institute, guided the group through the city. The officials came to Pittsburgh because it “has become a great success story, and is getting attention around the world,” Curtis said. “They want to know how Pittsburgh survived and see things that made Pittsburgh successful.”

Since arriving on Sunday, the delegates toured Carnegie Mellon University, Westinghouse Electric, and U.S. Steel's research center in Munhall. They viewed the Bakery Square complex in East Liberty and talked to its developer Todd Reibord, and interviewed Urban Redevelopment Authority Director Thomas Link. They spoke to officials at Innovation Works, a nonprofit that funds startups, seeking to understand how projects and ideas get funded.

“Innovation Works was the most impressive part of the visit (because of) how they get everybody at one table — the investors, the innovators and entrepreneurs, and the universities,” said Al Ketbi.

The Abu Dhabi official said investing in the Pittsburgh region was “not part of our agenda.”

The UAE already has ties to the Pittsburgh region. Abu Dhabi's International Petroleum Investment Co. purchased Nova Chemicals Corp. in Moon Township for $2.3 billion in 2009. The Dubai Investment Group set up an office in Pittsburgh in 2008 to search for investments in North and South America.

There may be opportunities for Abu Dhabi to invest here later this year. The American Middle East Institute plans a business conference here as part of an Innovation Summit on Oct. 29 that will focus on energy and water issues.

John D. Oravecz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7882 or joravecz@tribweb.com. Staff writer Thomas Olson contributed to this report. He can be reached at 412-320-7854 or tolson@tribweb.com.

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