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New leader of Allegheny County development group touts engagement

| Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Morgan K. O'Brien said his strategy for building the region's economy as the next leader of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development will be to engage communities and businesses whether large or small.

O'Brien, CEO of Peoples Natural Gas, will succeed Charles Bunch, CEO of PPG Industries Inc., on Jan. 1 as the leader of a 67-year-old group whose mission is to promote development in the region. Bunch headed the group for two years.

“Generations ago, our reputation was big business,” O'Brien said in a telephone interview before the group's annual meeting. “But today, our economy is made up of many businesses and groups. ... My job will be to make sure we have as much engagement as possible.”

The Allegheny Conference, made up of the region's top business and civic leaders, was founded in 1944 and since 2003 has operated as an umbrella for the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, Pennsylvania Economy League and the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance.

The conference held its annual meeting on Wednesday in the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland, where it updated attendees on the group's three-year growth agenda that was started in 2012. The agenda focuses on a competitive business climate and attracting investment, jobs and talent. More than 300 companies and organizations in the 10-county region contributed.

In his interview, O'Brien outlined some of the group's recent accomplishments. They included a community development program sponsored by the state and funded by companies that receive tax credits of as much as 80 percent for their contributions.

McKees Rocks Community Development Corp. and Wilkinsburg Community Development Corp. were granted funding on Monday for neighborhood improvement projects under the state program. McKees Rocks is set to receive $1.5 million and Wilkinsburg $2 million — all from local companies.

Jake Haulk, president of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, a Castle Shannon think tank, and a past critic of the conference, said such efforts are OK as long as they don't require public subsidies.

“I don't have any trouble with trying to induce investment if the program can pay off, if it gets people to invest in the area and create jobs,” Haulk said. “But I'm skeptical of some programs because of their inability to do what they promise. ... With private money going in, I'm not as concerned as if it was tax money.”

John D. Oravecz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7882 or joravecz@tribweb.com.

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