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150 companies consider operations in W. Pa.

| Friday, Nov. 9, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

About 150 companies mulling a move or expansion in Western Pennsylvania are in contact with recruiters from the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, a local agency that works to bring business here.

That's up from a typical 90, said Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, the parent agency of the PRA and other area economic development affiliates.

Anyone might figure the region's booming energy industry accounts for the increase in companies expanding here, he said. While the Marcellus shale and other energy businesses are the biggest sector, “there also are advanced manufacturing and finance and information technology and life sciences” companies.

“I think it's the constant accolades the region has been getting about the business climate and quality of life, and the education of people” here, Yablonsky said. ”There are more people aware of Pittsburgh as a site to do business.”

That's the message Yablonsky was to deliver to an expected 600 people at the conference's annual meeting Thursday night at the Fairmont Pittsburgh Hotel, Downtown. He also planned to discuss needed improvements to transit, taxes, employment opportunities and other issues.

The 66-year-old conference is headed by the region's top business and civic leaders. It strives to promote economic development in 10 area counties. Charles E. Bunch, CEO of PPG Industries Inc., is the chairman of the conference.

The expected crowd at the meeting is an increase from 450 for the 2011 meeting and one of the best turnouts in recent years.

It's a sign that interest in regional issues is increasing, Yablonsky said.

Some of those issues are:

• Pittsburgh International Airport must increase service. Delta's flight to Paris was renewed and Southwest added flights to Houston and West Palm Beach, and a longer-term goal is to pull connecting traffic from congested East Coast airports to empty gates at the Findlay complex, Yablonsky said.

• Port Authority avoided deep service cuts this year with short-term funding, but if the state raised fees for driver's licenses and auto registrations and the tax on wholesale gasoline sales, then the issue of service cuts might not resurface, he said. The fees and tax haven't gone up in many years and could generate $2.5 billion for infrastructure and transit statewide. “We're planning a renewed push in January to get this moving,” he said of the proposal by a governor's advisory committee.

• More than 1,700 energy-related companies employ more than 60,000 workers in Western Pennsylvania and nearby regions, generating $25 billion in economic activity, a Pennsylvania Economy League of Greater Pittsburgh study found. The conference commissioned Development Dimensions International in Bridgeville to analyze future energy workforce needs.

• The conference partnered with 113 Industries Inc., a South Oakland innovation promotion company, to study entrepreneurial programs nationwide that help black entrepreneurs. The conference's Pittsburgh Impact initiative promotes women- and minority-owned companies, along with other promising ventures.

Kim Leonard is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5606 or kleonard@tribweb.com.

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