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What kind of tour would Pittsburgh's tech community give Amazon?

Aaron Aupperlee
| Friday, Jan. 19, 2018, 5:34 p.m.
The city of Pittsburgh skyline, from the West End Overlook, Sunday, June 5th, 2011. 
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
The city of Pittsburgh skyline, from the West End Overlook, Sunday, June 5th, 2011. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
In this April 27, 2017 file photo, construction continues on three large, glass-covered domes as part of an expansion of the Amazon.com campus in downtown Seattle. Amazon said Thursday, Sept. 7, that it will spend more than $5 billion to build another headquarters in North America to house as many as 50,000 employees.
In this April 27, 2017 file photo, construction continues on three large, glass-covered domes as part of an expansion of the Amazon.com campus in downtown Seattle. Amazon said Thursday, Sept. 7, that it will spend more than $5 billion to build another headquarters in North America to house as many as 50,000 employees.

World-class mountain bike trails crisscross Pittsburgh's Frick Park.

The city's neighborhoods are filled with restaurants, museums and music but have opportunity for development and renewal.

And maker spaces, startup accelerators and laboratories throughout the city embody Pittsburgh's legacy as a place that builds things but also showcase its innovative edge.

These places and more would top tours of Pittsburgh that people in its tech community would give to Amazon if they got the chance to take representatives of the company around the city.

“This place is just made to create good stories,” said Joel Johnson, CEO of BoXZY, a Pittsburgh startup that makes a three-in-one desktop 3D printer, CNC mill and laser engraver.

Amazon on Thursday put Pittsburgh among its top 20 candidates for its second headquarters. Officials who worked on Pittsburgh's bid said they expect the company to visit the city before making a final decision this year.

Stefani Pashman, head of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and a member of PGHQ2, the group formed to develop Pittsburgh's bid for Amazon's second headquarters and now shepherding the city through whatever happens next, wasn't able Friday to provide much about what they will show Amazon if the company visits.

“We haven't heard anything from Amazon about site visits yet, but we're certainly thinking about them and look forward to having the opportunity to showcase the region as the selection process progresses,” Pashman said in a statement. “And if we have the opportunity, we'd be happy to show Amazonians more of what differentiates Pittsburgh such as our diverse neighborhoods, community institutions, green spaces and our signature three rivers.”

Pashman said PGHQ2 is ready to customize tours to what Amazon wants to see.

Others told the Tribune-Review on Friday that Amazon better plan to book a whole week or longer to check out all that they would show. Several suggested showing Amazon the booming restaurant scene in Pittsburgh and introducing the company to the chefs and owners who took risks to open in the city. A trip up Mt. Washington is a must. Maybe also touring the rivers by boat. University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University and the innovations coming out of those universities made several lists.

“Amazon has always demonstrated that they are looking toward the future,” said Audrey Russo, head of the Pittsburgh Technology Council. “But we can't just show them nice shiny, things.”

Russo and others said Pittsburgh should show Amazon the city's neighborhoods that are in need of help and development. Those are places where you can build something, Russo said.

“I would absolutely drive them through Hazelwood and through Wilkinsburg,” said Josh Knauer, a tech entrepreneur and investor in Pittsburgh. “Understanding the potential and opportunity of the region would be really big.”

Stop No. 2 on Knauer's tour would be the Environmental Charter School on the edge of Frick Park. The school, which Knauer helped found, would show the unique educational opportunities the city has to offer.

Knauer and many others wanted to show off Pittsburgh's parks and rivers and the easy access to the Laurel Highlands and other outdoors beauties and adventures.

“It is unreal the amount of parkland that we have in the city and the amount of trees that we have in the city,” Knauer said. “And less than 45 minutes out of Pittsburgh, you are out in the Pennsylvania mountains and in the snow.”

Johnson would show Amazon places like where his business started. BoXZY was born at the former TechShop in Bakery Square. Johnson said he would show Amazon the maker spaces and freelance cooperatives around Pittsburgh like Protohaven, Prototype, HackPittsburgh. Those spaces showcase the city's talent and that talent's drive to create, build and share.

And if Amazon has a springtime visit to Pittsburgh on the books, Rich Lunak, president and CEO of Innovation Works, has two events for the company to check out. One would be the next AlphaLab Demo Day — “Sort of a rock concert for entrepreneurs,” Lunak said — where startups pitch their companies from some of the cities iconic stages to an audience that Lunak said is made up of every part of the community. The other would be Pittsburgh's Inclusive Innovation Week during which there is a series of discussions about how to make sure the tech community in Pittsburgh benefits everyone.

“It's sort of a unique outpouring of support for out community around innovators and technology,” Lunak said. “There is something special about both events.”

So Amazon, if you're free, the Demo Day will be this spring, and Inclusive Innovation Week starts April 2.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at aaupperlee@tribweb.com, 412-336-8448 or via Twitter @tinynotebook.

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