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U.S. Commerce Secretary tours West Mifflin steel mill

| Friday, May 16, 2014, 3:41 a.m.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Trib Total Media
A walk past the cold mill caps a May 16, 2014 tour of the U.S. Steel Irvin Plant for U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, in the green jacket to the right of then-plant manager Amy Smith-Yoder, now general manager for the three plants making up the Mon Valley Works. Behind them are U.S. Steel president Mario Longhi with the white hard hat and United Steelworkers president Leo Gerard with the orange hard hat.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Tribune-Review
A U.S. Steel employee starts the cold mill process for a roll of sheet metal being finished at the Irvin Plant in West Mifflin.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker told community leaders in West Mifflin on Thursday that she wants to see Pittsburgh's success with workforce development repeated elsewhere.

“They want to replicate across the country how business and labor and government and our foundations all work together to improve the economic climate of Western Pennsylvania,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald after a luncheon at U.S. Steel's Irvin Plant.

The luncheon offered Pritzker a chance to learn about efforts under way locally to involve more employers in skills training.

Twenty-five business and civic leaders were invited including Port Vue native Dennis Yablonsky, president of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, who declined comment.

Pritzker came to promote a plan “to break down the silos between the private sector, the workforce system, training organizations, academic institutions and government to create a collaborative ecosystem.”

The federal departments of Commerce and Labor said Wednesday they will provide up to $53 million in grants through the Workforce Innovation Fund to aid unique approaches to the design and delivery of employment and training services.

The grants are on top of $171 million awarded the past two years through that fund, including $27 million in “Pay for Success” grants to social services last October.

That was three months after the Senate approved President Obama's nomination of Pritzker as commerce secretary.

“She has been a champion of workforce development,” U.S. Steel president Mario Longhi said as he toured the Mon Valley Works facility with Pritzker, plant manager Amy Smith-Yoder and United Steelworkers president Leo Gerard.

The Irvin Plant hosted Obama on Jan. 29, the day after his State of the Union address. On April 16 Pritzker joined the president and Vice President Joe Biden at the West Hills Center of Community College of Allegheny County.

There Obama announced “two significant actions” that did not require Congressional approval, the awarding of $500 million to aid “a seamless progression from community college programs to industry-recognized credentials and credit towards a college degree” and a $100 million competition for American Apprenticeship Grants.

Pritzker mentioned those funds in West Mifflin, saying her department wants to expand apprenticeships to cover computer programming and other non-traditional venues. Her efforts have Gerard's support.

“We have an obligation to the next generation to grow the country back,” the Steelworkers president said.

The West Mifflin visit coincided with plans for a Monday rally in Munhall on another issue involving Pritzker's department — pipe imports.

The Alliance for American Manufacturing is joining U.S. Steel and the Steelworkers for an 11 a.m. “Save Our Steel Jobs” event at the U.S. Steel Research and Technology Center in the Waterfront.

Alliance president Scott Paul said “South Korea ... sends nearly all of its product to the United States, consistently below market value.” Locally, it competes with pipe made at U.S. Steel's McKeesport Tubular Products plant using steel from the Mon Valley Works.

“We share the concern over unfair trade,” Pritzker said.

Scheduled to speak Monday are U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Scranton, and Reps. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, and Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills.

Longhi is slated to be there with Paul and United Steelworkers vice president Tom Conway. Fitzgerald said he would attend.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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