Pittsburgh a finalist for Slovenian lighting firm's new plant

Tom Fontaine
| Friday, Nov. 1, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The head of a Slovenian LED light maker is returning to Pittsburgh this month to meet with potential investors who could help pay to build a streetlight manufacturing facility in the city, officials said Thursday.

City Councilman Bill Peduto, D-Point Breeze, said Pittsburgh is one of three finalists for a Grah Lighting plant that could employ at least 100 people and become the company's North American headquarters. It could be the main supplier for the city's conversion to more energy-efficient streetlights.

The company's owner, Robert Grah, traveled to Pittsburgh in March to meet with Peduto and county and state officials. Peduto returned the favor last month, meeting with Grah and touring a factory during a trip to Slovenia.

“He has made it very evident that he wants to move as expeditiously as possible,” Peduto said, declining to offer a timetable.

Grah did not return messages.

Grah is expected to meet with potential investors during his Nov. 15 trip to Pittsburgh, said Peduto and Jurcek Zmauc, Slovenia's consul general for 10 U.S. states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio and Colorado — all of which are in the running for the proposed streetlight plant.

Peduto, the Democratic candidate and overwhelming favorite for mayor in Tuesday's election, said Grah wants to locate in a city that is looking to convert to LED streetlights. Pittsburgh began doing that in July 2011. It has replaced about 3,000 traditional streetlights with LED ones, using a $816,000 state grant for the project.

Officials say they want to replace the city's 37,000 remaining streetlights to reduce energy use and cut costs. Although the new lights cost more, Peduto's office said traditional lights need to be replaced about once every two years, compared with about once every two decades for the LED lights. A city report released three years ago estimated Pittsburgh could save $800,000 to $1 million annually by converting. It spends more than $3.2 million a year on the associated electricity and $1 million on maintenance, according to the report.

Peduto said Grah won't be assured a streetlight supplier contract yet, but officials could structure the request for proposals in a way that gives “bonus points” to manufacturers based in Pittsburgh.

Peduto said Grah is looking for financial partners to invest about $3 million in a plant. Peduto said the city would likely pour money into a project and seek state and federal funding, though he did not say how much.

Peduto's office said the councilman also plans to take Grah to potential sites for a plant, including the 178-acre former LTV Steel Co. site in Hazelwood that is being prepped for $1 billion in development.

Grah also will spend time in Cleveland, where he plans to attend a conference hosted by the Slovenian-American Business Association, said Zmauc, whose consul office is in Cleveland. Grah's U.S. itinerary includes a visit to a company facility in Detroit that makes automotive lighting.

“I can tell you now that Pittsburgh's energy for this is really unique. I think we have really huge possibilities,” Zmauc said.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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