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CMU-Pitt official moving to development nonprofit

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By Ron Daparma
Thursday, Nov. 27, 2008

Donald F. Smith, director for economic development for Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, is leaving that post become the new president of the Regional Industrial Development Corp. of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Smith, 44, of Shadyside in early January will succeed Robert Stephenson, a former commercial real estate executive who is retiring after heading the RIDC since 2003.

Smith will become the fifth person to head the 53-year-old RIDC, one of the region's best known economic development organizations.

Founded in 1955, the private, nonprofit corporation started with development of hundreds of acres in campus-like suburban industrial parks and later turned its efforts to spearheading redevelopment of older industrial sites, including in McKeesport, Duquesne, East Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh.

Based at the Regional Enterprise Tower, Downtown, the organization, with a staff of 19, continues to work to foster economic development, owning or operating 10 industrial parks in nine area counties.

The RIDC's role has evolved over the years, starting with development of three large suburban industrial parks -- in O'Hara northeast of the city, in the Cranberry-Warrendale area to the northwest, and in the Parkway West corridor. Those parks are home to several hundred companies.

The corporation stepped forward to take a chance on redeveloping a number of former industrial sites, including at the closed Westinghouse Electric Corp. East Pittsburgh plant, where it operates the Keystone Commons industrial park, and at former U.S. Steel Corp. mill sites in Duquesne and McKeesport.

Stephenson of Upper St. Clair spent most of his career in the private real estate industry, including with the Edward J. DeBartolo Corp.

In 2003, he left his post as president of the Strategic Investment Fund -- a $70 million private investment fund that supports area development projects -- to succeed Frank Brooks Robinson Sr., who had headed the RIDC for 22 years.

"Bob Stephenson has done a terrific job," said Smith. "I hope to tap his expertise and experience as I transition into this new role. It will be hard to leave the universities, but I'm excited. I think we have the opportunity to do some really good things for the community."

Smith has been involved with numerous economic development initiatives since joining CMU as a professor and director of the school's Center for Economic Development in 1995. He's held the joint economic development post at Pitt and CMU, known as the University Partnership of Pittsburgh, since 2002.

"Don has done a great job in serving both universities in the economic arena," said Reynolds Clark, vice chancellor at Pitt.

"Both universities are going to miss him very much, but from the RIDC's standpoint, we're very excited about Don's willingness to come on board to be our new president," said Clark, who will serve as acting chairman of RIDC's board until a permanent successor to Smith is named.

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