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Development group gets own chief

| Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Catalyst Connection, one of the four economic development agencies sharing space in South Oakland, on Monday named Petra Mitchell as president -- the first of several changes afoot at those organizations.

Namely, instead of keeping the structure of one chief executive for the four groups, at least two of them are getting presidents. Plus, they might move to new quarters, officials said.

Mitchell, 41, joined Catalyst Connection as senior operations consultant in 1994 and had been acting president since early April. She was named to the post when Steven Zylstra resigned as president of it and the Pittsburgh Technology Council, as well as two other sister groups, after heading them for seven years.

Catalyst Connection, formerly known as the Southwestern Pennsylvania Industrial Resource Center, was founded in 1988. Its $6.3 million budget goes to provide manufacturing assistance and to link small- to mid-sized manufacturers to new technology and processes.

Zylstra also was CEO of the Doyle Center for Manufacturing Technology and the Pennsylvania NanoMaterials Commercialization Center. The organizations collectively employ about 75 people, but traditionally shared CEOs and chiefs of finance, information, human resources and the like.

"She's ready. She is an extraordinarily capable person and has grown a lot in the last four to five years," said Zylstra, who is doing economic development consulting.

"I don't believe the job is too big for one person, but it takes a special sort of person to compartmentalize things and to manage priorities," he said.

The Pittsburgh Technology Council, founded in 1983, recently hired executive search firm Boyden International to find a new president, economic development spokesman Kevin Lane said.

"The Doyle center and the NanoMaterials center have yet to indicate their plans, but we expect they will locate top executives for those organizations as well," he said. Both of those agencies are led by their executive directors. "Each board is evaluating its organizational structure and will make recommendations soon," Lane said.

One of those changes might be a relocation from the agencies' shared space at 2000 Technology Drive in South Oakland. Their lease of two floors runs through October 2008.

"One option is that we stay where we're at," technology council Chairman John Friel said. "But the space is less than desirable in terms of its configuration."

The technology council, one of the first and largest such organizations in the U.S., has almost 1,400 member companies in 13 Western Pennsylvania counties and a budget of more than $5 million. It tracks statistics, links consultants to members, provides networking sessions and lobbies for technology-friendly public policy.

Created in 2003, the Doyle Center has a $2.5 million budget and provides technology services, training and other services to help small manufacturers boost business with the defense industry. The NanoMaterials Center, formed last year, promotes and supports commercialization of nanomaterials research and has a $1.7 million budget.

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