Barbara Bateman McNees Featured

10:01am EDT July 22, 2002

It would be tough to find a Rust Belt city where more development lies on the horizon or is in progress than Pittsburgh. And all of that activity will have been compressed into a few years, a nanosecond in a region that tends to loathe change.

It’s no wonder that Barbara Bateman McNees, executive director of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, finds the local attention on the restructuring of the region’s economic development superstructure—rather than on the bricks and mortar—a bit exaggerated.

“Internally, it’s not an issue,” she insists. “It’s of more interest outside the organization.”

By contrast, McNees says, it’s not unusual to hear from movers and shakers in other cities wondering just how the heck all of this stuff is getting done in Pittsburgh.

It can prove befuddling, then, when Pittsburghers don’t see what all the fuss is about.

“We don’t always see that internally,” says McNees.

For her, the challenge this year will be to keep the momentum going that began with projects now getting up to speed, and to continue to fill the chamber’s traditional role of business retention and provider of information to business people and referral seekers.

“Our role in the region will be to continue to focus on retaining the businesses that are already here,” says McNees. “Businesses still and always will continue to look to benefits that improve their business and improve their bottom lines.”

Debate continues over how the chamber and four other economic development agencies will be guided within the context of their membership in the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance. Some leaders have suggested a single board govern all five organizations under the PRA. Another camp favors individual board governance. McNees says, the five share some administrative functions already, and even a consolidation of boards would likely mean most involved in the individual agencies would be at the table in any new board.

But it would be naive to assume that a few dozen powerful and influential business leaders, whose board memberships serve at least some self-interest, would not clash on this issue.

As the major projects reach completion, the chamber no doubt will be trumpeting its role in job creation and business retention. The problem for the chamber and McNees may be in dealing with the crush of businesses that want to locate operations in the city.

Not a bad problem to have.