True to it’s name, Vibrant Pittsburgh made a colorful splash with more than 200 attending the unveiling of its new diversity and workforce initiative at the August Wilson Center for African-American Culture.

Part of that splash was due to the heavyweight partners and board members joining CEO Melanie Harrington for the Dec.16 press conference, including board co-chairs Alex Johnson, CCAC president; and Sunil Wadhwani, co-founder of iGate Corp.; U.S. Steel CEO John Surma; and Chatham University President Esther Barazzone.

MELANIE HARRINGTON, Vibrant Pittsburgh CEO. (Photo by Rossano P. Stewart)

Other attendees included Coro Center CEO Sala Udin; Allegheny Conference on Community Development CEO Dennis Yablonski; and Urban League President and CEO Esther Bush.

In his welcoming remarks, Wadhwani said that if the region is to grow economically, diversity must be a priority if for no other reason than demographics.

“In the last 10 years, Pittsburgh lost 100,000 people. We have one of the oldest workforces in the country, and the county’s minority population is about 11 percent,” he said. “Conversely, 59 percent of people entering the workforce are minorities. So, recruiting and retaining these workers is critical.”

The good news, he said, is corporate and political leaders now understand this, and it is why they are supporting Vibrant Pittsburgh.

“This organization is spearheading a new Renaissance, but this Renaissance is about people,” he said. “This is about transforming the region into a welcoming and inclusive region and promoting it globally.”

Surma, whose company operates in 40 countries said diversity and inclusion are perhaps more critical here than anywhere else the company does business.

“Kids entering the workforce today will have 15-20 jobs over their lifetime, and in all our employment surveys, diversity is one of the top 3 criteria they cite,” he said. “So Vibrant Pittsburgh fits into the puzzle we’re trying to solve.”

Harrington, a former employment litigation specialist from Atlanta, served as the president of the American Institute for Managing Diversity before coming to Pittsburgh.

She said in addition to recruiting and retaining racially diverse talent to help revitalize the regional economy, Vibrant Pittsburgh also has an “elevation” component designed to  increase career opportunities for economically disadvantaged minorities already here.

“Businesses want to know there is a workforce in place before they come here,” she said. “There are 20,000 available right now that don’t require a four-year degree. I’m excited about creating those employment pathways for the disadvantaged and chronically underemployed. We don’t want to leave people behind.”

Harrington said Vibrant Pittsburgh would initially focus on opportunities being created in the advanced manufacturing, energy, financial and business services, healthcare, life sciences, and information and communications technology sectors.

Along those lines, the organization has established early collaborations with regional energy companies to recruit and retain engineers, with the University of Pittsburgh and CCAC to create pathways to healthcare careers for disadvantaged young people from 9th grade to age 24, and with the establishment of an Immigration Law Center at the University of Pittsburgh Law School.

Vibrant Pittsburgh has also created a Welcome Center as part of its retention effort to act as a one-stop shop for newcomers that not only provides translation, referrals and other support services, but also facilitates social and cultural network resources. It will also launch a New Arrivals pilot initiative in the spring.

African American Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Doris Carson Williams said she was impressed with the Vibrant Pittsburgh announcement.

“This is a big announcement. I expect a lot from Melanie’s maiden voyage,” she said. “It’s huge in terms of recruitment for the region. And we’ll see results begin to flow shortly.”

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