Pitt, CMU, UPMC CEOs Discuss Pittsburgh Region’s “Eds and Meds” Economy

Issue Date: 
September 30, 2009
Pitt engineering professor Kent Harries in his bamboo lab, part of the Pitt “green” tourPitt engineering professor Kent Harries in his bamboo lab, part of the Pitt “green” tour

With a huge photograph of Pittsburgh’s skyline as a stage backdrop, University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, Carnegie Mellon University President Jared L. Cohon, and UPMC CEO Jeffrey A. Romoff discussed the Pittsburgh region’s continuing transformation from a steel-based economy to one built on education and medicine.

The Sept. 21 panel discussion in the ballroom of Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall launched a week of foreign heads-of-state and delegation visits with related activities in Oakland that culminated in the Sept. 24-25 global G-20 Summit held Downtown. Newsweek Senior Editor and Pittsburgh native Howard Fineman moderated the 45-minute panel, which was attended by U.S. and foreign journalists. Also present were representatives from 20 local companies, all spin-offs of research conducted at Pitt, Carnegie Mellon, and UPMC; they were exhibiting their products at tables lining the room’s perimeter.

Fineman began the program by saying that he loves Pittsburgh and that even with his skeptical reporter’s hat on, “Pittsburgh has a story that needs to be known.”

“My grandmother and mother would shop Downtown when my mother was a girl, and they would take a change of blouses and a washcloth because the pollution from the open-hearth steel mills was so intense they couldn’t get through the day and stay clean. That was the Pittsburgh of the ’20s and ’30s, and that was a Pittsburgh that existed until the 1980s. That city is gone. And what has replaced it is a new city based on the economies of the future,” Fineman added.

Nordenberg, Cohon, and Romoff discussed their institutions’ respective contributions to the region, including the rapid rise of Pitt to a Top 5 ranking in terms of federal funding to its faculty researchers from the National Institutes of Health.

But it was Nordenberg who directly addressed how the three institutions cooperate with one another for the betterment of the region.

“In 2000, our Board of Trustees issued a public statement that we would demonstrate that the University of Pittsburgh was one of the finest, most productive universities in the world. That has been our goal ever since. ... But we really don’t think of ourselves as detached, particularly from the institutions represented on the other sides of me [today]. When you look at Jeff [Romoff], Jerry [Cohon], and me, you probably would not find three guys who are more competitive. But we are good collaborators, and we know that in this age you really need to define competition in a different way. We really are in it together,” Nordenberg said.

The Pitt chancellor then recalled that when Cohon came to Pittsburgh 10 years ago, he and the new Carnegie Mellon president met and they talked about how the two universities were sitting “side by side—one public, one private, one large, one mid-sized—with really complementary academic strengths. And we thought that there was really only one other place in the country—Cambridge, Mass.—where you could find the total academic firepower that you could find in Oakland. And we knew we needed to find ways to cooperate and harness that power for our own good and the good of the community. I think that is a part of the culture of Pittsburgh.”

Following the discussion, reporters were taken on several cutting-edge technology and research tours on the campuses of Carnegie Mellon, Pitt, and UPMC. Tour sites were Pitt’s Peter M. Winter Institute for Simulation, Education, and Research, Pitt’s Biomedical Science Tower 3, Pitt’s Center for Global Health, Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center, a Pitt Green Tour, Pitt’s Center for Energy, the Pitt-Carnegie Mellon Quality of Life Technology Center, and the Carnegie Mellon Intelligent Workplace.