RIDC was founded in the mid 1950s when Pittsburgh’s business and civic leadership were concerned that the region did not have the space to attract companies contributing to the nation’s light industrial boom. With heavy manufacturing taking up much of the available space in the region’s center and along the rivers, the newly formed RIDC looked to the suburbs to find space for new businesses. Forty and fifty years later, those suburban parks are some of the region’s most highly desired locations for businesses and home to the corporate offices and manufacturing spaces to names such as Giant Eagle, Mitsubishi, and Emerson.
Although many of the buildings are now privately owned, RIDC’s role in creating these industrial and office parks was integral to their success. RIDC assembled land with help from local partners and completed the site preparations, utility installation, and roads required to open the site up for development. In the three initial suburban parks - RIDC Industrial Park, RIDC Park West, and RIDC Thorn Hill - RIDC built several buildings to catalyze the park and spur further private-sector investment. Some of these buildings were designed for specific companies, while others remain multi-tenant facilities available for lease to the region’s businesses.
Success stories: TruFood Mfg
As an attempt to save a local candy manufacturer, RIDC purchased and renovated an O’Hara building. After several years of operation the company moved out of the region, subsequently RIDC attracted a new candy company to occupy the facility and continue manufacturing. After several years of successful operation, the Tsudis Chocolate Company purchased the facility from RIDC as part of an expansion plan that created many new jobs. They rebranded as TruFood Manufacturing, expanding past chocolates into nutritional products sold at most food stores. They are one of the largest employers in O'Hara Township.
As with many other Rust Belt cities, Pittsburgh had to endure watching as their once-booming factories became empty buildings creating holes in their communities. But over the past 30 years, Pittsburgh has been working hard to reinvent itself, with RIDC tackling some of the region’s most challenging projects. Large vacant facilities, which once housed companies that put Pittsburgh on the map, have been transformed into modern workplaces for the companies creating the jobs of tomorrow’s economy.
After over 100 years of operation, Westinghouse closed its East Pittsburgh plant in the late 1980s. The site had important historical importance, not only as a place of 20,000 jobs, but also as the location of the first radio broadcast. Without the Westinghouse operation, the community was faced with a vacant complex and the huge loss of employment. RIDC purchased the site and started a development plan process with State, County, and local support that included a creative idea to redevelop the complex into a multi-tenant center - a plan that would provide the community with greater job stability. Today the complex, now called Keystone Commons, is home to more than 30 companies and is considered one of the most successful redevelopment projects in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
In 2010, RIDC was approached with a similar challenge and opportunity when the Sony Corporation decided to close its Westmoreland manufacturing facility, leaving 2.8 million square feet of vacant space and displacing thousands of workers. RIDC decided to incorporate the successful approach used at Keystone Commons to rehabilitate the facility, now called RIDC Westmoreland, into a multi-tenant manufacturing hub.
Companies of Tomorrow
The once-sprawling facility of the energy giant Westinghouse, Keystone Commons has been able to accommodate the growth of a new energy company. Holtec International, which makes products for spent nuclear fuel storage systems and transfer, has their manufacturing division in Keystone Commons. Now employing 400 at the Pittsburgh location, the company continues to expand into new markets.
In the huge space left by Sony (and Chrysler and Volkwagen before them), the space now has the first of its new tenants, one of which is Aquion Energy, an emerging Carnegie Mellon University spin-out. Aquion Energy is developing a sodium-ion aqueous electrolyte battery that will enhance the electrical grid by providing flexible, emissions-free capacity that optimizes existing generation assets and enables broad adoption of renewable energy technologies, and their business model anticipates as many as 250 workers by the end of 2015. The company maintains their R&D and corporate headquarters in the city of Pittsburgh, allowing their management and staff easy access to the new large-scale manufacturing operation.
While the sites of former companies continue to have assets that are attractive to new companies, such as rail and barge infrastructure or central transportation access, many of these sites sit near the center of their communities with assets for recreation and quality of life. Whether preparing a steel site for a walkable residential community, creating one of the first downtown residences, facilitating the construction of miles of bike trails, or implementing the community vision for a multi-use site, RIDC has turned the region's old sites into places communities are proud to reclaim.
After Edgewater Steel closed its facilities in 1997, RIDC took ownership of the site as a part of a joint-partnership with a private investor with RIDC assuming full ownership in 2002. RIDC cleared and remediated the site in preparation for its development as a mixed-use community. With much of the land development completed, RIDC sold the property to be developed by KACIN, Inc. and EQA. The site has been a success, with new residents enjoying sustainable neighborhood living on the serene riverfront site.
RIDC started acquiring some Downtown properties in 1990 in order to help retain corporate tenants. When these tenants relocated to other locations Downtown, RIDC partnered with the Cultural Trust to convert these into residences to encourage downtown living. The Penn Garrison conversion was completed in 2002 with RIDC managing the complex until it was sold in 2011. These were some of the first new apartments in Downtown, which has now become a residential destination.
Once a smoky city, Pittsburgh has transformed into a city whose residents can enjoy a plethora of recreation activities outside and along the rivers. RIDC has facilitated the construction of miles of bike trail - going through parks in McKeesport and Duquesne - on the Great Allegheny Passage which connects downtown Pittsburgh with Washington, D.C. At Almono, RIDC is planning for both a commuting bike track on the road and a recreation trail near the river. RIDC also constructed trails at its Innovation Ridge development and facilitated construction of trails by Marshall Township in the Thorn Hill Industrial Park.
RIDC purchased the Bakery complex after Nabisco left in 1999. The community wanted to retain the bakery’s jobs and RIDC helped recruit another bakery, Atlantic Baking, to the facility, and started the plan to incorporate community businesses and space for the Oakland universities. After the baking company failed, RIDC sold the complex to a private developer to carry out the rest of the development plan. Today, Bakery Square is a successful multi-use development with key tenant Google in the heart of the comeback community East Liberty.
Once the location of the sprawling Jones & Laughlin Coke Works and then LTV Steel, the Almono Partnership with RIDC as the managing partner took control of the 178-acre Hazelwood property in 2002 in order to preserve the site for a quality and sustainable mixed-use development.
With a community-backed vision plan for light industrial, office, and residential space, RIDC has begun land development to prepare the site. The public infrastructure investment includes 56 acres of rights-of-way that will also include utility lines, bike lanes and stormwater management; 26 acres of common open space; access to a mile-and-a-half of riverfront, and off-site transportation improvements to address regional concerns. At final build-out, the site is expected to contain over 6,000 jobs and over 2,500 units of housing.
In the late 1980s, Pittsburgh was dealt a tough blow - the closing of several steel plants. The Mon Valley communities were among the hardest hit. RIDC, who at that time only had experience with greenfield development, was seen as a regional leader that could tackle the challenge. Not only did RIDC work to make the physical improvements that people now see on site - environmental remediation, demolition of deteriorating structures, rehab of reusable industrial buildings, new roads, flyover ramps, and landscaping - but RIDC had a key role in pushing through the State legislation that makes Pennsylvania a brownfield redevelopment leader today. The two sites - once sister U.S. Steel National Works facilities - are now home to over 1,100 jobs.
RIDC has invested nearly $100 million of investment in the McKeesport and Duquesne sites, including demolition of several deteriorated structures, a new road network, rehabilitation of several industrial buildings that now house new companies, site access amenities such as flyover ramps and intersection improvements, and new buildings.
The Duquesne and McKeesport sites are home to several successful companies. Dura-Bond, a company that coats steel pipe, constructed a new manufacturing facility in Duquesne in 2012 in order to keep up with demand from the emergence of the Marcellus and Utica Shale gas production.
When looking at the recovery of Pittsburgh’s economy over the last 30 years, the role of “Eds and Meds” is an often-cited contributor. Not only has Pittsburgh been successful in these industries, but also in creating new businesses that support the medical institutions and new businesses that are inspired by research taking place at the universities. RIDC has played a key role at helping these new businesses settle in Pittsburgh, rather than taking their budding businesses to typical tech-oriented locations in Silicon Valley and Boston.
CMU and Pitt developments
RIDC has been involved in several university-related projects - working to create incubator space, constructing facilities for Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, and assisting companies to find space near the universities. RIDC was putting together a strategy for incubator space in the 1980s and started building incubators in the 1990s. RIDC assisted the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon in their construction of buildings at the Pittsburgh Technology Center. RIDC also built the University Technology Development Centers (UTDC), the Software Engineering Institute, and the Collaborative Innovation Center (CIC).
The CIC provides office and lab space for technology companies wishing to collaborate with CMU to create innovative new concepts and products for the marketplace. The building was the first Pittsburgh home to Google and Apple, who both expanded to other locations in Pittsburgh. RIDC sold the building in 2014.
Finding a home in the region
RIDC has helped several companies spinning-out of the university find space in the region and finance the build-out of their facility.
- FORE Systems was a computer network switching equipment company created by four CMU professors. The company, which became a global success before being purchased by GEC in 1999 for $4.5 billion, spun out of the UTDC in Oakland to RIDC’s property in RIDC Thorn Hill.
- RIDC housed Seegrid, maker of robotic vehicles for the distribution industry, first in the Chocolate Factory in Lawrenceville and now in RIDC Park West. Seegrid was named an “Innovator of the Year” finalist in this year’s Pittsburgh Tech 50 awards.
- RedZone Robotics and nanoGriptech are both tenants of RIDC’s Chocolate Factory in Lawrenceville. RedZone Robotics, co-founded by CMU professor Red Whittaker, makes robots that can inspect wastewater pipes. President Obama visited the company in 2011 to highlight how they are creating jobs and fulfilling a need for local governments across the country. nanoGriptech is an R&D company that was spun off from research conducted at CMU that focused on replicating the characteristics of gecko’s feet for commercial applications, such as gloves.
- In 2012, Aquion Energy, another CMU spin-out, announced it had chosen to stay in the Pittsburgh region for its first large-scale manufacturing facility. The company is locating in the RIDC Westmoreland facility, and RIDC is currently offering financial assistance and project management in the build-out of their space. The company makes a sodium-ion battery and plans to have over 350 jobs in the next few years.
Lawrenceville Robotics Hub
Carnegie Mellon University set up their National Robotics Engineering Center in a redevelopment warehouse building in Lawrenceville. NREC has become extremely successful, and RIDC’s developments have enabled companies who want to “spin-out” but remain close to their CMU ties to locate in a RIDC facility next door. Combined with NREC, RIDC’s Chocolate Factory (once the site of Geoffrey Boehm Chocolates but redeveloped into a high-tech office and R&D space) and RIDC’s Blue Building (the large former Heppenstall Steel manufacturing building now the new home of new company Carnegie Robotics), the area in Lawrenceville has become a robotics cluster.
RIDC has invested in the region’s outlying counties with the following projects:
- Meadow Ridge Business Park (1997) in Greene County near the border of West Virginia. Along with the Greene County Industrial Development Corporation, RIDC helped to develop the park for businesses, including construction of a multi-occupancy building.
- Neshannock Business Park (1997) in Lawrence County. RIDC is developing this 150-acre park near Interstate-376 north of New Castle. There are currently 5 privately-owned buildings.
- Butler Pullman Plaza building (1999) in downtown Butler. RIDC built a multi-occupancy commercial building.
- Beaver Industrial Manor building (1986) in the Hopewell Industrial Park in Beaver County. RIDC constructed the first building in Beaver County Corporation for Economic Development’s development to spur private investment in the project.
- West Hills Commons building (1998) in Armstrong County. RIDC constructed a multi-occupancy building.
- RIDC Westmoreland (2012) in Westmoreland County. First sponsoring financing for the facility and eventually taking ownership and managing the sprawling 2.8 million square foot building, RIDC is redeveloping the former Chrysler and Sony plant to multi-occupancy use. Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corporation is an important partner in the project.