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Two Inflection Points, One Strategic Vision


Mark Anthony Thomas, SF ’14

Pittsburgh Regional Alliance (PRA) President Mark Anthony Thomas, SF ’14, was recruited as a disruptor. “I’ve always been a nontraditional person in my roles,” says Thomas, “and leading the PRA is no exception. My appointment in 2019 came with a clear understanding that I would not be taking a business-as-usual approach.” As PRA president, Thomas is responsible for creating, developing, and executing the area’s economic development strategy to drive job creation and business investment.

He spent his first four months on the job getting to know PRA’s 10-county territory. “I saw the suffering in the American economy up close and personal in our region,” Thomas recalls. “But I also saw that Pittsburgh has the key components of many of the world’s great cities—physical infrastructure, outstanding higher education, vibrant arts and cultural scene—plus an advantage that urban centers such as Boston, New York, and San Francisco don’t have. We’re affordable.”

New plan, newer delivery systems
Thomas’ strategic vision for the PRA debuted in late 2019, and the plan was to begin showcasing the rebranded Pittsburgh regional market to stakeholders and investors in early 2020. “We were ramping up just as COVID-19 hit the U.S., and in-person business activities were shutting down,” he says. “It was a tough blow because we now had to sell people on a place they couldn’t visit.”

The stay-at-home orders also constrained one of Thomas’ most effective tools—his charisma. “Meeting with people and sharing our story is one of my favorite parts of the job,” he says. The PRA team lost no time, however, in finding partners and tools to transform their outreach into virtual experiences. “I was pleasantly surprised to find that my connectivity with stakeholders actually increased,” says Thomas. “And our strategic vision is perfectly aligned with the needs heightened by this crisis. Plus, our partners are more motivated than ever to devote attention and resources to economic development.”

Turning two inflection points into lasting progress
Even as public and private sector leaders around the country grappled with the challenges and opportunities posed by the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020 introduced a second seismic shift in public consciousness. “It was clear almost immediately that this was the moment for the country to recognize that African Americans want to reap the full benefits of American citizenship,” says Thomas. “As a person who has successfully navigated the labyrinth of obstacles designed to keep Black people from succeeding in America, I feel uniquely empowered to use my voice to push change.”

Thomas says that these two inflection points have triggered an acceleration of engagement at the local and regional levels. “In the Pittsburgh region, for example, expedited permitting processes and increased support for economically depressed communities are being discussed and implemented at a pace we never could have achieved through conventional advocacy. The challenge going forward will be to keep stakeholders focused on promoting the next ten years of progress once the street protests subside and public attention is drawn to other issues.”

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