“Our greatest asset is that people arrive here with no or low expectations and leave thinking; What A Great Town” I’d say, oh, once every few minutes a day prospecting for convention business. Once the client had consented to visit they would inevitably announce that they had a totally different image of Pittsburgh in their mind. Smoky city, rust-belt city, hell with the lid off, are all descriptions that people believed, if they had never actually visited The City of Pittsburgh. I totally get it.
Invited to interview for the National Sales Director position at VisitPittsburgh when I lived outside Chicago, I’d never been to downtown Pittsburgh. Being born in Gary, Indiana and growing up in the shadows of many steel plants there, I thought I knew gritty Pittsburgh. When I got the call, I accepted, thinking that it would be a great “practice interview”. When I tell the story I admit to adding the air quotes and continuing with; “Who wants to hold their convention in a steel mill town”?
Flying to Pittsburgh the evening before my interview in the fall of 2005 I still believed it was only a throw-away research trip. After checking into my hotel I ventured down Penn Avenue through the Cultural District, into Market Square and then to the Point. Well, hell there was barely a smoke stack in sight. There were people rushing here and there and a vibrancy that had not been anticipated. Although no one would ever confuse it with Downtown Disney, Pittsburgh was not a rust belt city from my personal experience. No it was occupied, vibrant and being utilized the way downtowns in other Midwest communities would only know from pictures or memory.
So after interviewing and being offered the job, I did a complete 180 and accepted the National Sales Director position on the spot. My thinking was I’d stay a few years, book some events, pad the resume and when the time was right move on to greener pastures. Ideally my tourism career would wind down in a Mountain Resort, where I could spend my Golden Years working part-time as a ski lift operator, earning my seasonal pass to take the occasional ski run. Talk about low expectations. Apparently, not only had I arrived for my interview with a less than stellar outlook for the City of Pittsburgh, but with rather restricted hopes and dreams for my own future, as well.
Almost immediately, however, as I explored my new environment, the city seemed to be working it’s magic on me the way it does with countless visitors. I watched and read eagerly about all the research and development going on in the city the way a tourist in another country may try to learn the language, sample the cuisine, or explore indigenous art and architecture. Green buildings, sustainable design, innovative technologies were not new concepts to me but the extent and frequency with which they were discussed here was quite new & extraordinary.
It was eye-opening, it was mind altering and somehow I knew, very early on in my personal discovery of Pittsburgh, this tenure would change me for the better. All the buzz about sustainability and innovation made me think of the product I had invented and patented a decade earlier and soon those thoughts would turn to full-blown obsession. Pittsburgh really was a surprise to me and is a Great Town and therefore there really was only one choice in mind when it came to naming my product PITTMOSS(TM). Well, actually it was renamed PITTMOSS(TM) but that is a story for another time.