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Rec2Tech, EVs are top tech priorities in Peduto’s final budget

The outgoing mayor's proposed 2022 budget sets aside money for workforce development programs and electrification of city transportation. Is there enough funding to support local startups?

Mayor Bill Peduto gives his final budget address. (Photo via Twitter)

Mayor Bill Peduto‘s final budget calls for new spending on tech workforce development and industry partnerships to grow the number of electric vehicles in the city’s fleet. But concrete programs supporting startups and early-stage innovation doesn’t seem to be a priority for next year.

Earlier this month, Peduto shared his final budget proposal for the city as he comes to the end of his eight-year tenure in the role. The budget, which covered planned tax revenues and projected capital expenses for 2022, can be amended by the City Council through the end of the year. State Representative and new Mayor-Elect Ed Gainey will also have an opportunity to make amendments with the council once he takes office in January.

The new budget allocates money for infrastructure, parks maintenance, city facilities, environmental management and more, but it also sets aside money for some upgrades to tech workforce development, namely through new investments into the free youth education program Rec2Tech currently offered through the City’s parks system. The budget also sets aside money for technology upgrades to infrastructure with sustainability in mind, including installing LED streetlights throughout the city and adding electric vehicles to the City’s transportation fleet.

In his final City budget address last week, Peduto spoke of the need for more tech workforce development in light of the industry’s growing success here.

“We’ve brought in Google, Uber, Argo, Aurora, Philips, Duolingo, robotics firms, AI firms, research and development companies and startups who alone have brought tens of thousands of jobs and people to the region,” he said, adding that efforts to build the city’s tax base help fund programs like Rec2Tech to get local residents into the tech industry. “Rec2Tech has taught computer science, AI and coding skills to over 200 young Pittsburghers, over 80% of whom are Black. By encouraging tech companies to locate here and having the amenities for their workforce, it not only provides additional money for Rec2Tech but also ensures that those tech jobs will be here for our young people learning how to be a part of it.”

Focusing on workforce development will be essential for Pittsburgh as the city looks to grow the tech industry here even more, with the recent opening of new tech offices from Sheetz, DoorDash, 3M and more. And with the growing number of companies going public from the industry, a huge number of tech jobs will be available in an economy where there is already a labor shortage.

But outside of ensuring talent is available for the companies growing here, the new budget allocations will also hopefully create chances for those companies to work in partnership with the public sector, such as through the deployment of electric vehicles. In a press release from the city last week, the mayor’s office shared plans to launch an Electric Vehicle Readiness Ordinance as an effort to meet its goals in participating in the American Cities Climate Challenge.

That ordinance will aim to “increase the total number of new public charging plugs to more than 200 on City property and more than 2,000 total across the city by 2025,” the press release said. Additionally, City officials plan to have a transportation fleet free of fossil fuel use by 2030, though the press release did not provide details on that effort. These technology goals and more will all have public callouts to local businesses and companies for partnerships, a representative for the city said in an email.

Despite these allocations for tech-related efforts in next year’s budget, there remain some questions about how the city will support the innovation and startup ecosystem here that has made the local tech industry so successful. The City launched an accelerator and dug deep into the local industry during Peduto’s term. But there are no signs of new programs focused specifically around early-stage innovation in this budget. Meanwhile, in a recent Slack conversation, Pittsburgh founders shared that they hoped the new administration would dedicate more resources to partnering with startups and creating a more supportive environment through policies and funding opportunities.

For now, the 2022 budget doesn’t seem to address that. But once Gainey takes office, he could have the chance to change it, and add more specificity to how taxpayer dollars will go towards supporting the fastest growing sector of Pittsburgh’s economy.

Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: City of Pittsburgh

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