WRITTEN BY KIMBERLY BURGER CAPOZZI
As president of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, the business advocacy group within the Allegheny Conference, Dewitt Peart ‘81 has emerged as a leader in the real-life rebuilding of Pittsburgh’s economy. Through 25 years of work in real estate development and marketing the region to new businesses, Peart has helped replace shuttered steel mills with new job generators like university-based technology projects, advanced manufacturing, and riverfront development.
“HE’S NOT QUICK TO REACH CONCLUSIONS AND HE’S SOMEONE WHO REALLY TRIES TO UNDERSTAND. FOLKS RESPECT THAT ABOUT HIM.”
Peart is one of a trio of RMU alums working closely on economic development and regional planning. Morgan O’Brien ‘82 M’85, president and CEO of People’s Natural Gas, is chairman of the Allegheny Conference, and Richard Harshman ‘78, CEO, president, and chairman of Allegheny Technologies Inc., is chairman of the chamber. “What the three of us have in common is an intent to make our region the best it can be,” says Peart. “Evidently, the RMU experience embeds community attachment, commitment, and service.”
always intended to remain in the region. “I think every Pittsburgher’s like that; if it’s in you, it’s part of you,” he says. When he graduated from Robert Morris with an accounting degree, he landed in Philadelphia for his first job as an internal auditor for J.C. Penney. But he managed to return within a few years for a position with a real estate developer. It was the late 1980s, and Pittsburgh was just coming to terms with the reality that the steel industry wasn’t coming back. Peart became involved in pioneering projects that cleaned up and reused former industrial sites, a practice now known as brownfield development.
“At first, it was a little sad in a way,” he says, describing how in one project, the cranes from a once-thriving shipbuilding yard were dismantled and sent out of the country, sealing the fate of the business. “The creative side of it is, you look at these sites and you say, OK, now what can it be? How can we redevelop this and really make a difference?”
Working with communities and governments on brownfield remediation led Peart to volunteer for the chamber of commerce on brownfield legislation and other business issues. In the middle of his career, he headed back to school for a master’s degree in public management from Carnegie Mellon University. A staff position with the chamber was not far behind. Today, Peart’s titles also include executive vice president for economic development for the Allegheny Conference and president of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, which markets the region to attract new business.
Minutes into an hour-long interview, Peart begins shifting in his chair, as if he’s thinking of something that desperately needs doing and has to restrain himself from jumping up to do it. He admits it’s difficult to sit still and talk. There is plenty on Peart’s to-do list: Pushing for adequate state funds for regional transportation and transit projects, advancing infrastructure improvements to prepare land for development, and growing a quality workforce are just some of the big issues on his agenda. Peart also travels abroad, taking advantage of Pittsburgh’s enhanced international profile since the G-20 summit of world economic leaders in 2009. He accompanied the Pittsburgh Steelers to London in September, spoke at UPMC’s Beacon Hospital in Dublin, and has traveled with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra to take advantage of opportunities to market Pittsburgh to business leaders abroad.
O’Brien calls Peart “a careful thinker” who engages people and articulates the region’s strengths, whether it be how the universities feed the workforce, or access points for manufacturing and the region’s natural resources. “There’s a lot of substance to him. He’s not just someone who’s able to talk the talk, but truly understands the issues and the root causes around issues,” O’Brien says. “He’s not quick to reach conclusions and he’s someone who really tries to understand. Folks respect that about him.”
Pittsburgh’s growth is about a lot of individual projects, Peart says, and he is proud of how the region repeatedly beats out bigger cities like Philadelphia and Boston for new development. But one project of a personal nature eludes him: Peart lives with his wife Jane in the south suburbs of Pittsburgh, not far from where he grew up, but his two grown sons are in Chicago, for school and work. “They are trying to figure out how to come back,” Peart says. If he has anything to do with it — and he does — Pittsburgh will be the kind of place everyone wants to return to. Just as he did.