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Economy & Business

Building Ties Between Pittsburgh and Puerto Rico

Music can bring people together, but can it inspire people to travel almost 2,000 miles to find work in a new city?

16 Pittsburgh community organizations are sponsoring the appearance of Puerto Rican salsa band El Gran Combo at the JazzLive International Festival this weekend to launch a  project to promote Pittsburgh as a destination for Puerto Rican workers, especially professionals, migrating from the island to mainland U.S. 

The concert and year-long talent attraction effort is part of an on-going initiative called ¡Hola Pittburgh! which was started by non-profit group Vibrant Pittsburgh in 2012 as a way to attract skilled Latino-American workers to Pittsburgh to improve the diversity, economic prosperity and quality of life in the region

The Greater Pittsburgh Metropolitan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is leading the effort along with Vibrant Pittsburgh, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development (ACCD) and 13 other organizations.

Bill Flanagan, Executive Vice President for the ACCD, says Pittsburgh needs to attract more skilled workers to ensure future economic growth.

“There’s a real gap within the region’s population between people age 45 and over and the next group down, 25- 45,” said Flanagan.  “We’re short more than 100,000 people within the regional population.”

According to the Census Bureau, more than 50,000 Puerto Ricans left the island for mainland U.S. in the last three years. Flanagan hopes some of those immigrants with higher education in technology, healthcare, engineering, and other skilled fields will settle in Pittsburgh to fill the gaps in the workforce.

Flanagan, who is also the publisher of, says Pittsburgh’s first priority is to encourage job development and career growth with current residents, “but even if we’re 100% successful with educating and training everybody who’s already here, we’re still going to be short the people we will need a decade or more from now to replace that older group that’s going to retire.”

Melanie Harrington, President and CEO of Vibrant Pittsburgh, said her organization’s goal in participating in ¡Hola Pittburgh! is to promote diversity in the Pittsburgh workforce. Currently, the Greater Pittsburgh Area is home to 8,435 Puerto Ricans, which constitute less than 0.4% of the population.

“There is only so much you can really get done without a diversity of thought, a diversity of individuals, and a capability to access, utilize, effectively manage the contributions that a diverse set of individuals can bring,” said Harrington.

El Gran Combo, known as “The Beatles of Salsa Music,” has a strong following in Puerto Rico and throughout Latin America. To promote the concert and Pittsburgh in Puerto Rico, teamed up with VisitPITTSBURGH to run a sweepstakes, in which Puerto Ricans submitted resumes to win a trip to Pittsburgh to see El Gran Combo. Civil engineer and San Juan resident Daniel Torres was the winner.

Vibrant Pittsburgh will sponsor a hospitality tent near the concert with representatives from local employers such as UPMC and Giant Eagle present to promote job opportunities.

A second ¡Hola Pittburgh! sweepstakes will take place in September, in which Puerto Ricans can enter to win a trip to see the Pirates play and watch Clemente, a play based on the life of Pittsburgh Pirate and Puerto Rican Roberto Clemente.

In October, Vibrant Pittsburgh will organize a career fair in San Juan, where Pittsburgh employers will try to recruit experienced professionals from the island.

Flanagan says Puerto Rican recruitment is an opportunity Pittsburgh cannot afford to miss.

“These people are on the move. They’re American citizens. They can relocate to the continental United States if they can find opportunities. So they’re coming, whether or not Pittsburgh does anything to try to get on their radar screen,” said Flanagan.

El Gran Combo will perform at 3pm this Sunday on Penn Ave Stage I in the Cultural District. The concert is outdoors and free.