Skip to content

New Economy Collaborative to Grow SWPA's Robotics and Autonomy Industry

By Jonathan Kersting, Pittsburgh Technology Council

In the middle of Pittsburgh’s technology and innovation ecosystem lies The Southwestern Pennsylvania New Economy Collaborative (NEC) – a visionary initiative that is redefining collaboration and driving innovation to grow the region's robotics and autonomy industry. 

The NEC is taking a unique approach to fostering workforce development and economic growth to help create new robotics companies, but also build and connect a local workforce to the new opportunities.

With the global autonomy sector expected to surpass $1 trillion, building out the Pittsburgh region’s sector could provide significant economic impact.
According to the Regional Industrial Development Corporation’s landmark Forefront Study:

“If a region with a robust and well-supported technology ecosystem were to capture even 1% of the $1 trillion global autonomous mobile systems market, it would equate to a $10 billion growth opportunity developing within the next decade.” 

To take a big bite of that $1 trillion apple, the NEC received a $62.7 million grant through the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge to support the growth of the robotics and autonomy sector across the 11-county region. The collaborative consists of a coalition formed by 90 organizations, including community-based organizations, labor unions, educational and research institutions, economic development partners, and leaders from the private, public and philanthropic sectors.

“The New Economy Collaborative is guiding a robotics cluster build-out that will extend to all parts of the region, bringing vitality to our economy and providing future-focused opportunities – directly in robotics or in support of the industry – to a wide band of people, businesses and communities in ways we haven’t seen before,” said Stefani Pashman, CEO of the Allegheny Conference and Co-Chair of the NEC, along with Carnegie Mellon University President Farnam Jahanian.

“The Build Back Better grant enables projects that are opening doors to anyone who wants to participate in a dynamic regional robotics cluster, including women and people of color. At the same time, they are driving geographic equity. The grant has put a plan in motion for the adoption of robotics and AI technologies across a vast portfolio of existing businesses – of every size and in all corners of the region – and seeks to leverage our base of manufacturers to build robust local supply chains. Altogether, these will create transformative, equitable and inclusive outcomes,” added Pashman.

“Pittsburgh is an established powerhouse for robotics and innovation, and we are now being offered the ability to scale this to a level that brings lasting stability and economic strength for decades to come across the Commonwealth. There are more than 120 commercial robotics companies operating in southwestern Pennsylvania, employing over 7,000 people who are revolutionizing autonomy across 14 different industries,” said Jenn Apicella, Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Robotics Network. “The depth and breadth of this is impressive not just locally, but globally, making Pittsburgh one of the world’s top robotics clusters often referred to as the 'Robotics Capital of the World.' We are committed to accelerating the adoption of robotic solutions worldwide, and this region has so many valuable assets to leverage for success.”

What sets the New Economy Collaborative apart is its commitment to bringing together a diverse range of stakeholders – from top tech companies to local educational institutions and government agencies. 

“This collaborative approach is designed to ensure that all voices are heard and that resources are leveraged effectively to fuel growth and innovation in the robotics and autonomy sector,” said Ben Pratt, NEC Regional Economic Competitiveness Officer. “With a focus on interdisciplinary collaboration and knowledge-sharing, the New Economy Collaborative creates a dynamic ecosystem where ideas can flourish, partnerships can be forged and groundbreaking solutions can be developed. By fostering a culture of openness, creativity and inclusivity, the Collaborative paves the way for transformative change in the industry.”

The collaborative's focus revolves around five transformational projects that will be funded by the Build Back Better Regional Challenge grant. These projects concentrate on adoption, upskilling, infrastructure and commercialization in the robotics sector. By prioritizing public-private partnerships, the collaborative aims to see each project through from inception to completion, thereby enhancing the region's impact and leadership in the robotics and autonomy industry.

The specific projects supported by the grant include:

Adoption: Robotics & AI Expansion for Small & Medium Enterprises, which aims to facilitate the adoption and integration of robotics and AI technologies in small and medium-sized businesses. 

Upskilling: Expanded Pathways to New Economy Careers, which focuses on providing enhanced training and educational pathways for individuals interested in pursuing careers in the new economy.

Commercialization: Robotics Startup Factory, which supports the development and growth of robotics and AI startups, fostering entrepreneurship and innovation in the sector. (Learn more on page 14.) The Expanded Pathways to Entrepreneurship program promotes entrepreneurship by creating pathways and resources for individuals interested in starting their own businesses in the robotics and autonomy industry.

The Robotics Factory“Southwestern Pennsylvania winning this significant Build Back Better Regional Challenge grant is a testament to the sheer power of collaboration that’s been so integral to the transformation of our regional economy,” said Jahanian in a press statement. 

“This effort will catalyze new programs and partnerships that share our region’s distinctive strengths in robotics, AI and automation with new and small businesses in our key sectors, while elevating and training a more resilient workforce. By expanding the geography of these innovations, Carnegie Mellon is thrilled to work with partners to broaden accessibility to our nation's technologically driven economy to all in our region.”

“I might be tempted to call out the need for an economic development cluster strategy – one that moves beyond business-as-usual economic development and also beyond typical business networking and marketing efforts,” said Don Smith, President and CEO of the Regional Industrial Development Corporation. “This really requires a collaboration among economic development cluster leadership, university leadership and private sector company leadership, as well as support from the public sector leadership in order to be truly effective. Physical infrastructure, research and technology development, talent recruitment and development, facilities, regulatory framework, and of course financial resources are all required to implement such a strategy. Piecemeal efforts are doomed to fail.”

Pittsburgh Robotics Network: Accelerating the Local Robotics Industry!

Jenn ApicellaThe Pittsburgh Robotics Network (PRN) is a non-profit organization dedicated to overseeing the growth and success of the Pittsburgh region's robotics business cluster.

Its mission is to accelerate the adoption of robotic solutions by bridging this large and dynamic ecosystem to the world, and to increase opportunities for more investments, companies and jobs in the region.

The PRN stands as the central nerve of the Pittsburgh robotics business community, acting as a dynamic switchboard that not only fosters deep connections within the community of 120+ commercial robotics businesses, but also serves as a gateway for partners and stakeholders to strategically engage with the ecosystem for maximum impact (i.e. industry leaders, investors, partners, academia, researchers, talent, international relations, government officials, media, workforce, economic development organizations, etc.) 

By increasing the accessibility of the regional robotics cluster, facilitating talent development and acquisition, and sparking invaluable private sector engagement opportunities, PRN works to propel the entire southwestern Pennsylvania region forward.

“The PRN is deeply involved in supporting all of the partners and projects as a part of the NEC in our ongoing efforts to help accelerate the impacts and outcomes for this work. Robotics and autonomy increase economic productivity, and these ongoing partnerships ensure efforts uplift the community, stimulate growth and showcase Pittsburgh as a global leader in robotics innovation,” said Jenn Apicella, PRN Executive Director. “We not only bolster the local economy but also contribute to advancing the commercialization and adoption of robotics globally, ensuring Pittsburgh remains a world-leading cluster for technological advancement and innovation.”

Learn more at

Listen Up!

Learn More About the NEC's Key Projects Building Out the  Robotics/Autonomy Industry.


PRN Executive Director Jenn Apicella overviews the five key projects behind the Build Back Better Regional Challenge and how they are transforming southwestern Pennsylvania.


Pathways Fellowship Executive  Director Corey Turner details how access to Carnegie Mellon curriculum, mentors and programming helps aspiring entrepreneurs build companies.


Discover how the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute helps manufacturers adopt automation and robotics to make their operations more competitive.