Saturday, June 16, 2001

FAM Tour Wrap-up

Saturday morning was the final farewell for participants of the Pennsylvania FAM Tour. After spending eight days traveling together, the goodbyes were both a sad and welcome event. During the course of our travels, our group became linked by the shared experiences that only come from a grueling adventure such as a road-trip. Thrown together, we formed friendships as we shared meals, conversations and a few small calamities along the way.

The Tour, which is a semi-annual event for travel writers, broke tradition by inviting members of the business press on the trek across the Keystone State. Scott Henry, Jeff Webster and Mark Horner from Bozell Kamstra, the state's PR agency for economic development and tourism, did a fine job planning and orchestrating the week. Holly Rys, Rick Dunlap and Rose Mape from the Department of Community and Economic Development for the State of Pennsylvania made sure that all our questions were answered and our needs fulfilled.

Business journalists - including myself, Rick Risemberg of the New Colonist, Nancy Fitzgerald of Scholastic, real estate writer Steve Viuker and Kristen Weiben, a reporter in training at the University of Wisconsin - saw a slightly different side of Pennsylvania than our companion travel writers. Our goal was to see how Pennsylvania is transforming its old industry base and beatifying its cities to create an attractive place to which businesses will to form the emerging markets of the future. 

Our first day was spent learning how the state's ivy-league university is participating in that vision. With the help of Tony Sorentino, marketing manager of Economic Development for the University of Pennsylvania, we were shuttled around the University of Pennsylvania and its urban campus, looking at incubators that foster the budding businesses of the university's grads and the remarkable facelift West Philly is receiving. Campus stores are being opened around the town, luxury loft spaces are being built in former factory spaces, and a new grocery store that puts New York City bodegas to shame has just been opened.

But West Philadelphia isn't the only part of the city being revitalized. Since the Republican convention in 2000, Market Street and the Old District have become the home of several new trendy bars and restaurants. And on a Monday night, the bistros in Rittenhouse Square were bustling with body-enhanced beauties and their muscle-pumped admirers. The city, which has always been a hotbed of fine restaurants, seems to have its own version of Steve Hansen, whose title is being disputed by Stephen Starr and Neil Stein. Starr recently added two new restaurants to his repertoire of four: Pod, a futuristic Japanese sushi cafe, and Alma de Cuba, a Havana-inspired hideaway on Walnut Street. Stein, the owner who once turned away the president for not reserving early enough at his other establishment, Striped Bass, just added a fifth eatery. Avenue B is a nouveau Italian restaurant that sits right on Broad Street, Philly's answer to Broadway.

On Tuesday, the tour headed out of the cosmopolitan comforts of Philadelphia and pushed into the steel-heart of the state. The first stop was Lehigh University. Kenneth Smith, Richard Sause and Mark Erikson showed us how the college is also trying to cajole grads into staying and working in the area. Besides its plans to build a more exciting city for its students by incorporating the campus into the main streets of the city, the university is also creating several business development and cultural programs for its students and town residents. Our group also had time to meet with Wayne Barz, the manger for Ben Franklin Technology Partners. The incubator, which is 15 years old, is state funded and recognized nationally for its business model. Barz said that the average resident stays about five years, a much longer maturation time than most incubators allow.

On Wednesday, the tour regrouped and traveled deeper into Pennsylvania's backwoods to York, Pa. The first stop was the Harley Davidson factory, where we saw a terrifying array of long and short mullets, and watched the coveted bikes being born from thin slabs of steel. Pfaltzgraff was the second stop. Fran Polk, the media representative for the pottery empire, was kind enough to host a catered lunch for the group. After we ate, he guided us around the factory to watch how the stoneware was born from clay out of the kiln.

The next stop on the itinerary was the battlefields of Gettysburg. I would have personally preferred to be left behind to wander the cute antique stores that lined the Main Streets of the town, but I saddled up and hoisted myself upon Torro, a broken down horse that bounced me across the sun-drenched fields for two hours. The day left most of us tired and not particularly fresh, but we boarded the vans for a three-hour trek to the Nemacolin Resort and Spa.

The Parisian-styled resort, owned by lumber tycoon Joseph Hardy, provided us with a welcome respite after the fog-filled mountain roads we traveled across. The 1,500-acre grounds boast a full-service spa, complete with signature treatments, a $10 million art collection, various French bistros and even a PGA-rated golf course.

Unfortunately our time at the resort was short. Thursday the team broke out into adventure groups. My destination: white-water rafting. Six of us put our faith into Mike McCarty, our leather-skinned river guide, for a trip down the Youghiogheny. Water-logged and sunburned, we returned to the resort only to quickly bathe and be escorted to dinner, where we were the guests of Joseph Hardy himself. Mr. Hardy gave the perfect "God Bless America" speech, which referenced the resort his riches bought, and then treated us to a luscious buffet of such country basics as BBQ chicken and potato salad.

Now, some of you may be wondering what white-water rafting and horseback riding have to do with a business trip. The mix of business and pleasure gave us a wonderful opportunity to see how the state, which already boasts rich natural resources and history, offers a superior quality of life for young professionals and growing businesses.

The final full day was back to business. The first stop on our route was Marconi, the British telecom equipment company whose American headquarters building is infamous for its strange, angled buildings, and another quick stop at Carnegie Learning, an educational software developer. Afterwards, it was on to more sightseeing: the Andy Warhol museum, Carnegie Mellon's campus, and a trip to the new PNC park to catch a Pirate's game. Dennis Yablonsky, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Digital Greenhouse, joined us in the press box, where he chatted with me about the mission of the consortium and the market for digital multimedia in Pittsburgh. While the catered fete added panache to the ball game, the real thrill was watching the Pirate's win it in their hometown.

The fire-works at the game's end were a symbolic way to finish our final night on the FAM Tour. While many of the journalists and reporters are bringing home their own stories and adventures, the important thing for our readers to remember is that there is a whole network of businesses, universities, programs and people outside our backyard. Tap into it.