Making new leaders

Jenn Beer, the new president and CEO of Leadership Pittsburgh, would like to see the organization expand to a more regional focus. /Photo: John Altdorfer

When Jenn Beer’s not advocating for southwestern Pennsylvania, or helping to train our region’s next generation of leaders, she has a perfect Mt. Lebanon weekend day in mind:

“We’d go to Mt. Lebanon Pool, then over to Hitchhiker Brewing, which is very family friendly,” she said. “And we’d go to Scoops and over to Totopo for takeout.”

The swimming will have to wait for a few months. But Beer, who lives in Sunset Hills with her husband, Dave, and two kids, keeps quite busy on weekdays too. She took over as president and CEO of Leadership Pittsburgh, Inc., earlier this year. The 38-year-old organization offers leadership training for senior executives, emerging leaders, and veterans. Leadership Pittsburgh engages participants from government, nonprofits, and business to interact and learn more about civic issues. The goal is to develop leaders who can help steer regional growth and enhancement.

Graduates of the yearly cohorts have gone on to serve on regional nonprofit boards, get more involved in their local governments, and in some cases, run for political office. The emerging leaders’ group, mostly made up of younger professionals, works together each year on a community project. Last year’s team engaged with community leaders in Penn Hills to formulate a handbook, outlining steps to convert a vacant strip mall into a central business district.

Beer comes to the job with an impressive resume: she worked at the Allegheny Conference on Community Development for 15 years, leaving as vice president for government affairs. She worked closely with Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce President (and fellow Lebo resident) Matt Smith, overseeing state and regional public policy issues for the chamber, which is part of the Allegheny Conference. Beer often appeared on the Sunday morning show, Our Region’s Business, on WPXI. Her new position is a “natural continuation” of that work.

“I’m a very mission-driven person,” she added. “I want to improve the quality of life in our area.”

Though she has lived in Pittsburgh for many years (and graduated from Pitt with a degree in political science and a concentration in Russian studies), Beer grew up in Greensburg, and remembered getting dressed up to visit Pittsburgh. “I always felt like it was a big trip,” she said.

That sense of a wider community beyond the city fuels one of Beer’s main goals for Leadership Pittsburgh: broadening its reach to include more regional business and community leaders. She was recently appointed to the board of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, an economic development organization made up of representatives from the city of Pittsburgh and 10 surrounding counties. Those neighbors have great potential, she said.

“I want people in our region to become more connected,” she noted, while acknowledging the challenges: “Will people (here) make the drive up to Indiana County?”

After the last few years, “folks are craving getting back to meeting and being with people,” and Beer is excited about helping to make that happen.

“I really believe in trying things to make our region a better place,” she said, “but I need a lot of folks to help me do it.”