The Pittsburgh Middle East Institute is becoming increasingly active in fostering relations between local businesses and institutions and possible partners in Middle Eastern countries.
While the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh is an umbrella organization for local relations with different parts of the world, those contacts are sustained by many banks, corporations, universities, medical entities, religious bodies and heritage groups.
PMEI has organized itself on a regional basis to promote ties between southwestern Pennsylvania and its area of foreign interest. It's hard to find a comparable group here for Africa, Asia, Europe or Latin America, even though there is plenty of local interest in links with these regions as well.
The institute was established in 2008 by a diverse group with strong interests in the Middle East. It made its first splash by inviting syndicated columnist Thomas Friedman to Pittsburgh to speak, following up with a business seminar on opportunities in Persian Gulf countries for Pittsburgh companies and banks. Representatives from Bahrain and Qatar were also given the chance to see what Pittsburgh might offer for them.
PMEI followed up with another prominent speaker, Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek and CNN, preceded by another seminar, this time focused on Egypt, and followed by a business roundtable on Oman. This month PMEI sent, at the invitation of the Omanis, a 14-member delegation led by PMEI President Simin Yazdgerdi Curtis to Oman. It included representatives of eight companies, two universities, one law firm and UPMC, all seeking to build ties in Oman. One area of potential development is solar energy; the Omanis' oil is running out, but its desert sunlight isn't.
Upcoming PMEI enterprises include a follow-up to the 2009 Egypt roundtable, a language program for Chatham University students in Cairo and a program in November on Qatar, dealing with energy and Pennsylvania's new Marcellus Shale activity.
It isn't seemly to blow PMEI's horn too loudly regarding other foreign regions that could have strong connections here. This corner of the state needs to develop its commercial and investment links to the rest of the world as rapidly and deeply as possible if the United States is to stay in the global game.