Pittsburgh Offers $100,000 to Lure Midlife Entrepreneurs

Most areas of the country striving to become innovative centers of the 21st century economy seem to think the answer is to attract the most talented college grads and brash twentysomething entrepreneurs. So it's kind of a pleasant surprise that my old hometown of Pittsburgh is taking precisely the opposite approach.

The city is offering a $100,000 prize to "experienced dreamers" age 45 and over who are willing to relocate to the former smokestack-city-turned-high-tech-mecca and take a stab at achieving their second-act ambitions.

The contest is sponsored by a group of Pittsburgh-area government and community organizations, among them the Heinz Endowments and the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, and managed by Leadership Pittsburgh, a local round table for government officials and business leaders. Contest spokesman Shawn Bannon says that so far, the entries run the gamut from people who want to start new businesses to those who want to write or create great art.

"We're not putting any restrictions on the kinds of dreams that people ought to submit," Bannon says. "It really is a wide-open contest in that regard."

Would-be midlife movers and shakers are invited to submit applications by December 16 to the contest's website, experienceddreamers.org. Applicants must be at least 45 years old and must have lived outside a 100-mile radius of Pittsburgh for at least the past 10 years. The winner also must be willing to relocate to the city by December 2012. The prize includes a $50,000 cash stipend and a $50,000 donation to a charitable trust that will be set up in the winner's name in 2013.

Here's the online application form, which asks applicants to explain how their dream would benefit the onetime Steel City and to make a case for why they have the background, smarts and drive to accomplish it.

Bannon tells SecondAct that Pittsburgh leaders decided to hold the contest, in part, because of a 2009 survey that put the lie to the notion that cities must rely on young residents to drive growth. If Pittsburgh can attract 1,250 entrepreneurs age 45 and over who are eager to reinvent themselves, the study concluded, the city would realize an economic benefit of $2.5 billion over the next two decades.

"We're talking about people who can be models and mentors for those young people we've been working so hard for so many years to attract," Bannon says. "They bring with them experience, wisdom, leadership skills, and a host of other qualities that are critical for the health of a region."

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