Last year, the Association for Iron and Steel Technology drew more than 4,000 people to its annual conference, which was held in Nashville.
Four thousand people. In the middle of a pandemic.
For any conference, that’s a notable achievement. For AIST, it’s likely an easy lift. After all, that’s about half of the people who attended their 2019 conference in Pittsburgh.
“AISTech represents the largest annual gathering of the global iron and steel industry,” said executive director Ronald E. Ashburn. “Events like AISTech enable the steel industry to become early adopters of the advanced technologies needed to drive a green, digital economy relative to all manufacturing.”
The conference returns to Pittsburgh next week, and Ashburn is expecting attendance levels closer to 2019 than 2021. The conference, to be held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center downtown, draws engineers, scientists, operators, maintenance technicians, CEOs and others from across the industry. VisitPITTSBURGH, the city’s tourism agency, said they will spend an estimated $7.6 million while here.
About 40 percent of those visitors will be arriving via Pittsburgh International Airport, according to VisitPITTSBURGH, and the city’s hospitality sector is ready and waiting for them.
“There’s no question that Pittsburgh is equipped and prepared to again host large business events,” said Jerad Bachar, CEO of VisitPITTSBURGH. “These attendees are staying at 14 hotel properties throughout our city, visiting our attractions, dining at our restaurants and shopping at our stores. This one key piece of business will go a long way in fueling our continued rebound.”
This year, attendees moving through PIT will be greeted with a unique art exhibit that both highlights the history of their industry while tapping into the innovation driving it into the future.
“Patterns of Meaning” is a collection of thousands of wooden casting patterns and corresponding blueprints salvaged from former Pittsburgh-area steel mills dating back to the late 1800s. Found and acquired by scrap dealer Chip Barletto and artist and preservationist Cory Bonnet, some of the pieces have been transformed by Bonnet into artwork inspired by their origins.
Based at the Energy Innovation Center (EIC) in the Hill District, “Patterns of Meaning” held its first showcase late last year, drawing national attention.
In collaboration with PIT’s arts and culture program, Bonnet will stage a selection of pieces from the collection at the airport this week. In addition, a double booth at the conference will feature pieces from the collection, and a public reception at the EIC is being held on May 16.
“As the first place many visitors experience in Pittsburgh, we are excited to share a small part of Cory’s collection showcasing the region’s vibrant history of iron and steel. I am especially proud to be able to use art as the vehicle to connect people, history and current innovation in our region,” said Keny Marshall, Arts and Culture Manager at PIT.
Selected patterns from the collection will be replicated as porcelain and glass vessels, installations, and lighting. Others will serve as panels for Bonnet’s paintings and sculptures that give a sense of what the workers were experiencing in the steel mills.
Bonnet’s ultimate goal is to develop “Patterns of Meaning” into a traveling exhibit to tell the stories of the workers and innovators whose efforts made the steel industry the beating heart of Pittsburgh.
“This project honors the sacrifices they made to build the U.S. and the world,” Bonnet said. “It is our mission to rekindle a sense of gratitude for the infrastructure, prosperity and relative comfort they created.”
That history is embraced by AIST, which is headquartered in Warrendale, Pa., just north of Pittsburgh. But it also serves as a springboard for the evolution of the industry, Ashburn said.
The group’s annual conference has been held here off and on for more than 100 years, and it allows local industry members the opportunity to show off their hometown, he said.
“The iron and steel technology cluster in Pittsburgh is the largest in the world,” he said. “When you’re from Pittsburgh and you work in the steel industry, you garner instant clout around the world. We’re proud of that reputation, and we work hard every day to preserve and grow it.”