Inside Pittsburgh - September 24th, 2019 |

Inside Pittsburgh (Sep 24th, 2019)

Vertical farm in Braddock / Tech contractors at Google Pittsburgh unionize / Kenny Chesney coming back

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Happy Tuesday, Inside Pittsburgh readers!

Thankful for your continued support. If you're reading this right now, hit reply and tell me your favorite fall thing to do in Pittsburgh. I'm more of a holiday season fan, but am always looking to share fun Pittsburgh area adventures in the fall.


1. Consumer-funded tech startup Fifth Season will build a commercial-scale indoor vertical farm in Braddock, the company announced today. The company, originally founded as RoBotany, was incubated at Carnegie Mellon University’s Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship. It raised $35 million to fund the 60,000-square-foot vertical farm. “Traditional vertical farms struggle to make economics work and it's a big reason why vertical farming, which has the ability to solve problems, hasn’t expanded. We see robotics as the answer to the lack of a fully integrated solution. We are staying in Pittsburgh because of the wonderful tech talent hub,” co-founder and CEO Austin Webb said. The company currently has two, smaller vertical farms on the South Side. Greens grown in those farms are sold at grocery stores such as Whole Foods and used in restaurants like Superior Motors (in Braddock). In its first year, the vertical farm in Braddock is expected to produce 500,000 pounds of produce such as lettuce, spinach and kale. – AgFunderNews

2. Several staff and students from Pitcairn Propel were taken to a hospital Tuesday afternoon after a report of fumes making people ill. Nearly 300 students and staff were evacuated. KDKA-TV reports that the state Department of Environmental Protection was working on a nearby sewer when fumes entered the school. Police told residents to avoid the area around the school. This is a developing story.KDKA

3. Pennsylvania state officials say they “strongly oppose” a possible change to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The state Department of Human Services says as many as 200,000 fewer Pennsylvanians will get food assistance if changes the Trump administration seeks go into effect. State Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller said the agency “will continue to fight against any attempt to take the program away from Pennsylvanians who need it.” Changes proposed could mean that, for example, a family of four in the state wouldn’t be eligible if they earn above $32,000 a year. The current threshold is $40,000. The rule also could change the federal free lunch program. About 1,8 million people in Pennsylvania are part of the program. – PG

4. Eighty tech contractors at Google’s Pittsburgh hub voted Tuesday to unionize. The tech workers will join the United Steelworkers union. Contractors voted 49-24 to join the union. The move is considered a big deal as it’s said to be the first time white-collar workers at Google have officially attempted to form a union. (As Vox notes, other Google workers like security guards have successfully unionized.) Most of the 80 workers have college degrees and earn as little as $40,000, and they don’t get sick days or other perks given to those on staff at Google. – THE VERGE

5. Brace yourselves, Pittsburgh: Kenny Chesney is returning to Heinz Field next year. The country music star will bring his Chillaxification tour to the North Side on May 30. It’ll be the eight-time Country Music Association award winner’s 11th Pittsburgh concert. The tour also includes Florida Georgia Line, Old Dominion and Michael Franti & Spearhead. “These stadium shows are the most fun thing I do. It’s been a year, so when I get out there, I wanna make sure that ‘No Shoes Nation’ is being rocked, having fun and getting all the music they can out of the day,” Chesney said in a statement. His Pittsburgh shows have played to capacity crowds. But many of his performances here have been mired by what goes on outside the venue with trash and multiple citations for intoxication and disorderly conduct. Though, his 2018 show here went on without major disruptions unlike previous years. – WTAE

6. Sheetz is opening a tech and innovation hub at Bakery Square on Oct. 1. The Altoona-based convenience store will use the space to develop and test products that we could one day find on shelves at Sheetz. “Our mission at Sheetz is to create a business that puts the Sheetz as we know it today, out of business,” AVP of Strategy Emily Sheetz said in a statement. She called the hub "an investment in the future," adding that it will "give Sheetz a unique opportunity to access developers and other talent in Pittsburgh.” The company has tested Bitcoin kiosks, released two craft beers and offers electric vehicle charging stations in many locations. – PITTSBURGH BUSINESS TIMES

Full disclosure: I am a certified #SheetzFreak and am currently curating this newsletter from a Pittsburgh area Sheetz location.

7. Lisbon, Portugal-based Unbabel raised $60 million in its latest funding round. The AI-based translation platform, with an office in Pittsburgh, finished a Series C led by Point72 Ventures. The startup, which counts Microsoft, Facebook, and among its clients, uses neural machine translation, natural language processing (NLP), and quality estimation in its translation platform. Unbabel co-founder and CEO Vasco Pedro told VentureBeat that the company can leverage its AI technology "to help non-professional translators produce professional-grade translations." The company, with offices in New York, San Francisco, and Pittsburgh, has raised $91 million since its founding in 2013. - VENTURE BEAT

A version of this item first appeared in our Inside AI newsletter.

8. If you’re in the market for a new house, this Stanton Heights home might be right for you – no word on whether the dinosaur comes with the property. Yes, that’s right. Check out the photos on this Zillow listing that show a dinosaur cutting the grass and popping out of a shower. The home had a recent price cut, according to Zillow, and is now listed at $189,900.

9. What's there to do after 5 p.m. around Pittsburgh? That's a question I've heard forever. And, admittedly, sometimes I find it difficult to figure out what to do. I'm apparently not alone, as Reddit user kindofkelly asked for some ideas for after work activities. As she explains, "my friend and i have lived here our entire lives but we always come up short for things to do when we hang out after work." In the few hours since she posted, several responders suggested biking (GAP trail or Riverfront trails), breweries and a rock climbing wall.

So, what say you, intrepid Inside Pittsburgh, readers — what do you do after work with friends to unwind? (Yes, breweries are fun, but what else do you do?) Hit reply to share with me.

10. InstaBurgh: We can't help falling in love with Pittsburgh. Check out this amazing shot of the Roberto Clemente Bridge through some changing leaves along the Allegheny River. This photo comes from @citylifeadventures on Instagram.

Bobby Cherry is a senior editor at Follow his love of all things Pittsburgh and more on Twitter and Instagram.

Editing team: Inside Managing Editor and Pittsburgh-based freelance journalist Kim Lyons and David Stegon, senior editor at Inside, whose reporting experience includes cryptocurrency and technology.

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