The fifth webinar in the 2021 PA AV Summit Series, titled “Fostering Vibrant Economies Through Automated Vehicles,” was held Thursday, July 8, from 2-3:30 p.m.

Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s Secretary Dennis Davin moderated a robust discussion with three esteemed panelists on harnessing AV technology as a catalyst for economic growth and development. Specifically, the conversation addressed market and industry trends, opportunities, challenges, and best practices for driving Pennsylvania’s regional and statewide economies forward through the research, testing, and deployment of AV technology. 

This webinar featured the following panelists:

Dennis Davin
Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development

Dennis M. Davin was appointed to serve as Secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) in January 2015 by Governor Tom Wolf. In this position, Secretary Davin leads the commonwealth’s efforts to support business growth, strengthen the workforce, and revitalize communities across Pennsylvania. He oversees DCED’s $1.6 billion investment in community and economic development projects since 2015, serving nearly 13 million Pennsylvanians.

Since the beginning of the Wolf Administration, Secretary Davin has had the pleasure of visiting more than 750 businesses to gain a first-hand understanding of Pennsylvania’s industries and the challenges faced by businesses of all sizes. He serves as chairman for several authorities and boards including the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority (BFTDA), the Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA), Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority (PIDA), and the Pennsylvania Economic Development Financing Authority (PEDFA). Under Secretary Davin’s leadership, DCED launched critical economic development initiatives like the PA Business One Stop Shop, the Manufacturing PA initiative, and the new branding of Pennsylvania with “Pursue Your Happiness,” and “Work Smart. Live Happy.” He has also achieved success in attracting corporations to Pennsylvania, including major international projects like the Royal Dutch Shell plant in Beaver County.

Prior to his appointment, Secretary Davin served as Director of the Allegheny County Economic Development and the Director of the Allegheny County Redevelopment Authority. His experience also includes Executive Director of the: Industrial Development Authority, Hospital Development Authority, Higher Education Building Authority and Residential Finance Authority.

Audrey Russo
Pittsburgh Technology Council

Since 2007, Audrey Russo has served the technology business sector for southwestern PA as President and CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council, the oldest (1983) and largest technology trade association. In this role, Russo facilitates strong interaction across all sectors of the regional economy.  With a background in information technology, operations and finance, Russo previously worked for large multi-national Fortune 500 companies (Alcoa, Reynolds Metals), as well as at MAYA Design, and in an adjunct faculty and project role at Virginia Commonwealth University. She loves the complexity of Pittsburgh’s physical, literal and metaphorical terrain and believes the city will succeed and grow through technology innovation and commercialized disruptions across every platform and experience. Pittsburgh’s technology roots are essential and imperative in achieving competitive, diverse and vibrant economies.

Russo earned her Bachelor of Science from Ohio State University. She also has a Master’s in Public Administration from Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Public Affairs.

Audrey is currently serving as a board member of the following organizations: Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, Regional Industrial Development Corporation (RIDC), CityLab, Highmark Business Advisory Board, City of Asylum (COA), Pittsburgh Works, Allegheny Health Network (AHN) Cancer Institute Advisory Board and the PA Early Learning Investment Commission (ELIC) as Commission Member.

Russo also co-hosts TechVibe Radio every Saturday at 8am on ESPN 970AM to explore technology companies and entrepreneurial issues. She also serves as the President of the newly formed nonprofit Fortyx80 which serves to ensure that Pittsburgh’s vitality will be sustained through education for entrepreneurs, education for the next generation of the economy and development of newer collisions of innovation.

Russo is both professionally and personally active in the tech and innovation start up ecosystem, serving as a mentor, champion, convener and investor in companies. She is committed to ensuring women and underrepresented individuals in tech are connected to ensure business growth. Additionally, Russo is a sought-after speaker, presenting ideas about the Pittsburgh, as well as the future of tech, people and places and the global economy.

Mark Anthony Thomas
Pittsburgh Regional Alliance
Mark Anthony Thomas was appointed president of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, an affiliate of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, effective July 2019. He is responsible for creating, developing, and executing the 10-county Pittsburgh region's economic development strategy and advancing partnerships to drive job creation and business investment. Thomas has nearly two decades of experience crafting and executing economic growth strategies and cross-sector collaboration for New York City, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. In 2016, he was selected by New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) to serve as its first senior vice president of partnerships, establishing teams to foster and manage industry and international relationships and business attraction. He played a pivotal role in launching the city's $1.3 billion effort to catalyze 100,000 jobs in emerging industry sectors and further diversify the local economy. He's led efforts to partner with New York's international trade community to advance the city's global startup attraction, an approach recognized as the top North American FDI Strategy by fDi (Foreign Direct Investment) magazine in 2019. Prior to NYCEDC, Thomas served as the City of Los Angeles' inaugural FUSE Executive Fellow, leading efforts to make the city's neighborhoods more livable. He then served as director of the Mayor's Operations Innovation Team, a partnership between the Mayor's Office and the Los Angeles Coalition for the Economy and Jobs, to spearhead reforms of the city's procurement, real estate asset management and risk management operations. Before entering the public sector, Thomas worked in the media sector, shaping content and investigative journalism on social impact, economic development and effective governance. Thomas serves on the Board of Directors for the Power of 32 Site Development Fund (Chairman), Fuse Corps and the Camille A. Brown Dance Company. He is a graduate of MIT (MBA), Columbia University (MPA), and the University of Georgia.
Vincent Valdes
As the executive director of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, Vincent Valdes leads a team of planners, program managers, transportation specialists and engineers who work on creating a common regional vision and implementation program for the communities of southwestern Pennsylvania. The SPC is the federally certified MPO and development district serving this part of the state. Valdes worked as the associate administrator for research, innovation and demonstration at the Federal Transit as well as other fields including aerospace engineering, transportation research, urban and regional planning, neighborhood economic development, environmental protection, and international development. He has a degree in mechanical engineering from Boston University and a Master's of Science in Urban Planning from Columbia University.