Pittsburgh Promise graduates: This grant could help you land a job at home

Come home, get hired and pay off your student loans.

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline
MJ Slaby

Updated 2:45 p.m. Tuesday

Recipients of the Pittsburgh Promise now a have a new reason to look at home for a full-time job.

A new grant program could give them the funds to pay student loans or to help pay for travel to and from work. Plus, it could give funds to help their new employer. The incentive program was announced today and a corresponding resolution comes before Pittsburgh City Council on Tuesday. 

Councilman Corey O’Connor told The Incline that he helped spearhead the idea aimed to increase employee retention for local businesses by giving company leaders a monetary incentive to hire Pittsburgh Promise graduates. The councilman, who sponsored the resolution, said while there are plenty of people moving to Pittsburgh for jobs, there are also a lot of openings and retention issues, especially with upcoming retirements.

The Pittsburgh Promise is a last-dollar scholarship for students who attend city public schools for at least for four years of high school to attend in-state college or technical school. Because the scholarship isn’t limited to Pittsburgh postsecondary institutions, O’Connor said this grant will help bring local talent back to the city.

Where’s the money coming from?

It started with $60,000 from unused end-of-the-year city funds, O’Connor said.

He said the plan is for the African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania to manage the program and lead fundraising to hopefully match the funds, bringing it to $120,000. Even if it’s not quite a full match, that would be OK, O’Connor said.

“If we gave ten businesses $10,000, and we got ten new people hired in Pittsburgh, it’s a pretty good start,” he said.

The Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce will also provide support with the program. The plan is for all program funds to be used in 2017, but if it’s successful, more funding could come from the 2018 city budget, as well as from fundraising, O’Connor said.

Which businesses can apply?

Businesses will apply to the African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania for grants, likely starting in January. It doesn’t have to be the Pittsburgh Promise graduate’s first job, but they do have to be a new hire in 2017 for their employer to be eligible.

The requested money can be either for something the business needs, like new computers, or for something the new hire needs, like student loan payments, or for both the company and the hire, O’Connor said. 

“We’re leaving the grants pretty flexible, I would say max out would be $10,000 for that company, but it would also go to that student as well, so if they have student loans or if they have transportation issues, you might have to purchase a bus pass, whatever it might be,” he said.

O’Connor said the application details are still being finalized, but there will be incentives for female-owned businesses, veteran- or minority-owned business and small businesses. There will be also incentives for minority hires. Business in any sector can apply.

“We want our bigger corporations to do it as well, but they might not need the funds that a small business would,” he said. “ … It could even be a restaurant owner that wants to hire a full-time manager. Well, it could be really important for that business to get an extra $5,000.”

A ‘Pittsburgh story’

The only requirements is the Pittsburgh Promise graduate will have a full-time and longterm job, O’Connor said. They’ll have to work several months before the funds are released, he added. 

The grant program also allows the Pittsburgh Promise to track local success stories, something that isn’t done in detail now, O’Connor said.

“It’s that sort of Pittsburgh story — that you grew up here,” he said. ” . ..What puts Pittsburgh a notch above [other cities]? Not only that it’s your hometown city. Now we can afford to give you a certain advantage that other cities can’t, and I think that’s the link to keeping our talent here.”

He said there’s always a question if a new program will work, but “even if it’s a one-time wave, it shows that the city, the council and local businesses are willing to invest.”

O’Connor is hopeful the grant program will grow and eventually be open to any Pittsburgher. But for now, he said the plan is to get the grant going so it’s something potential hires can take into consideration in the job hunt.

“A lot of the time when kids graduate they think they have to go to New York, D.C., California. Well, that’s not the case. Your goal can be met right here in Pittsburgh,” O’Connor said. ” … You don’t have to go to those major cities. We are one. Your opportunities are just down the street.”

A previous version of this article incorrectly listed the organization that will manage and fundraise for the grant program.