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Pittsburgh's boomerang kids

Ms Leah Simoncelli (above) and Dr Katrina Kelly-Pitou are two of Pittsburgh's boomerang kids who left the city for "greener pastures" elsewhere, but have since returned to find a thriving hub of opportunity.
Ms Leah Simoncelli (above) and Dr Katrina Kelly-Pitou are two of Pittsburgh's boomerang kids who left the city for "greener pastures" elsewhere, but have since returned to find a thriving hub of opportunity.PHOTO: FOO CONNOR
Ms Leah Simoncelli and Dr Katrina Kelly-Pitou (above) are two of Pittsburgh's boomerang kids who left the city for "greener pastures" elsewhere, but have since returned to find a thriving hub of opportunity.
Ms Leah Simoncelli and Dr Katrina Kelly-Pitou (above) are two of Pittsburgh's boomerang kids who left the city for "greener pastures" elsewhere, but have since returned to find a thriving hub of opportunity.

Ms Leah Simoncelli, coordinator at Alphalab Gear, an accelerator in Pittsburgh that nurtures start-ups, is a "boomerang kid".

She is from a generation that left Pittsburgh but has now returned to find a thriving city with opportunities for its residents to work, grow and contribute back to the society.

"The boomerangs are a phenomenon," says Ms Audrey Russo, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council. "There's something in the water here. I could introduce you to a hundred boomerangs."

Ms Simoncelli, 28, grew up in a small town of 16,000 about an hour's drive outside Pittsburgh.

"I wasn't going to stick around," she tells The Straits Times. "When I was 18, I was very excited to go and see something new."

Ms Simoncelli went to school in Washington DC and spent a number of years in South America working for a Spanish language school. A year ago, she and her husband, graphic designer Felipe Leon, decided to return to Pittsburgh.

"One of the really important things for us was the affordability," she says. But when they actually moved back, they found out that the former steel city has a lot more to offer. It has transformed into an exciting and diverse city with a booming tech sector and rich food culture.

Dr Katrina Kelly-Pitou, research associate and manager for strategy at the University of Pittsburgh's Centre for Energy, is another case in point.

A third-generation "utility brat" whose father and grandfather worked in the energy sector, Dr Kelly left the city at the age of 21 to work overseas.

"The reason I left was a lack of innovation. I wanted to go where the innovation was coming from," the 30-year-old says.

Among other things, Dr Kelly worked on climate change policy. But she became weary of the political side of energy policy and wanted to get back to research. She returned last year to focus on low-carbon economy and policy.

"I had the pleasure of working in almost 14 countries in the past nine years and Pittsburgh really stood out as a place where you could do really good work and get your research implemented, developed and deployed."

"When (the university) gave me the offer to come help move the city towards a low-carbon future, I jumped at the chance."

Nirmal Ghosh


Correction note: This story was edited for clarity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2017, with the headline 'Pittsburgh's boomerang kids'. Print Edition | Subscribe