The Work Hard Pittsburgh Ecosystem is Winding Down

Hi friends,

For ten years the companies that make up the Work Hard Pittsburgh ecosystem have fought the good fight. This includes the Work Hard Pittsburgh Cooperative, Academy Pittsburgh, WH Digital, and a series of commercial real estate holding companies.

Today, I’m here to announce that we’re winding down operations of all of these companies, except for Academy Pittsburgh which will continue its work.

Our intent was to create systems that would allow for equitable wealth building, and to a large degree we were successful. Our efforts have resulted in:

  1. $30M in wages earned as salary to date, including $15M to people from underrepresented groups in the tech economy from Academy Pittsburgh training
  2. $10M of wages have been paid out as 1099 contract work to regional freelance workers via WH Digital
  3. $3M of pro bono support has been provided to regional nonprofits via the Work Hard PGH cooperative
  4. Over $90,000 of low interest, low fee loans being made to and repaid by our member-owned companies
  5. Thousands of instances of founders, activists, and small businesses finding resources and funding through our business networks
  6. Cool projects like the Residency and Hilltopolis, and meaningful support to affiliated projects like, Give Camp, Beta Builders, Barrel and Flow, and the best neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Allentown

Over the past decade, regional philanthropy has graciously committed around $2.6M to the ecosystem to improve regional socioeconomic conditions and to help us find sustainability through the launch of new products. Unfortunately, those products did not grow fast enough to seed the next series of revenue generating activities. And, despite our measurable impact, we never figured out how to inspire the next correct-sized investment for a window of actionable time. 

After taking a bit of a thrashing from a global pandemic, the core team has decided it is time to end this experiment and begin the painful process of liquidating assets including our longtime home, 744 E. Warrington Ave.* It is important to note that the sale of this property has impact requirements that need to be satisfied by the new owner to ensure the social and community value continues.

These tough decisions have not been arrived at quickly or lightly. In May of 2021, we communicated to our membership the pending financial crisis, and despite our best efforts, bridge financing was not secured. Moving forward, the remaining resources will be used to settle outstanding debts, pay dividends to our member-owners as possible and appropriate, and support Academy Pittsburgh’s reorganization. Its mission to create equitable workforce pipelines has been our most successful project, and I am proud that it can continue to challenge the stale paradigms that plague the tech and tech adjacent economy under new leadership.

Many people are expecting me to blast out some truth bombs in this winddown letter. After a decade of this work, I’m struggling to find an object of derision. Largely, people involved in this effort came in good faith and contributed what they could.

The problems Pittsburgh has are the problems of a global economic system that is built on wrong-headed incentives. The local cogs in this machine don’t even know that they’re turning. They struggle to see themselves as consolidated power and wealth, withholding opportunity just by existing and taking up space or, by consuming resources disproportionate to their contribution back. Locally, all institutions can do to mitigate a future economic, societal, and cultural disruption is to lovingly give up power and wealth to those that have less. I’ll leave it to you to decide if that can happen.

-------------

Special thanks to Scott Wolovich and New Sun Rising, our fiscal sponsor, who helped us do all sorts of nuanced, spectacular, and truly innovative things. Thanks to Mark Birbo of the Birmingham Foundation for advocating for impact-driven investments from philanthropy and Rob Stephany from the Heinz Foundation for giving one a go. Increasing impact-driven investment is the real answer, but the will doesn't seem to be there. Thanks to Lauri Fink and the Hillman Foundation for those initial high risk awards. Thanks to Henry Pyatt, Bill Peduto, Rep. Mike Doyle, and Sen. Wayne Fontana for turning the wheels of government when they could. Thanks to all of our other philanthropic partners who helped us create wealth for the people and the workers. Thanks to our varied customers of goods and services - big and small. 

Thanks to my patient wife for paying my bills. Thanks to our business manager, Jason Philips who had way too much skin in the game for way too long. Thanks to John and Jean Lange and the rest of the paid staff for hanging in there through unfair amounts of uncertainty.

Thanks to the membership of the cooperative and our community of freelancers. You’ve made Pittsburgh a better place with your talent and sacrifice of self-interest for the cause of economic justice. Keep doing that.

Josh Lucas

jlucas@workhardpgh.com

President:  Academy Pittsburgh, WH Digital, and various commercial real estate holding companies

Executive Committee:  Work Hard Pittsburgh

-------------

*Clarifying Statement: The property at 744 E. Warrington Ave., was purchased by our fiscal sponsor, New Sun Rising through a CITF grant. The intent of this acquisition was to provide financial security to Work Hard Pittsburgh. As such, the financial realities of the Work Hard Pittsburgh ecosystem have made it necessary to sell this asset, a decision ultimately being made by the building owner New Sun Rising.