Why Pittsburgh?

Automotive Engineering
Sept. 1973

“Why Pittsburgh?” That’s what scores of SAE members and friends asked when they first learned of the SAE Board of Directors’ decision to move SAE headquarters from New York City to a suburb of Pittsburgh. “Why not Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, Dallas, San Francisco, or Denver?” these people collectively asked. A number of members wondered why their city or Section was not selected.

The Ad Hoc Relocation Committee of the Board of Directors, which spent more than one and one-half years in conducting an intensive headquarters site location study, felt it important to make as dispassionate and objective an analysis as possible. Therefore, the Committee members started by defining the underlying prerequisites for the location of the Society's headquarters.

They reasoned that the basic objective is to locate SAE’s principal offices where the work of the Society can be carried out most efficiently and effectively. Therefore, high on the list of location considerations is the overall economics of headquarters operations. This includes the cost of owning or renting and operating the offices, staff salaries, and the cost of staff travel. It was also deemed important that headquarters have ready access to the kind of business services it needs for its daily activities. Included is proximity to a major airport. Office location should also be conductive to hiring and maintaining an effective staff. SAE headquarters, in the view of the Society's officers, is in reality a workshop where the Society's business functions are performed.

There is no particular functional need for headquarters to be accessible to any particular group of members. When contact with member groups has to be made, the staff visits the members or goes to where the members foregather. This includes the staging of national meetings, conferences and symposia, the handling of committee meetings and the informal get-togethers with one or several members on SAE matters. Relatively few members ever visit SAE headquarters.

With this concept as a backdrop, the Ad Hoc Relocation Committee studied 21 major cities across the country. Not only were three major economic considerations mentioned above studied, but the business environment in each community for tax-exempt organizations such as SAE was analyzed. Results: First, the high cost of doing business in New York City was clearly demonstrated, reaffirming the desirability of a move. Second, a site in Warrendale, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh, emerged as the best bet.

The study project was set up to minimize the possibility of pressures from various parts of the country, to avoid a popularity contest. And that's the way it went. Emotion and subjective reaction did not enter into the deliberations-nor did advocacy of any single location. Pittsburgh won out purely on objective analysis.

The Directors are pleased with the warm reception being given SAE in the Pittsburgh area by the business community as well as local and state government agencies. As one Director stated after the Board had reached its decision: “Five years from now, when we look back on the decision, we will know that the transfer of SAE headquarters from New York to Pittsburgh was a wise move.”

Joseph Gilbert
SAE Secretary & General Manager