Maura Kay joined Fourth Economy + Steer in June as a Junior Analytics Strategist, but it is not her first time working with the team. While a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy, she worked with Fourth Economy on a market analysis of the Allegheny County borough of Coraopolis. With her degree now in hand, Kay is excited to work with the data team on projects that help communities build equitable, vibrant main streets.
We asked Kay to tell us about her new role and how it builds on her personal, educational and professional experiences. And we also had to find out what she would do on her ideal Pittsburgh day!
Welcome to Fourth Economy + Steer! You are a new Analytics Strategist. What does that involve? What kind of things are you working on from day to day?
I’m the utility person of the data team. I support a wide variety of projects, doing tasks that range from digging into the depths of data sets to GIS mapping to designing deliverables. My favorite part of this position is that the day-to-day work exists at the convergence of community engagement and data analytics, so the qualitative and quantitative aspects of economic development complement rather than compete with one another. I go from the macro, benchmarking communities over a series of indicators, to on-the- ground community build sessions discussing vacancies along main street and community wealth building.
You majored in urban studies and political science at the University of Pittsburgh Honors College, before earning your Masters in Public Policy and Management from Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon. Tell us when/where/how you developed an interest in cities and economies, and how that brought you to Fourth Economy.
I’ve been interested in economic development, particularly in postindustrial economies, since before I knew it was a career path. My entire family comes from the Mon Valley, so images of vacancy and narratives of main streets’ past vibrancy were commonplace. I became a mall teen, like every John Hughes movie modeled for me, but then my mall was dying too! I started connecting the dots and diving into the history of economic geography. So, when I went to university and found an entire discipline devoted to the study of these trends I never looked back.
In completing an undergraduate thesis on postindustrial divergencies of river towns, I sharpened my qualitative skills. After a year of working construction for a housing nonprofit, I pursued a masters to increase my quantitative know-how. At Heinz my capstone project was a market analysis, sponsored by Fourth Economy, so I was excited to transition to the staff and work on related projects.
During your time at Pitt, you were involved with Thriftsburgh, a student-run, on-campus thrift store. What were some of the best lessons and experiences to come from that work?
Starting an on-campus thrift store during my college years is my most rewarding project to date. It was a lesson in building something step by step – growing to cater to community needs. The idea was inspired by sustainability, reducing textile waste, and capturing what would otherwise become move-out trash that cluttered the neighborhood. Helping translate this idea from paper to practice came with many lessons, the most valuable of which was understanding clients/audience and placemaking. In addition to a service, the store became a third space where folks would stop by to socialize or de-stress.
My experience at the store also furthered my understanding of entrepreneurship. Even under the most low-risk conditions, starting a small business requires constant attention in the early phases and a lot of nurturing to get it to a stable place.
What are you looking forward to accomplishing at Fourth Economy?
My goal is to create usable plans for communities that focus on the future while recognizing historic injustice. I want to sharpen my own analytic and diagnostic skills to be a better asset to communities. Moon shot is finding more inclusive means of community engagement, especially in communities divided by race or class.
What’s your perfect Pittsburgh day?
My Pittsburgh pals and I make a big deal out of our Sunday dinners. A sweet day in town would start by rolling down to the Strip District, setting our menu and collecting our ingredients from all the specialty vendors. We’d stop for coffee and snacks along the way and undoubtedly run into someone we know. The afternoon would be a bit of a free skate: visit a vintage shop or thrift, read outside in the sun, or roller-skate. But come dinnertime the whole gang is packed into my kitchen concocting dishes and being silly.
Pittsburgh's Strip District is a half-mile stretch of repurposed industrial buildings that are home to the Public Market, bars, eateries, colorful murals and equally colorful people!