Bluffton filmmaker dreaming of Steel City move

cconley@islandpacket.comApril 11, 2012 

Robert Manning isn't a politician, but he really wants your vote.

The Bluffton filmmaker is one of five finalists in the Experienced Dreamers contest, which will give $100,000 to one person who is at least 45 years old so they can start a new life in Pittsburgh. The winner will be decided by an online vote that closes Sunday.

Manning, 50, wants to launch a digital media startup that promotes the city and its residents.

"With this company, my goal would be to create films that share stories about people from Pittsburgh with other people," Manning said over coffee at a Hardeeville Wendy's. "That film ... could cross borders. If it attracts someone from Iowa or California or Singapore to a business in Pittsburgh, that's going to grow business in Pittsburgh."

Several Pittsburgh foundations created the contest to market the city to nonresidents who have skills, experience and, organizers hope, disposable income, contest spokesman Shawn Bannon said. Leadership Pittsburgh Inc. is managing the contest, which has nearly a dozen public and private partners.

Pittsburgh's population has dropped by nearly 300,000 since 1960, but simply adding residents was not the contest's main goal.

"We really wanted to take a look and see if there was an appetite for people of this age group to start taking a fresh look at Pittsburgh (for) the next chapter of their lives," Bannon said, adding that the effort is a complement to others that have aimed to attract young people.

He wasn't sure how many people entered the contest, but said applications came from 29 states. People who have lived 100 miles from Pittsburgh or were under 45 were ineligible. A panel of local judges winnowed the field to 20 semifinalists in March. Finalists were announced April 4.

Allegheny County and the city of Pittsburgh donated $25,000 each for prize money, while Heinz Endowments, the Richard King Mellon Foundation and several other foundations provided the rest. Winners will get $50,000 cash if they move to the city by year's end. The winner will receive $50,000 next year to award to local charities.

Manning has more than 30 years of film experience, including time as a TV news journalist. More recently, he has produced videos for corporate websites and training. He also travels across the country producing wedding films.

Manning was born in Pittsburgh and lived there until he was a teenager. He moved to Bluffton from Newport, R.I., last summer to be closer to his parents and daughter.

With just a few days left before voting closes, Manning says he's in campaign mode, reaching out to friends, relatives and former colleagues to ask for their votes. He's hoping former Pennsylvania residents now living in the Lowcountry will give him an edge.

"There is a huge Pittsburgh-based population that's here in Hilton Head," he said. "Anywhere you go, you're going to see a Pittsburgh bumper sticker, or if you're wearing a Steelers jersey, people are going to come up to you."

Voting will be open until 11:59 p.m. Sunday. Contest organizers expect to announce a winner Wednesday.

Win or lose, Manning hopes to one day return to the Steel City.

"I have lived a lot of places, and none of those places has really felt like home like Pittsburgh has," he said.

Related content

  1. Read more about Manning and what he would do with his prize money
  2. Click here to vote for Manning
  3. Click here to learn more about the contest

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