O-R business editor retiring after 27 years

Liz Rogers
Observer Reporter

Much like the fluctuating stock market, Observer-Reporter Business Editor Michael Bradwell has seen his share of ups and downs on the local business beat. Now, after 27 years, Bradwell is sounding the closing bell and retiring.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Bradwell said, reflecting on the highlights of a storied career at the O-R.

Bradwell got his start in the newspaper business at the Bedford Gazette. After several years, he switched careers and took jobs in public relations, first at Old Bedford Village, then at Ketchum, Pittsburgh, followed by a stint at DDF&M in Monroeville, and finally at Federated Investors, Pittsburgh. He returned to newspapers in 1990, taking a general assignment reporter position in the O-R’s Greene County bureau. He later became a copy editor before being named business editor.

“When I started (as business editor) in 1995, we were still in the midst of the end of the steel and glass era. My first big story was about the search for a buyer for the former Cooper Industries transformer plant in Canonsburg. A lot of people were down on themselves and the area. They couldn’t see a lot of positive times.”

A year later, Gustine, one of Pittsburgh’s largest developers, came to Washington to announce it was going to build the Strabane Square retail development in South Strabane Township.

“I remember coming back to the office and telling people what was said and hearing, ‘Oh, that will never work.’ People just didn’t have a lot of hope then. Three or four months later, Mosites announced Trinity Pointe, and all of a sudden we were in the midst of all this retail development. At the same time, the first phase of Southpointe started to fill up. Even in the downturn, things pointed upward.”

The Marcellus shale gas boom would become one of the biggest stories of Bradwell’s tenure.

“I have to say, I never saw the gas thing coming,” he said. “In 2007, I had a meeting with Range (Resources) executives, and at the end, (now retired) CEO John Pinkerton said, ‘We think we can make Pennsylvania a net exporter of natural gas.’ And all these years later, he was right. That was a big deal.

“During the 2009 recession, in the economy here, we didn’t really experience the downturn the way other parts of the country did,” he said. “I didn’t really have to write about the recession. It was more about all of the other stuff happening.”

Residential development spiked, a by-product of the natural gas boom and the Southpointe and later Southpointe II mixed-use business parks. Rural Cecil Township was becoming one of the fastest growth areas of Washington County.

Those projects coincided with the arrival of The Meadows Casino and Tanger Outlets and the accompanying hotel developments that made Racetrack Road the county’s destination hot spot.

Bradwell is optimistic about the direction Washington’s downtown has taken, pointing to efforts to market the city’s historical assets and create a retail experience, citing the farmer’s market, two distilleries, winery and brewery as destinations for visitors.

“And the business incubator is next,” he added, referring to the collaborative effort between Washington & Jefferson College and the Observer-Reporter to help local people launch small businesses or grow existing ones.

“There’s always been the next thing coming,” he said. “These things exemplify the new Washington County.”

Beginning Monday, Bradwell will start enjoying retirement with his wife, Liz, and their children, Stephen, Victoria, Allison and Phillip Bader. He plans to travel and spend time at his family cabin in West Virginia.

He is relinquishing the business beat to O-R staff writer Rick Shrum, who came to the O-R in 2012 after working as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.