12:16pm

Thu November 18, 2010
Road Trip

Looking for economic answers in Pittsburgh

One of our sister public radio collaborations, Changing Gears, which is looking at remaking the manufacturing belt, has a remarkable series on Pittsburgh this week. Their sense was that the Steel City is coming back, after losing more than a hundred thousand manufacturing jobs within a decade when domestic steel collapsed. So they set out to see if they could prove it.

It’s clear that Pittsburgh is seeing an economic turnaround, with growth distributed across education, medicine and a new, entrepreneurial sector. But the city is seeing gains beyond just the bottom line. Pride is growing, as Changing Gears reporter Dan Bobkoff found, in this case from tailgaters at a Pittsburgh Steelers game:

“Everybody loves Pittsburgh. Even people who leave Pittsburgh love Pittsburgh like this guy here. It’s Pittsburgh; we know how to survive. All of our jobs are on the rise. Yes, Pittsburgh’s economy is booming.” It’s like these people work for the chamber of commerce.

Places like Pittsburgh, and Detroit (another city that Changing Gears visited) need boosters for their city to help adjust outsiders’ perceptions, and locals’ expectations. Reporter George Nemeth found that happening in the work of another sports fan – Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert.

Gilbert is trying to create a culture of entrepreneurship in a city that didn’t really need entrepreneurs in the decades after Henry Ford became the most famous one in history. Gilbert says he’s trying to create Detroit 2.0. “Instead of having two, three large mega companies employing thousands, the idea is you’ll have the reverse, you’ll have hundreds or thousands of companies employing maybe 10, 20, 30, 50, 100 or 200 people or even larger,” he says.

On the whole, Midwestern cities have been a little ahead of upstate New York in seeing some major economic overhauls. But by checking in on the hardest hit cities in the region, the project tried to see if some of the same principles can be brought to bear elsewhere.

Bobkoff concludes with a note of cautious optimism, reporting on the need for venture capital to support Pittsburgh’s burgeoning entrepreneurial sector, and on an inner city neighborhood center that offers art classes and job training . He visited an inner city neighborhood center that offers art classes and job training.

Like much of Pittsburgh, it’s a work in progress, but it is progress.

All over Pittsburgh, there’s confidence now. They think they can stay in Pittsburgh and get a good job. It probably won’t be in steel–though they still make speciality (sic) steel in the city. And, not everything is fixed yet. The population skews toward retirees and class disparities still exist.

This is a city, though, where leaders of universities, nonprofits, corporations, and even in some in government don’t wait for things to happen to them. They work together. They have goals. And, there’s foresight.